Spotted on Shopper: the Creative Zen Vision:M in the 30GB black variety. No, I am not playing a cruel joke on Zen lovers. You really can still buy the player. Of course, you'll be shelling out more than $500 for one, but that's worth it for a piece of tech history, right? Or...no? You tell me. I can't be the only one that mourned the retirement of this chunky-yet-fabulous portable media device, but I won't be shelling half a grand for one anytime soon. Of course, I still have a functioning one (in green, no less!) in my possession, so that could be influencing my decision a bit. But finding the Vision:M still on sale stirred up fond memories of the player from CES 2006 and onward. Join me as I wax nostalgic, won't you?
Best in Show: Even before the Creative Zen Vision:M crossed the review desks, it was turning heads at CNET. Despite the fact that neither MP3 player editor was able to attend the CES 2006 Best in Show vote meeting to pimp their nominee, the device caught the attention of various other CNET editors and garnered the Best in Show award for being the first MP3 player to show true potential as an iPod competitor. True, it came nowhere near knocking the king from its throne, but it won the hearts of plenty consumers looking for a different kind of player that was actually a quality device.
That dreamy screen: One of the most immediately impressive qualities of the Zen Vision:M was its beautiful screen. At 2.5-inches and with a 320x240-pixel resolution, it appeared at first blush identical to the iPod's, but it displayed a whopping 262,000 colors to the iPod's 65,000, which meant photos and videos looked outstandingly crisp, bright, and saturated. Plus, the Zen really made use of that beautiful LCD, offering a 4x5 photo thumbnail grid, various interface themes, and the ability to set your own images as wall-paper (something the iPod doesn't offer to this day).
Unique-yet-simple interface: Love it or hate it, no denying the Vision:M's rocking touch strip was unique. It was partially borrowed from the Zen Micro, but improved in that it allowed for accelerated scrolling through lists. Clicking it on either side shuttled through tracks, leaving the surrounding tactile buttons for specific functions: play/pause, contextual menu (for changing playback mode on-the-fly, say), back, and shortcut. We rued the lack of dedicated volume, but appreciated the simple step-down menu, which--true to form--utilized Creative's patented interface with genre/artist/album/track sorting.
Features for all: It wouldn't be a Creative MP3 player if it didn't offer some extras. The Vision:M delivered with an FM tuner and recorder, voice recording capability, album art support, a custom EQ, bookmarking, on-the-fly playlist creation, and calendar and contact syncing. Plus, it acted as a USB host for direct photo offloading from digital cameras, and it was one of the flagship players for the on-the-go subscription music movement. (Nearly every WMA-playing device has followed in its footsteps.)
Resting on performance: With its 97dB signal-to-ratio, the Zen Vision:M passed our listening tests with flying colors, succeeding in providing crystal clear audio at even ear-splitting levels. It's audio battery life of 15.9 hours was more than reasonable for a hard drive-based player at the time, and the 5 hour video battery life was definitely impressive. This player knew how to shine.