Creative Labs ZEN Stone
- Attractive design, folder support with folder skipping button, drag and drop support
- Average sound quality, mediocre headphones
The design, ease of use, folder support and low price tag make the ZEN Stone an attractive and superior alternative to the iPod shuffle.
Price$ 89.95 (AUD)
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With Apple's iPod dominating the portable multimedia market, each new player has to have an edge, a catch, a funky feature or a superior design imperative, to merely be considered. Enter the Creative ZEN Stone, a direct competitor to the iPod shuffle (2nd Generation). With features above and beyond what the shuffle can accomplish including drag and drop capabilities and folder structure support, the ZEN Stone offers greater versatility and best of all, doesn't require iTunes.
The ZEN Stone is true to its name and looks much like a small pebble. It has rounded edges, a piano black finish and a minimalist approach to button layout. It uses a standard mini-USB connection to connect to a PC via a USB 2.0 port so users don't have to worry about proprietary connection types or special cables.
Uploading music to the player is simple and easy. The ZEN Stone doesn't require any software, so all you need to do is drag your MP3 files from your PC to the device. The PC finds the Stone as a portable drive, much like a flash memory stick, and it even allows you to drag and drop folders as well. Why is this important? Folder support is something that the iPod shuffle (2nd Generation) is lacking. With the shuffle, music is dumped on the player and users have the choice of listening to it one at a time in order, or turning on shuffle mode which will play files randomly. The Stone gives you a little more control; by putting folders on the device you can use the "skip folder" button to skip to the next folder on the player. This allows users to make folders that only have songs by a particular artist, a folder per album or even folders containing your own compilations. This is a great feature and makes the ZEN Stone a pleasure to use.
Unfortunately, the Stone shares one trait with the iPod iPod shuffle (2nd Generation), that is, the sound quality is fairly average. Using a high-end set of headphones, we found sound to be lacking in many areas. Bass is muddy and distant, while treble sounds tinny. The mid range is good but there isn't much by way of audio separation, so instruments in the music tend to get a little lost in the background. Naturally, a device of this nature doesn't have any equalisers or sound modes, so there is no way to calibrate the sound. Although the sound quality isn't brilliant, it remains more than adequate for casual listening.
We used high-end headphones in our testing simply because the included headphones aren't up to scratch. While they do the job, they compound many of the problems with the Stone including, but not limited to, the tinny treble registers. Using the standard Creative headphones, we also experienced some distortion at high volume levels. Much like the iPod shuffle (2nd Generation), you probably shouldn't look at the Stone as your primary MP3 player. It would suit those who want something to listen to at the gym, or while jogging and hence aren't too fussed about audio quality.
The ZEN Stone comes in a 1GB capacity and will be initially released only in the piano black colour. In July Creative will release pink, white and blue editions. Accessories are also available including an armband, keychain add-on and protective sleeves with a belt clip. Creative rates battery life at up to 10 hours of continuous music playback, and we found this figure very close to the mark.
While the audio quality isn't as high quality as other larger capacity MP3 players on the market, the design, ease of use, folder support and low price tag make the ZEN Stone an attractive and superior alternative to the iPod shuffle.
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