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Creative Zen Micro Photo review: Creative Zen Micro Photo

Fortunately, your eyes won't get too bored because you can tinker with the eight "themes" while your music plays. The themes are a variety of interface color schemes, and if they don't interest you, you can set your favorite photo as wallpaper. The Creative Zen Micro Photo also offers shuffle, repeat, and resume playback settings as well as eight preset EQs (Acoustic, Classical, Disco, Jazz, New Age, Pop, Rock, and Vocal) and a five-band user-defined mode. There's also a Bass Boost option and a Smart Volume setting that levels the volume across all tracks.

If you get tired of your digital music, you can tune into the Creative Zen Micro Photo's FM radio, which picks up even the weakest broadcast signals. The radio includes a handy autoscan function and offers 32 preset slots. If you feel so inclined, you can record FM transmissions, and there's a built-in mic for voice recordings. All recordings are saved as good-quality WAV files, though with noticeable white noise. Audiobook lovers will appreciate that the Creative Zen Micro lets you set up to 10 bookmarks. We're still waiting on confirmation as to whether the player supports content.

The Zen Micro Photo isn't compatible with Macs, but it's one of the very few MP3 players that can sync your calendar, contacts, and tasks from Microsoft Outlook--a handy feature indeed for people who don't need the full functionality of a PDA. The player also works as a rudimentary alarm clock if it's hooked up to external speakers. There's a wake timer onboard that can be set to the FM radio or the music library.

We've come to expect top-quality audio performance from Creative's MP3 players, and the Creative Zen Micro Photo doesn't disappoint. With a signal-to-noise ratio of "up to 98dB," the player delivers truly impressive detail and vocal clarity with almost imperceptible background hiss; we could detect it through only the best of headphones. Bass response is more than respectable, and the mid-to-high ends come through nicely with no muddling, even at the loudest volume. And all this through the included earbuds; swap in a high-end pair of headphones, and sound remains excellent, perhaps slightly improved (we used the Shure E4c). Happily, the Zen Micro Photo gets plenty loud, which can't be said of its monochrome-screen sibling. This is truly an audiophile's MP3 player.

The Zen Micro Photo's processor also does well overall. Photo thumbnails take just a few seconds to load, and the lag between standard MP3 files played on random is barely noticeable. Out of the box, the player annoyingly lagged between Janus tracks, but this was reduced when we updated the firmware; we still think this needs more work, though.

Performance in CNET Labs testing was also pretty good. Files transferred at a rate of 3.6MB per second, which is a hair above average. In testing, CNET Labs just inched past Creative's rated battery life of 15 hours, squeezing out 15 hours, 3 minutes of playback. It's not an amazing amount of juice, but it's definitely sufficient, especially considering that you can pick up another battery ($39.99) and swap it in on the go.

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