While I was in San Francisco I bought a gadget. Those of you feigning shock horror expressions can stop right now. The thing I bought was a Zune. I've fancied one for a while, and with the dollar/pound rate the way that it is I reckoned that it would be an excellent deal.

The Zune is Microsoft's answer to the Ipod. I'm not sure about the name, perhaps the plan is to get as far away down the alphabet from Apple, but I could be wrong on this.

Anyhoo, as a device the Zune is very like an Ipod. Slightly more chunky, and with a larger screen for watching videos. It lacks the funky scroll wheel thing, making do with a ring of directional buttons, but these work fine.

The software is based on that from the Portable Media Player, an ill fated device that was launched by Microsoft and a bunch of hardware makers a couple of years ago. Of course, I had one of those too. I bought it to make use of the then shiny Microsoft "Plays For Sure" technology that would let me subscribe to Napster's music service. This is kind of ironic because the new Zune completely ditches that copyright protection and uses a new, exclusive one. If I had actually bought any music from Napster I'd be a pretty annoyed bunny at this point, but fortunately all I'd have to do is switch to the Zune music subscription service and fetch all my content again.

As an aside, I've never, ever, actually bought any music protected by Digital Rights. My philosophy has been that if Robert is going to part with money for something, Robert is going to actually get something for the money. I like the fact that I have a shiny CD in a nice box to fall back on if I ever change computer or player at any time. And if I buy from somewhere like Amazon marketplace I can usually undercut the download price anyway.

So, back to the Zune. I love it. Small, light, portable, great sound and an OK battery life (although it could be better). The Zune on-line music store is like the Napster one, only a million times better (and it works through the university firewall - a major plus). While I was in America I signed up for the 14 day free pass which comes with the device. It allows me to download and play any content I like for a fortnight. I put my home address in the USA as the hotel, which was true at the time.... And therein lies the rub for the moment.

I'm pretty sure that if I try to use the paid service (which is a major bargain compared to the price charged by Napster to UK subscribers) the system will take one look at my english credit card and refuse to play ball. This would be a bit of a shame, but I'm not that bothered as I didn't get the device for the subscription service. And hopefully when Zune launches properly in europe I can sign up then.

Microsoft are working very hard to make the Zune "cool". Making things "cool" is hard. Even someone as cool as what I am appreciates that being cool takes considerable effort. However, they are doing as much as they can. The Zune comes loaded with some very cool content. There are some fascinating artistic bits and bobs that you can download onto it and a whole range of sites offering customised backgrounds.

Whether or not Zune can "out cool" the Ipod remains to be seen. There is talk of big plans involving games and phones and all kinds of stuff. The Zune itself has built in wireless networking, so you can share media with your Zune owning friends (if you have any). It also works with the XBOX 360 as a media source. The hard disk could be bigger, 30GB will not hold a lot of video, but I'm quite happy with that for audio.

When it launches in the UK, as it surely must, it will be well worth a look.