My review unit has yet to arrive – heck, I’m not buying one; don’t need another player, there are four in the house already – but like I mentioned, I already had a few intimate moments with a black Zune at Microsoft’s Vista Boot Camp at (where else?) Taal Vista Lodge in Tagaytay late last year.

How was it? In a word, cool.

I know Howard Paw is expecting me to take a swipe at his post here in PWiT defending the Zune, but it might floor him to know that I actually admire the thing.

In a true gadget-geek way, it felt …right. The heft and size notwithstanding, it was reliable and rock-solid in operation, the screen was fantastic: big, bright and clear; it positively glows. The navigation control is nothing like the iPod‘s touchwheel, of course (which makes one wonder why Microsoft designed it to look like one). The build quality was excellent, but I hope the focus group that decided on brown takes a long dip in some old sewer for that sin, but the white and black versions aren’t bad.

As pure hardware, I like the thing.

Sadly, my admiration ends there.

A large part of its success depends on the software, the back end, and the business model of buying songs. Forget the “social” phenomenon called squirting – the term Microsoft coined to mean sharing songs wirelessly (and temporarily) between Zunes – heck, that’s a joke begging to be put out of its misery. Dear God. A brown Zune that squirts? It calls to mind visions of projectile diarrhea. Yuck. Whoever thought of that term deserves to dive into the same sewer and do some laps. And what the hell is it about that point system nonsense? Everything outside of the player itself is just a comedy of errors. Until recently, it didn’t even want to play nice with Vista (or anything else, for that matter).

But hey, let’s not get into the ugly. It’s old news by now, as is the Zune itself. No use flogging a dead horse. Steve Jobs’s recent skewering of it in his last Macworld Keynote is perhaps the definitive thrashing, and the final nail in its coffin. Microsoft will deny it and keep trying, of course. What’s next? A (Product)Red version? A pink one? With glitter?

I’m just a bit disappointed at the waste of good hardware, that’s all. If they’re ever going to recover, Microsoft needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat real zune soon. Heh. Otherwise, it’s five years of R&D and millions of dollars of hype down the drain. It looks hopeless. Even if the Zune was a smashing success from Day One, it would’ve been shortlived. Already, the as-yet-to-be-released iPhone‘s eclipsed everything else on the horizon. The Zune’ll just be a humorous anecdote to tell your kids.

Meanwhile I’ll just learn to be happy with my little iPod shuffle, and a 60gb video iPod. If I ever want to use a Zune, I figure I can always borrow Howard’s.