Creative Labs ZEN Stone Plus
- Stylish small design, Some nice features, Drag and drop, Now comes with a screen
- Screen a little small, Interface sluggish, Poor battery life
Creative's ZEN Stone Plus is another good entry into the digital music market. It does suffer from poor battery life and a slightly slow interface, but if you're after a small and relatively stylish unit, it is a reasonable choice.
Creative's ZEN Stone Plus is a revision of their successful ZEN Stone. It keeps the same petite and stylish design but this time packs in added extras like an FM radio, voice recorder, stop watch and a small OLED screen. These improvements are welcome, but the device still has a few interface issues and the screen really isn't as useful as it could be.
The small, circular OLED display is the most notable addition to the Stone. It is often difficult to adequately navigate a digital music player without a screen, even with the Stone's handy 'jump to folder' button. However, while the OLED on the Stone Plus is nifty for changing settings and hunting through the menu, it is far too small to adequately display track info. If Creative shifted the controls around a little and extended the display it would have been a lot more useful.
That said, the controls are relatively well laid out. The five-way directional pad on the face of the unit does the brunt of the work, with a play and mode button sitting on the top and rounding out the controls. The interface is clear and quite intuitive although it will take a few minutes before users work out how to properly operate the relatively minimalist controls (some buttons are held for different periods of time to complete certain functions). Our one complaint in this area is the menu is a little slow. If you rapidly queue a series of actions sometimes there will be a second or so delay before the unit catches up. A similar issue occurs when switching tracks, which is odd for a flash memory based player.
Another drawback is the rather painful music navigation system. There is no support for ID3 tags, which is slightly disappointing - even if its somewhat expected from a player such as this. What is on offer is the ability to sort files via directories, which usually works fairly well, allowing you to split them up by artist or album as you see fit. Unfortunately the Stone Plus doesn't allow you to navigate these sub directories; the second you select one it takes you to the first track and you have to navigate through using the track skip buttons, making it quite irritating. We also found the order in which they played the tracks sometimes got a little confusing, so we'd recommend making sure all your files are named consistently if using this device.
Of course there's plenty to like about this device too and aside from the aforementioned problems it is a relatively competitive unit in the portable multimedia space. The inclusion of a voice recorder is a nifty touch, and will be useful for university students who want to record the occasional lecture. It records directly to MP3 format and the microphone operates about as anticipated. It is fine for loud ambient noise or close personal conversations, but you'll want a proper Dictaphone if you're regularly making recordings.
Similarly, the FM radio makes a nice addition for those times you need a break from your regular music. It has several spots for station presets however we were disappointed to find no record option.
Sound quality was generally quite good; a slight improvement over the previous model. The Stone Plus tended to produce rich, warm sound with a nice clarity and separation. We tested using a pair of high end IEM (In Ear Monitor) headphones and overall we were impressed. The included headphones however were not as good, with little in the way of detail and extremely muddy bass. We'd suggest investing in a third party pair of headphones to properly enjoy your music.
Aesthetically the Stone Plus hasn't really changed. It is a fraction lighter than its predecessor, weighing in at 21g. The size and shape however has remained the same and the smooth, pebble shape makes it easy to slip into your pocket and forget about. Our unit came with a slick black colour scheme, but it is also available in pink and white.
It has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a mini USB 2.0 port for connection to a PC. No software is required, so loading music onto the device is simply a case of dragging and dropping the files across.
Battery life is somewhat unimpressive, with Creative quoting 9.5 hours under ideal conditions, which converted to about seven hours during our playback tests. This is far less than most other flash players and means you'll likely be charging it every few days.
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