Review: Creative Zen

Review: Creative Zen
Review: Creative Zen

In the portable music player world, every brand more or less has to play catch up to Apple's iPod. The product that more or less defines portable media would probably be the iPod Nano and it is to this end that Creative have created the Zen.

Creative have had a long standing history in the release of mp3 players and some might not realise that they were among the first to release a portable music player. The Flash memory based devices and CD player sized hard drive Nomads were among the first off the bat and even pre-dated the iPod as far as mp3 players go. For almost 10 years, Creative have brought portable media players to the world in various forms. Today we're looking at something that takes the small portable media player but makes it very light and with a decent sized 2.5 inch screen.

At a mere 65 grams, the Creative Zen is one of the lightest portable media players with a screen we've tested. The top panel consists of the 16.7 million colour screen as well as directional pad and buttons sitting on the right while the bottom has a smooth touch plastic casing. A ripple sits in the centre of the plastic for artistic merit. You could probably compare the size of the Zen to a credit card but it's width isn't as thin so good luck sticking it in a wallet.

Audio is probably the best thing the Zen has going for and Creative have spared no expense in making the Zen shine in this department. Between the clarity of the sound chipset and amount of control you have for environment and equaliser, you'll be quite pleased with what the Zen has to offer.

Of course the software and control is another thing altogether. While skipping to and from tracks is easy, the DJ functionality is mediocre at best. Instead of actually paying much attention to your track ratings and mixing it up the music accordingly, the software seems to act dumbfounded that you like anything but the tracks you've hit up with a five-star rating. This means that you'll likely hear favourite after favourite provided you've given it five stars. It almost begs the question: why include a one-through-five rating system at all in the first place?

In a way, the DJ functionality seems sort of half-hearted because by setting your mode to shuffle, you'll have a better "DJ" mode than the playing mode labelled as "DJ".

The Zen is likely to let you down in the video department because while it can run a wide variety of formats, it still requires that you encode the video into a specific set of dimensions. This means that any video you might have had laying around say from a home movie or whatever won't actually run on the Zen unless it's been converted for the Zen. Now converting is easy and software isn't an issue, but it does take time and sort of lessens the impact of the "multiple support video formats" feature that the Zen carries with it.

Sadly, the controls aren't much better. It's not that they're badly designed but rather that they're clunky. Buttons don't click in all that well and seem to require a heavier touch than you'd otherwise expect. You hit the middle button for "enter" but it doesn't click in so you hit it again and then it works. You can see from the right handed design that the controls aren't ambidextrous nor are they meant to be iPod inspired. Yet somehow you can't help but feel that they could have been a lot better if they were less plasticy.

Then there's the price. At $249.95 for the 4GB model, it's actually more expensive than the 4GB Apple iPod Nano. I know, I know; I'm comparing it to the iPod Nano and I shouldn't be... but since they sit in the same arena facing each other off, you really can't help but compare them. Granted you get a bigger screen on the Zen as well as more file support, but you also get a bigger device and the video format support becomes as flawed as the iPod's if you have to make conversions for both devices. Further, any "extras" that the Zen likes to say it comes with get shot in the foot because an alarm clock and a calendar hardly whet the appetites for the plural form of the word "extra".

If small size and large capacities in excess of 16GB is what you're after then the Zen certainly delivers with 8GB and 16GB sizes that allow you to add your own SD card for expanded memory & image viewing on the go. But if none of this gauges your attention in any way, it'd be a good bet to shop around a little bit longer.

Should you buy it?: The SD card slot and bigger screen is what this holds over the Apple iPod Nano... but honestly, I'd buy the Nano instead.

Product: Creative Zen

Vendor: Creative

RRP: Starting from $179.95

Website: Creative Zen

Related Stories