The latest player from Creative, dubbed simply Zen, will replace the Zen Vision:M, adding the company to a growing list of MP3 player makers giving up hard drives in favor of flash memory.
Although the Zen is much smaller and thinner than the Vision:M, it offers the same beautiful 2.5-inch TFT screen, which is capable of displaying up to 16.7 million colors. In addition to allowing photo and video viewing, the ample screen makes navigation a breeze--and we love that you can customize the themes and wallpaper to make it your own.
As a replacement to the Vision:M, the Zen should be more than adequate, though it looks nothing like its predecessor and will sadly only come in black, rather than the array of colors we've come to expect in Creative devices. In fact, this player reminds us of a miniaturized version of the full-size Vision PVP, and that's definitely not a bad thing.
The Zen has a quality feel to it, with a shiny, coated face and a smooth, brushed metal backside with the Zen "drop rings" logo molded into it. Unfortunately, the battery is not user-replaceable as with the Zen Vision. However, the rated battery life of 25 hours for audio and 5 hours for video should be good enough for most users.
The new Zen is at the top of Creative's flash player heap in terms of build quality, screen size, and price. The player comes in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB capacities which carry estimated MSRPs of $149.99, $199.99, and $299.99, respectively.
Creative seems to have realized that tactile buttons are oh-so-much-more satisfying than touch-sensitive control strips. The Zen neither skimps nor goes overboard with its array of controls: there's a back/contextual menu rocker, a five-way control pad, and a two-way button containing the play/pause and shortcut functions.
Creative will offer several optional accessories for the Zen, including our favorite: this clear acrylic case with a caribiner attachment and a built-in kickstand for easier video viewing. Accessories vary in price from $8 to $30, with this one falling right at $20.
For those who demand more than 16GB of memory for their media library, the Zen includes an SD card expansion slot--a first for a Creative MP3 player. You also get the standard built-in mic for making voice recordings.
Though flash memory chips aren't as capacious as hard drives, they do allow for much smaller devices--great for those who want the ultimate in portability. The Creative Zen is no slouch in that department: it measures just 3.3 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.4 inch, making it quite pocket-friendly for all but the tightest jeans.
We always appreciate a standard mini USB port for syncing/charging, and--naturally--the Zen uses the regular 3.5-millimeter headphone jack so you can use your favorite pair of 'phones with the device. The right edge also houses the power/hold switch--a Creative combo that we have come to love.