Creative Zen Micro Photo review: Creative Zen Micro Photo

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MSRP: $199.99

The Good The Creative Zen Micro Photo features a bright, colorful OLED that's viewable from any angle, and it's available in a choice of 10 body colors. This MP3 player also includes useful extra features such as a user-replaceable battery, a voice recorder, a photo viewer, an FM tuner, and an onboard calendar and task manager that syncs with Microsoft Outlook. The Zen Micro Photo is also out-of-the-box compatible with Janus (Windows Media DRM 10) and offers excellent sound quality.

The Bad Unfortunately, the Creative Zen Micro Photo doesn't let you listen to music and browse photos simultaneously, and album art is not supported at this time. The touch pad on this device can take some getting used to.

The Bottom Line The Creative Zen Micro Photo is an excellent full-featured MP3 player and, for its size, a decent photo viewer; it just doesn't combine the two effectively.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Creative Zen Micro Photo

The MP3 editors at CNET have been patiently waiting (and waiting) for the official U.S. debut of the Creative Zen Micro Photo ever since Creative originally announced the color-screen version of the Zen Micro back in January at CES 2005. Well, it has finally arrived, and we're happy we waited. The retail version of the Zen Micro Photo is an improvement over the prototype in key areas, notably hard drive capacity. The microdrive MP3 player is actually a hair smaller than its predecessor, yet it offers 8GB of storage for a reasonable $249.99; originally, the player was slated for 5GB and 6GB drives at $299 and $349, respectively. As a portable audio player, the Creative Zen Micro Photo is top-notch, and it makes a decent photo viewer. Unfortunately, it doesn't integrate the two as we'd expect at this point in the photo MP3 player game. Surprisingly, the Creative Zen Micro Photo is a fraction smaller (3.3 by 2.0 by 0.63 inches) than its monochrome-screen sibling, yet it manages to pack in 2GB to 3GB more storage, offering an 8GB microdrive, or about 2,000 songs. It doesn't pack on any extra ounces either, keeping its lightweight status at 3.8 ounces. And you still get the easily removable and replaceable battery, a standard mini USB connection, and a hold switch. There's also a choice of 10 colors--black, gray, white, pink, purple, green, orange, light blue, dark blue, and red--though some shades are slightly different than those of the Zen Micro. But the main difference, of course, is the Zen Micro Photo's small, but nice, full-color OLED screen; it measures 1.6 inches diagonally, can display 262,144 colors, and is viewable from any angle.

The Creative Zen Micro Photo has an easily removable battery that any user can replace.

The innovative touch pad that made its debut on the Creative Zen Micro carries over to the Photo, though it has been slightly improved. Foremost, Creative has decreased the sensitivity of the Low setting so that the pad doesn't seem nearly as touchy as on the original Micro's. Also, the face of the player has a textured feel to it, lending a more tactile sensation to the controls. Still, those used to pressing real buttons might need some time to adjust. The layout of the touch pad remains the same, with a vertical scroll strip flanked by Back, rewind, play/pause, fast-forward, and menu keys. This, combined with a great user interface, makes for highly intuitive navigation.

The Creative Zen Micro Photo (pink) next to the Apple iPod Nano.

Creative recently patented the interface found on the Zen Micro Photo. In fact, the Creative interface is used on many popular MP3 players, including the Apple iPod. The interface is hierarchy-based, which means you navigate to a genre, then an artist, then an album, and finally a track. Of course, you can also go directly to any of the last three, as well as straight to a playlist that you've created on the PC, then transferred over. In addition, the Zen Micro Photo includes a DJ that will decide for you. This MP3 player's interface is a breeze to use.

The Creative Zen Micro Photo ships with a soft pouch, a USB cable (used for both transferring and charging), a pair of decent earbuds, a user manual, and an install disc. The last includes Creative's MediaSource software, a music-management app that we largely ignored, as well as Windows Media Player 10 and Adobe Acrobat Reader. The most important thing on the disc, though, is the Creative Zen Micro Photo app, which establishes the connection between player and computer. It also encompasses a digital user guide and two useful programs called Zen Micro Photo Media Explorer and Creative Media Tool Box. The first is a Windows Explorer-like program that lets you easily access and organize files on the player, while the second includes convenient tools such as an automatic tag cleaner (operating via Gracenote's Music ID service) and an automatic organizer (based on ID3 tag info).

The Creative Zen Micro Photo is certainly not lacking for features. It's an MP3 player that also accepts WAV and WMA files, including those downloaded as part of Rhapsody To Go and other on-the-go music subscription services. Additionally, it's a photo viewer with a nine-by-nine thumbnail grid for previewing and the ability to support separate albums, represented as folders on the device. Unfortunately, Creative does not successfully marry these two concepts; you can't listen to music and browse photos simultaneously--a bummer since having something to look at while you jam to your favorite tunes significantly adds to the experience. Also, album art isn't supported, but we can forgive this more easily since we'd rather see track info and time elapsed anyway. Remember, the screen is fairly small in the first place.

On the left, the Zen Micro Photo's interface screen using one of eight color schemes; on the right, you'll find the nine-by-nine photo thumbnail grid.

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