There's a lot to like about the Creative Zen V Plus, including its ease of use. If you're already running Windows Media Player (we recommend version 11), you don't even need to install any software to start syncing content to the player. However, the included Creative software is a worthwhile install, as it includes several useful apps, particularly the ToolBox, which can convert and transfer video files to the player, and ZenCast, a program that offers a one-stop spot for subscribing to, organizing, and transferring podcasts. Unfortunately, the device uses MTP, so you won't be able to sync it with any machines that aren't running Windows XP.
Once you get some content on to the Creative Zen V Plus--supported formats comprise MP3, WAV, WMA (including subscription), and Audible audio; AVI video (natively; other formats such as WMV and MPEG-4 can be transcoded with the included software); and JPEG photos--it's a breeze to navigate through the options. All menus are straightforward. Music is sorted by playlist, album, artist, and so on, while photos are conveniently sorted into folders. Open these folders, and you're greeted with an attractive three-by-three thumbnail grid of your pictures.
There's a lot to like about the Creative Zen V Plus, but it really shines in the features department. There's photo and video playback; an FM tuner with 32 autoscannable presets; FM, voice, and line-in recording; an alarm clock and calendar; and even PIM functionality, with the ability to sync tasks and contacts from Outlook. Plus, you can set any of your photos as wallpaper and choose from several color themes for the interface. The only things missing are USB host capability and built-in Wi-Fi, but since these extras are more of a luxury, we don't count their absence against the player.
The Creative Zen V Plus is a splendid little performer too. Music played through the included earbuds sounds decent, but if you really want to experience the player's high-quality audio, swap in a pair of premium 'phones, such as the Shure E4c. And we're happy to report that this Zen--unlike previous versions--gets plenty loud. Battery life was also impressive in our CNET Labs' tests, lasting more than 20 hours (and much longer than the rated 15 hours). Transfer times over USB 2.0 were a subpar 1.25MB per second. Photos and videos looked good, though small, on the bright color screen; there was a noticeable screen-door effect, but it wasn't too big a deal, since you likely won't want to stare at such a small display for very long.