After much anticipation, we finally got our greedy little hands on the Creative Zen X-Fi. While we put the player through its paces for the in-depth review, we thought you'd appreciate a closer look. One thing we can tell you off the bat: the Zen X-Fi is an incredible value given all the features, but we're a bit disappointed that it's encased in plastic rather than metal.
The Zen X-Fi photographs really well, but sadly, this is a bit misleading. The player is encased entirely in plastic and the faceplate is not seamlessly wrapped around the edge of the device. As a result, we've already begun to experience some warping at the bottom edge of the faceplate. Given the low cost-to-feature ratio, we can forgive Creative somewhat for this, but we're hoping the warping is only an issue with early models and will be addressed going forward.
Creative is selling two versions of the Zen X-Fi: a Wi-Fi model in 16GB and 32GB versions, and an 8GB version without the Wi-Fi. All of the models are extremely competitively priced, given all of the out-of-the-box features available. The 8GB sells for $149.99, while the 16GB and 32GB sell for $199 and $279, respectively. All of them are available in just one color option: black with silver trim.
Creative has carried over the lovely screen from the Zen. Photos look vibrant and bright, with excellent color saturation and good detail--and the viewing angle from side to side is excellent. The interface is straightforward and lovely to look at, right down to the transparent icons on the main menu. The X-Fi is noticeably thicker than the Zen, though, no doubt because of the wireless antenna.
The Creative Zen X-Fi also includes the usual array of features we've come to expect from the line: FM radio with autoscan and presets, bookmarking, voice recording, and support for Audible and subscription music.
Nothing to complain about here. The right spine of the player houses a standard 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a standard mini USB port for charging and syncing. The reset button is a little larger and less recessed than on previous Zens, meaning you can activate it with a ball-point pen or similar device. (Before, you would have needed something even skinnier.)
The top side of the X-Fi features the SD card slot first introduced on the Zen. Unfortunately, Creative did not remedy the integration issue: content stored on the card must be accessed via a separate menu and does not integrate into your main library. There's also a pinhole mic for making voice recordings, which can be split on the device itself--nifty.
Creative includes a nine-digit keypad (like on a phone) to leave room for add-on applications going forward. Still, the control pad is pretty straightforward for basic functions. The surrounding buttons--play/pause, contextual menu, back, and shortcut--have sharp edges, another indicator of the cheap construction in our book. They seem unfinished, but work just fine.
The Zen X-Fi is packed with features, the most exciting of which are the X-Fi Crystalizer and Wi-Fi. The wireless functionality lets you stream music from a media server of your choosing from anywhere that you can get on Wi-Fi. It also allows for a feature that we've never seen on an MP3 player: chat.
The Wi-Fi XFis include a set of new Creative headphones, a $50 value. The EP-830 earphones will be sold separately through Creative at a later date, for those that want to upgrade the 8GB XFi or other Zen players.