It comes as no surprise that the £37 Zen Stone Plus sounds terrific, providing you use some decent headphones. Music files can be dragged and dropped into the Stone's memory through Windows, or managed with Windows Media Player -- excellent, as we love simplicity.
This minuscule musical gadget even has a five-band equaliser with four presets. A button on the top of the player has a customisable function so you're free to assign it to any part of the player's menus that you most frequently use, including the switching on and off of the loudspeaker. Menus, on the other hand, are less friendly. They're sluggish and can be irritating to use.
The loudspeaker is reasonably loud and very bright, so it's ideal for listening to podcasts in the car. Music, on the other hand, sounds like you'd expect: no bass, but fairly clear. It's hard to think of a massive list of potential applications for it, but it'd have a use in a tent or perhaps when relaxing on a beach if you just couldn't fit those battery-powered speakers into your backpack.
An expected 20-hour battery life is terrific when compared to the iPod shuffle's 12 hours, and as this is primarily geared towards sporty types, you're likely to be exhausted long before it is. We'll have battery life test results for you soon, both with and without the speaker switched on.
The Zen Stone Plus with Speaker does everything it should do, plus loads of extra stuff you might not expect. It has up to 4GB of capacity for around the same price as Apple's 2GB iPod shuffle, plus better sound quality, a cute if rudimentary screen, an FM radio, a little speaker and true drag-and-drop management of files. It will be a wonder why anyone would choose a shuffle, other than for looks.
If you don't care about features, check out the Zen Stone with Speaker -- for just around £30 for a 2GB version, it looks the same and also has a speaker. Or you can still try both versions without speakers here and here.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday