Editors' note: Our Creative Zen X-Fi test unit suffered from a cosmetic flaw where the bottom edge face plate warped up and away from the body of the player. This causes some concern for construction and durability, but the issue has not been reported to be present on other units and so will not affect the score of the review at this time. Once we receive a replacement, we will update this review accordingly. The rating for this product has been lowered from 7.7 to 7.5 as a result of its subpar battery life during testing.
Creative's Zen line of MP3 players is possibly one of the most extensive we've seen, especially if we take the company's Asia-specific devices into account. And Creative shows no signs of deviating from its plan to offer feature-packed players at impressively low price points. Evidence of this is apparent in the Zen X-Fi, a compact multimedia machine that's the first portable device to integrate Creative's X-Fi technology. The 16GB and 32GB versions are also the first Zens to pack in Wi-Fi capability, and without skimping on the usual array of features we've come to expect. Add to that top-notch sound quality and ultracompetitive pricing--$149, $199, and $279 for the 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB models, respectively--and you've got one of the best values available on the market today.
Style and design
The Creative Zen X-Fi isn't the coolest-looking player we've seen--if anything, it has pretty standard looks--but the understated black face, chrome-colored accenting, and brushed silver backside is sleek and inoffensive, which should give it mass appeal. More of a problem is the fact that the construction has a slightly cheap, unfinished feel, mostly because of the fact that it is encased entirely in plastic rather than metal. (However, we give a little leeway here, as metal may have caused issues with the wireless.) The four function buttons--back, contextual menu, shortcut, and play/pause--have sharp edges, which help with blind navigation but also lend to the unfinished feel, as does the fact that they are not backlit.
In between the function buttons, Creative has included a nine-digit keypad. At first, the inclusion of so many keys seems a bit confusing, but once you learn to ignore the outer four corners, you have a simple four-way directional pad with a center select button. The extras are an effort to make the Zen X-Fi adaptable to future applications. Sadly, dedicated volume is not part of the setup. The edges of the player feature a speaker on bottom, a standard mini USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack on the right, and a pinhole mic and SD card slot on the top. The power/hold switch is located on the backside of the player; kind of an odd placement, but not a big deal.
Setup and interface
Getting content onto the Zen X-Fi is a mostly simple task (except when it comes to video). If you're already running Windows Media Player or Rhapsody, you don't even need to install any software to start syncing content to the player--in fact, you can even use drag-and-drop if you prefer. However, the included Creative Centrale software is a worthwhile install if you're going to be putting a lot of video on the player--it can be finicky about format, size, and frame rate. ZenCast--a program that offers a one-stop spot for subscribing to, organizing, and transferring podcasts--is not included on the disc but can be downloaded. It would have been nice if Creative had folded this into Centrale to offer a more seamless experience. We'd also love to have seen Mac support; unfortunately, the X-Fi uses MTP, so you won't be able to sync it with any machines that aren't running Windows XP or Vista.