The arrival of Apple's iPod Mini has spawned a rash of competing micro hard drive players. It was only a matter of time before Creative improved upon its existing 4GB and 5GB MuVo2 line by releasing the Zen Micro, which is available in ten different colours -- twice as many as the iPod Mini's metallic rainbow.
As with the Rio Carbon and other market newbies, the Creative Zen Micro boasts 5GB of storage for the same price as the 4GB iPod Mini. In addition, the curvaceous Zen Micro has a fat set of features, including an FM tuner/recorder, a removable battery, a voice recorder, and even synchronization capability with Microsoft Outlook. Although the Micro's touch pad isn't as effortless to use as the Mini's click-wheel and its battery life trails the Carbon's, Creative's player should be high on your list, particularly if you use Windows Media-based download services and you value extra features.
Following in the Technicolor tradition initiated by the original iMac, the Creative Zen Micro's range of 10 colour choices includes bright and sassy hues such as purple, red, pink, and orange, and more subtle colours such as silver, black, and dark blue. These colours apply to the face of the Micro; the rest of the body is encased in a white, polished plastic.
Creative has started shipping basic colours such as silver and black; other colours are due to launch shortly after press time. In case that's not enough pizzazz for you, a glowing, blue backlight gives the display, the buttons, and a strip that wraps around the perimeter of the front panel a uniquely warm, minimalist vibe, especially in the dark.
Roughly the size of two stacked Kit Kats and weighing 107 grams, the Zen Micro is a tad thicker and heavier than the iPod Mini. It's shorter, though, and actually conforms better to your hand, thanks to its curved, glossy backside. The sturdy, plastic casing withstood a couple of short, accidental drops during testing. A headphone jack, a USB 2.0 port, a tiny microphone (for recording voice notes), and an on/off toggle switch grace the top of the unit. Pushing the toggle switch all the way to the right locks the unit during playback. Unfortunately, as with the Mini, the Micro lacks a dedicated volume control--you must use the touch pad while the unit is displaying the Now Playing screen.
In addition to the blue-backlit display, the front of player features a touch-sensitive interface. There are no buttons in the traditional sense. Rather, the interface has been partitioned into six touch-pad areas: rewind, play, forward, back, options, and a central, vertical touch pad. The centre touch pad, like the one found on the Micro's big brother, the Zen Touch, handles the scrolling through the player's menu system: The more you stray from the centre of the pad, the faster you scroll. Simply tap the interface to select a function or a menu item.