Creative Labs knows audio, and we're not just talking about sound cards. The company's line of Zen MP3 players has consistently earned good marks for sound quality, features, and value. Perhaps the favorite of all these devices has been the Zen V Plus, an adorable budget player with an ultracompact design. In fact, the Zen V Plus has been popular enough to let Creative rest on its laurels for more than two years. But now the time has come for a refresh, and that refresh is in the form of the Zen Mozaic, a uniquely-designed device with Creative's signature sound quality and feature offerings. The Mozaic is a bit larger than its predecessor, measuring 3.1 inches by 1.6 inches by 0.5 inch, but like the others in the line, it's priced to sell: the 2GB version is $59.99 while the 4GB goes for $79.99 (an 8GB model is in the works).
Straight-up: we think the Zen Mozaic is super cute, but that doesn't mean it's just for girls. The mosaic tile design on the front gives it an arty look that anyone tired of ho-hum electronics can appreciate. On that same tip, however, we can see how those who prefer sleek understatement might find the pattern off-putting. Creative offers the device in a choice of three colors--black, gray, or pink--which account for the overall color scheme and shading on the tiles. Nine of these tiles comprise the player's main controls, which have understated markings to indicate their functions. This way, the buttons blend nicely into the overall design--we like the effect. The keys consist of four directional arrows surrounding a center select button; the four outer corners include dedicated back, contextual menu, play/pause, and shortcut buttons. We're pleased to see that Creative included the full array of controls found on the Zen, although the fact that they are set so close together will prove challenging for those with larger fingers (the fact that the buttons are raised helps some, though). Unfortunately, there's no dedicated volume rocker, but there is a combined power and hold switch on the left spine. The bottom of the player houses the standard mini USB port and a headphone jack.
The interface and plethora of visual display options continue to set the Zen line apart. As per usual, Creative includes various themes for interface customization, and you can set any image on the player as wallpaper. 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-four thumbnail grid of your pictures. The photo viewing experience is great: the thumbnails magnify as you scroll through them and once you select a photo, you are given various options including zoom and rotate. Naturally, you can view photos and slide shows while listening to music. There's even a nifty, semi-split-screen deal on the main menu that cycles through album art, photos, or video image clips, depending on which media type you are browsing.