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Creative Zen Vision:M review: Creative Zen Vision:M (30GB)

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Typical Price: $470.00

The Good Stylish looks. Excellent colour LCD screen. Long list of features, including FM Radio, video playback and recorder. Easy to use interface. Music and video playback outstanding. FM radio a cinch to use.

The Bad Touch pad can be a little sensitive. Dock connector dongle a tad unnecessary. Music battery life lower than competitors. Too many pieces of software to control the player. Must use an adapter for transfers and power, meaning that occasionally you need two cables and the adapter.

The Bottom Line An intuitive and easy to use interface, impressive list of features, stunning LCD screen and top performances in music, photo and video playback make this Creative Zen Vision M an outstanding choice.

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Shorter than a 5th generation video iPod but also a few millimetres thicker, the new Creative Zen Vision:M is indeed a good looking device. The player features smooth rounded edges and comes in three different colours in Australia - black, white or green (US consumers, for some reason, can also choose from pink and blue). Whatever colour, the front finish on the M is smooth and shiny, with the back panel sporting an interesting round rippled effect. But if our black review unit is anything to go by, it's a finish that scratches rather easily. Luckily, Creative bundles in a soft drawstring carrying case with every Zen Vision:M.

The front of the M is split in two horizontally, with the top half dominated by the large, bright 2.5-inch colour screen. Below the screen is the M's main navigation button, a touch sensitive vertical pad. It can be used to scroll through menus by sliding your thumb up or down, or accept selections by tapping a thumb anywhere on the touch pad. The vertical touch pad's left and right edges can also be pressed to navigate through menus, songs or photos. Surrounding the vertical touch pad are four buttons - a play/pause button, a context-sensitive options menu button, a back button and another button whose function can be assigned by the user. All of the buttons feature a blue backlight, which only adds to the Zen Vision:M's cool factor.

As you can probably tell, we're fans of the Zen Vision:M's form factor - it's just the right size to fit easily in jeans or pockets and feels nicely weighty in the hand. Creative has made a strange decision with the M's dock connector, however. About the size of a small matchbox, this small, white dongle connects to the bottom of the Zen Vision:M and contains the connectors for power, USB and AV-Out. So that means to charge up your M or to transfer songs, you'll need to connect the dongle to the player first. It's a pity Creative couldn't incorporate all this functionality on the player itself, as this little dock connector dongle is something we can forecast being misplaced or lost quite easily.

Until Apple gets its act together and starts offering the same level of video content to Australian consumers, Creative's Zen Vision:M is significantly ahead of the iPod.

The immediate thing that grabs you upon switching on the Zen Vision:M for the first time is its outstanding colour screen. The 2.5-inch LCD has a resolution of 320x240 pixels and can display an impressive 256,000 colours (as compared to only 65,000 colours on the video iPod). Images and video absolutely pop out of the M's screen - it's vibrant and colourful, and it's a joy to look at.

Creative players have long put iPods to shame when it comes to features and the Zen Vision:M is no exception. As well as music, photos and videos, the Zen Vision:M also has a nifty FM radio tuner, recorder (for both voice and the FM radio), and it can sync to Microsoft Outlook.

At 30GB capacity, Creative says the M can store up to 15,000 songs, tens of thousands of photos or 120 hours of video. When it comes to music, the Zen Vision:M supports MP3, WMA and WAV files, while it can read JPEG digital photos (as well as BMP, GIF, TIFF and PNG files after conversion). Video support is similarly impressive - as well as MPEG1/2/4, it can also read WMV9, AVI, Motion-JPEG, DivX 4 and XviD. This makes the M a much more format-friendly video player than the iPod - but more on that later.

The Zen Vision:M's rechargeable battery offers up mixed performance. Creative claims only 14 hours of battery life for audio, which is behind most other players of its type of the market. Video playback, however, is substantial at four hours.

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