Like day side of Mercury, ultracompact is so hot right now. Creative seems to be aware of that fact, as the company's only major portable audio announcement for CES is an update to both of its Zen Stone lines of MP3 players. The new Stones "with Built-In Speaker" (yes, that's the official name) are pretty much exactly what they sound like--the itty-bittiest of Zens with a single, integrated external speaker. That's not the only difference, though. The new players also offer an updated color scheme; it's a brushed-metallic look with your choice of baby pink, navy blue, pearly white, or black. The control pads are clear, which is also a bit of a different touch. Overall, the updated paint job makes the Stone just a bit more elegant and less toylike. To make room for the speaker, Creative made the devices slightly chubbier, though I think this gives them a more substantial feel--plus, they still fit comfortably in a coin pocket of a pair of jeans, so who's counting?
Naturally, the mono speaker doesn't sound fantastic, but it gets surprisingly loud, and I must say that I'm keen on the idea of walking around with my own theme music for the world to hear. With the headphones plugged in, you can expect the same excellent audio quality that the Zen line has been delivering for years. The players, which are due out at the end of this month, also offer an enticing price point. The screenless Zen Stone comes in at $49.99 for 1GB, while the Plus version (with 2GB of memory, a screen, and an FM tuner) will set you back $59.99.