Microsoft today released a minor upgrade to its Zune 3 PC software (see my review) and device firmware (see my review), bringing the version of both up to 3.1. Zune 3.1 doesn't offer any dramatic new functionality, but it does provide new games (for the device only), a new Zune Social feature, and various performance and stability improvements. Let's take a quick look.
Zune 3.1 includes three new device games, Checkers, Space Battle, and Sudoku, bumping the total number of Zune games up from 2 to 5. (Games that shipped with Zune 3 include Hexis and Texas Hold 'Em.) Microsoft has also updated Texas Hold 'Em pretty significantly, adding a new multiplayer mode and single player difficulty levels.
Here is how Microsoft describes the new games.
Checkers - the eternal strategy challenge you can learn in minutes and play for life. Play the classic game or try suicide mode, in which the first to lose all their pieces wins.
Survive as long as you can against increasingly aggressive waves of alien attackers in Space Battle! Customize your ship and add weapons to your armory as you progress through the game.
Solve Sudoku by filling in all nine rows and columns with the numerals 1 through 9. Each numeral can only be placed once in a given row or column. Play the classic 9?9 or a quick 6?6 game.
The Zune Social online community service (see my review) has been updated in a very subtle but useful way: A new Like Minded Listeners section (available only on the Web-based version of the service) provides a list of, well Zune members with listening habits like your own. You can scan through this list to find potential friends or to find new music. Additionally, the look and feel of the Web-based Zune social has been improved somewhat for useability.
Other changes in Zune 3.1
Under the covers, Microsoft has improved the stability and performance of the Zune PC software and device firmware. I've found both to be first-rate, frankly, though I did coincidentally have to reset my Zune 80 when it froze up at the gym. This is, I believe, only the second time that's ever happened.
Microsoft has also improved (i.e. sped up) play count reporting, which has been something of a sore spot for the more rabid Zune fans. Additionally, sync between the PC and device has been improved.
Getting Zune 3.1
Zune 3.1 is available from within the normal update mechanism in the Zune PC application: Navigate to Settings, Software, General, and then click the button under Software Updates. If you're new to the Zune, you can download the Zune 3.1 software from the Microsoft Web site.
There's nothing particularly exciting here, though the addition of a few more games is certainly appreciated, as are any stability and performance improvements. Frankly, I'm just happy that Microsoft is updating Zune on a more ongoing basis, and feel that twice yearly updates are too spread out given how much ground this platform needs to make up against the Apple competition.