After the break-in last year (it’s 2006 if you’re reading this in 2008), and losing my portable music device, my Palm T5, I didn’t have any device for music on the go. My Nokia 6230i sounded very bad on its stock headphone, and buying a bigger MMC memory card isn’t my cup of tea as my digital camera uses SD Cards. Since then, I’ve been eyeing on a new mp3 player.
Although iPod is the most popular mp3 player of our time, and as much as I like Apple computers, I do not like the idea of working only with iTunes and their copyright protection limitation. So iPod is out of the picture, then there’s Cowin and iRiver which are pretty cool in their own sense, but they are rarely found in KL. This leave me with SanDisk, Sony, and Creative. I chose Creative at last because of its size and audio quality. I got a pretty good deal from a store in Low Yat, at just RM530, it’s RM60 lower than retail price. I almost buy the 8GB at RM700, but something tells me to save the money up. I’d been reading good things about its impressive sound quality, I read EVERYTHING about it before I even consider of buying it, just like any gadgets I bought. So how’s the real thing like?
After switching it on right after I bought it, I was welcome by this Creative splash screen, which was then followed by the Zen splash screen. It takes some time to load to the main menu, unlike the iPod that could do it instantly. There are some stock musics, photos, and video to showcase the power of Zen, but I’ll need to upload my own music to tell the quality. One thing for sure, the screen look crisp and there aren’t any dead pixels. The menus are intuitive, just a bit below the level of the iPods.
After connecting to my friend’s PC, I found out that I only can transfer songs by using WinAmp, Windows Media Player, or the Media Centre bundled by the Zen. I didn’t try the software by Zen, I’m not a fan of them. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t just drag and drop songs to the player without installing any softwares or driver. Luckily my friend is using WinAmp, so I could transfer my audio files. Before the purchase, I’d gotten ready some songs which were converted into AAC format, they are better quality audio format at the same bitrate compared to MP3, used by iPod. To my confusion, I can’t transfer them using WinAmp, I didn’t go and find out the reason, instead, I start loading it with my MP3 collections. I just want to listen to something as soon as possible. MP3 transfer without any problems and I am listening to my songs right after the transfers were completed and the Zen was unplugged.
As expected, the sound quality is very good. I do not have a pair of golden ears, but there’s no sign of distortion or sound break ups from my high bitrate MP3, even at high volume. Oh, I used my old Philip headphones instead of the ones bundled by Creative (they’re cheap plugs!) and I’m not using top quality earphones or speakers, so I would say they sound as good as iPods. The bass is on the low side on my cheap headphones, but that was easily corrected with the built-in 5-band equaliser. The music files can browse in orders like Artist, Album and genre; not the folder and files order. So you need to properly edit your MP3’s ID3 tags so your musics look neat in the player. You can also view your music’s details in the player as well as seeing the album arts. For now, I only tried MP3 and not WMA or AAC as they worked perfectly for me.
The video playback is a totally different story. It only play back WMV, Divx and Xvid in 320×240 resolution. As most of my video are larger than that, I need to transcode them in order to view them in Zen. I do not have the resource for testing all the codecs for the moment, as it’ll hog my friend’s computer for a long time. I manage to transcode just a few videos into Divx. They ran smoothly as expected until halfway into the full lenght movie or one hour video that the audio start to get out of sync with the video. It get worse as the video proceed, with the sound seriously lagging behind the video. Another small problem is that when you’re playing video A, and halfway you decided to watch Video B, it won’t forward to where you left of if you return back to Video A. So watching multiple video halfway isn’t that nice.
The SD Card slot was a nice addition, and one of the reason I bought it. But it isn’t implemented correctly. When you browse your musics in your SD card, it’ll go to the folder and files arrangement, and you’ll not be able to view the MP3’s details. The music will also stops when ever you come out of the SD Card menu (to change the equaliser or check out the calendar etc.). The same applies for videos as well. It’s also slow when viewing six-megapixels photos straight out from my digital camera, although it’ll be pointless to view anything bigger than 0.3 megapixels on the screen. However, the idea of expanding the memory to have more songs and video is still intact, only not perfectly working intuitively.
After using for almost a month, I can safely say that the screen is quite scratch resistant. As the buttons beside the screen has badly scratch, the screen seems okay from normal viewing distance. I only notice very little fine scratch on the screen face when thoroughly checked. Battery life is impressive, watching a full length movie didn’t even drain the battery halfway, and music seem like playing forever before the battery bar drop red. Take note that I’m not a frequent listener, I enjoy surrounding sounds.
There is the simple audio recording function that can record up to an hour per clip, pretty handy. Of course, do not hope it’ll work magic like dedicated voice recorder, it’s no where near there. And there is also the Radio function that works fine. It receives radio signals from the cable of the headphone you plugged in, so there will be some interference for station with weak signals. Both the recoding and radio are not featured by iPod. I didn’t check the built in Calendar and Contact list function as I didn’t try the bundled Creative software. It is suppose to sync with your Desktop PIM such as Microsoft Outlook and you’re able to view it in your Zen. One thing for sure, there’s no way to create new entries like on the iPod Touch (which cost more than twice).
The Creative Zen is a fine MP3 player if not perfect, but not so much a fine PMP due to the limitation with video playback. As much as I dislike the files transfer method, I’m glad I’m able to use WinAmp with it as it’s the player of my choice. Priced almost RM600, it’s not on the cheap side as well, compared to those China branded MP3 players, but the quality is definitely there. It’s worth the money, but it could easily be better with just better softwares. Future firmwares may offer new and improved features, but for the updated firmwares right now, they have their own new set of annoying bugs that force other users to downgrade their firmware.
Oh and, Happy New Year 2008 everyone! I can’t believe I’m blogging on this review during my New Year Eve (in my uniform in the crew room). Sad.