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Zune Pass Review

Our Verdict

What started out a small add-on service for Zune mp3 players has no turned into a robust music service for Windows Phone 7, Zune HD's, and Xbox 360's

For

  • Dazzling desktop interface
  • Robust social features
  • Great podcast selection
  • Integrates with Xbox Live subscription

Against

  • Expensive
  • Desktop software is PC-only
  • Social needs more work
  • Some catalog tracks not available

At $14.99, Microsoft's Zune Pass subscription service is the priciest of this group. The service offers unlimited access to streaming and downloads, and it's available on Windows Phone 7 devices, Xbox 360, Zune HD, and computers. Unique among this group, the package also includes 10 downloads a month, which you can keep forever.

One highlight of the service is the Social, which lets you share music, podcasts, and videos. Through the Social, you can also follow artists and add people as friends. Unfortunately, you can't search for users or connect with your Facebook friends who may be on the Social. Your profile page displays recent listens, followed artists, and more, and you can post Facebook-style status updates.

You discover music through Zune's recommendations, friends' profiles, and the Smart DJ custom radio feature, as well as in MixView (available only on computers via browser or PC software), which lets you see a graphical representation of musical relationships between what you're listening to and other artists in the Zune library.

On a desktop browser (Mac + PC), Zune has a gorgeous, intelligent layout. The standalone Zune PC software is Windows-only and is required for managing content on Zune and Windows Phone 7 devices--as well as for downloading content on a computer--but it has a very polished look and feel with easy access to the Zune Marketplace.

Click to enlargeTo access Zune Pass on Windows Phone 7 devices, you sign in with the same Windows Live ID you used to set up your Zune Pass. The mobile interface is appealing and is easily controlled by gestures. You can access much of the Zune catalog right from your mobile phone, streaming (128Kbps WMA) or downloading (192Kbps WMA DRM) tracks to your handset. The Zune service also works with other mobile platforms that support the protected WMA file format--though they won't offer the same "Zune experience" complete with the WP7 interface.

Using a Zune Pass subscription with an Xbox requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription ($59.99 annually), so you really have to want it. Zune has a very attractive 10-foot interface on Xbox, perfect for living room use, with easy access to images and artist info. For a more futuristic experience, you can use Zune with Kinect for Xbox, which lets you navigate and control media with a wave of your hand.

If you're already deep in the Microsoft ecosystem with a PC and a Windows Phone 7 smart phone (and perhaps an Xbox), a Zune Pass subscription is a compelling (but pricey) choice. We just wish the user experience were more consistent and that the service didn't require so many different accounts across various platforms.