Creative Zen (2GB)
- 2.5in screen, has FM and microphone functions, SD slot, silky video playback
- Our MP4 files couldn't be transcoded for use on the player, ships with a short USB cable, a little heavy on the bass frequencies
For videos, music, photos and more, you can't beat the Zen. It's one of the most versatile players on the market, it's well built and it'll give you many hours of enjoyment.
Price$ 149.00 (AUD)
Forget about the iPod Nano, the best small media player is Creative's Zen. And now that it's available in a 2GB version, it's more affordable than ever. Not only is it a flash-based media player, it also has an FM tuner and a built-in microphone – functionally, at least, you'll get a lot more out of it than you would with a Nano.
It's got a very responsive menu interface, which can be navigated by a thumb control as well as a couple of shortcut keys, but a magnificent 2.5in, 4:3 LCD screen is the main attraction. It's easy to fall in love with this vibrant little player the first time you use it. You can view song, artist or album lists and play them straight away or add them to a running playlist. And instead of scrolling through long lists, you can skip through your content alphabetically.
A shortcut button on the player can be set to choose an 'album of the day' for you, which is convenient if you've got stacks of music and can't decide on what you want to hear. Subsequent presses will play different albums.
It's a breeze to use and is a very handy player for anyone who spends a lot of time commuting on public transport. It'll sit snugly in the palm of your hand as you watch video, but of course you can also view photos and listen to music, or even view photos while listening to music. Its battery life is also quite good. It played for over 12 hours, which included us listening to music mainly, but also watching video files. We love the fact that we can stop a video at any time, put on a song or listen to the radio, then go back to the movie later on and pick up where we left off.
Before you get excited, the 2GB Zen requires driver software to be installed from the supplied CD, which was an agonisingly slow setup process, even on a Core 2 Duo E6700-based PC. Zen Media Explorer software is also installed at the same time, and this can be used to import files to the player, but it's not required as files can also be dragged to the player through Windows Explorer. This is more convenient than using the Zen Media Explorer, which is limited to displaying folders in a tree structure only.
A necessary part of the installation is the Creative Video Converter, which is for transcoding videos to the Zen's playable WMV file format. It can harness the power of both cores if you have a PC with a dual-core CPU, and a typical one-hour TV show, transcoded from the XviD file type to a 'good' quality WMV file, took less than 20min to complete on our test system. You can 'set and forget' transcoding operations overnight and then have them automatically transfer to the player when they're done. A limitation of the software is its inability to transcode MP4 files – or at least the files that we threw at it.
Now you can get excited. Transcoded videos played back super-smoothly, with great definition and colour, and there weren't any audio synchronisation problems. The screen did well to handle sunny conditions, but of course, you'll get optimal results when you're not in direct sunlight – you will want to wipe off fingerprints and smudges before you watch. JPEG photos also looked great and the unit's menu labels were crisp and easy to identify.
Music sounded warm, but a little bass heavy through the supplied earphones. Nevertheless, you probably won't find the need to buy new headphones for this player. It won't play store-bought iTunes songs, but it will handle MP3 and WMA files, as well as AAC files which don't have copy protection.
With 2GB of memory, you can store a handful of one-hour TV shows or up to 1388min worth of MP3 files encoded at 192Kbps. Conveniently, an SD slot is present, so you can upgrade the player's capacity easily; yet another reason why this player is so good.
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