Creative Labs Zen Vision:M
- Great design, awesome screen, unparalleled file support
- Average touchpad control
The Creative Zen Vision:M blows the iPod Video out of the water and stands over its broken visage with a gleeful grin. If you are looking for a reasonably price Portable Media Player, this is the one to get.
Price$ 489.00 (AUD)
It was with a little trepidation that we received Creative's new media player, the 30GB Zen Vision:M. Having reviewed the Creative Zen Vision previously, we had found that model both problematic and pricey. The screen for example, had a poor viewing angle and its ultra reflective sheen made it hard to use. The good news is that Creative has improved on the design of the older model, while still retaining the strengths of the unit, such as support for a wide range of file formats.
At first glance you can't help but notice a similarity between the Vision:M and the iPod Video. Even though we reviewed the black model, there is a white one available and the resemblance is eerie. It seems obvious that Creative saw an opportunity to compete with the Apple empire and took it. Thankfully, they have done a good job and created a player with a better quality, bigger screen, robust file type support and more features. However, that being said, they have also stumbled in a few areas too, namely the control system.
The Zen Vision:M has a 2.5" colour screen running at 320 x 240 pixels with a colour support of up to 262,144 colours. This is much larger and of a higher quality than the iPod Video screen with its meager 64,000 colour support. The viewing angle has greatly improved from the original Zen vision with comfortable viewing at over 45 degrees. The larger screen is definitely appreciated as we felt the iPod screen was inadequate for viewing video. The Vision:M screen is still a little too small when compared to the original Zen Vision or the Cowon iAudio A2 but for a unit of this size and price it's a good size and is also quite unique.
The Video playback support is rather impressive with support for MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV9, Motion-JPEG, DivX 4, Divx 5 and XviD. We tested all the video formats and found them to run perfectly in the devices native resolution of 320x240. The Zen also supports 640x480 but only when outputting to a television via the supplied TV-out cable. The old transcoding nuisance of the past seems to have disappeared, although with the varied types of codecs on the internet, we doubt that all files will run without problems.
The audio playback was exceptional with a good rounded sound output without any glaring infidelities. The Vision:M supports MP3, WMA and WAV and all played without a problem. The unit also sports a microphone for voice recording and even though it isn't the best microphone we've used, it easily captured more than adequate recordings with very few problems. The FM Radio also worked well, although it had issues finding a few well known stations indoors, which is indicative of a medium quality FM antenna. Thankfully, the FM Radio can also be recorded to the hard drive for those who like to record music from the radio. The quality of the audio output of the Vision:M is hard to ascertain with the supplied headphones as they aren't of a high calibre but they are more than adequate for the average user. Having said that, to experience what this device can do we advise you pick up a pair of Etymotic ER6i or Koss KSC-75.
The Zen supports image viewing with support for JPEG, GIF, TIFF, PNG and BMP. In our tests we found that JPEG viewing was speedy but the larger file sizes of the other supported formats tended to take a little time to view. When viewing a large number of images this time constraint may become prohibitive.
The Contacts database, Calendar and Task list are all very useful features for those who want a simple way of keeping their appointments without having to fork out for a PDA. This could be seen as a superfluous feature for those with mobile phones and PDAs but the fact that it is included is a nice dollop of cream on an already appealing cake.
All the brilliance that this device exudes falls flat on its face the second the control system is used. Much like the iPod, the Vision:M has a touch sensitive pad in the middle of the controls but unlike the popular Apple player it is a vertical strip which means you have to scroll repeatedly in order to get to what you need. Tapping the strip will select the item you are on. This would be acceptable if the strip wasn't so sensitive, with even the slightest brush of the hand causing it to spin out of control through the menus and, at times, selecting things at random.
Navigation is also made possible by pressing the four corners of the plate on the bottom half of the device which enables things like pause, rewind, fast forward and the "back" button. These buttons worked really well and in conjunction with the customisable interface software on the player, made for a pleasurable experience. If the scroll pad had worked better, this Zen Vision:M would have been impossible to resist purchasing for people looking for a reasonably priced multimedia player.
The battery life of the Creative Zen Vision:M is rated at 4 hours for video playback and 14 hours for audio playback with a recharge time of 2.5 hours via mains power or 6.5 via USB trickle charge. It is due to be released in March 2006.
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