Creative effectively replaced the popular Zen Vision:M when it released the Zen last year, and now it's effectively taking the spotlight from the classic Zen V Plus with the Zen Mozaic -- a music and video player coming in 2GB, 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities.
With its main competitor -- the iPod nano -- selling at £150 for 16GB, the 16GB Mozaic, at £120, could be a hot steal. But can the arty new Zen hold its own even with the price advantage?
Being unusually stylish was evidently a hot requirement for Creative when developing the Mozaic. Yet it adheres to convention in many ways. Its all-plastic enclosure features a small 128x160-pixel LCD screen, a four-way control pad and entirely front-mounted menu and function buttons.
There's a dinky speaker embedded into the rear of the player, a la many new Zens. In our personal opinion, we hate these, mainly because kids use them excessively on buses. But we appreciate it takes nothing away from the player, is handy for podcasts and is something Apple's nano doesn't offer.
But many players offer a less budget-feeling keypad -- one of our least favourite aspects of the Mozaic. The little buttons are very usable, sure. But they don't scream, "Hey baby, come touch me!" It's a sturdy player though, built well enough to survive a rough-and-ready lifestyle.
Squashed inside is support for just the basic roster of audio formats: MP3, WMA and WAV; and the awkward old MJPEG video format. There's also an FM radio complete with space for 32 favourite stations. It uses your headphones as an antenna, which isn't great if you want to use the player with portable speakers (see our advice for getting around this). And there are some organiser functions, too, including a calendar and contacts database.
Audible audiobooks in formats 2, 3 and 4 are also supported, as are DRMed WMA files from the likes of Napster. And in addition to that little speaker on the back is an integrated microphone for voice recording. It records in 16kHz WAV format, in mono, at 64Kbps.
Since JPEG photos are supported, Creative lets you set any of them as background wallpapers, in addition to the slightly customisable visual themes and a completely customisable menu system. So, if you never watch videos and don't care about browsing music by genre, album or song, you can simply remove these options and keep your menus compact.
You can send content to the player with Windows Media Player -- the most comprehensive option -- or by simply dragging and dropping files through Windows. The only issue we take, software-wise, is that you have to use the bundled software for converting video into the rubbishy video format supported by the player.
The screen was another corner clearly cut to keep costs down. It's not very good, and wouldn't be even remotely enjoyable to watch video on it even if the video format wasn't as unpleasant to stare at as roadkill. But it's bright and colourful, and does at least make browsing the friendly and responsive menu system a pleasure.
You can also browse by album art, if available. It's no iPod Cover Flow, but it's quaint on a player of this ilk. Some dynamic shuffling options, such as 'Rarely heard' or 'Highly rated', are handy as well.
Now, performance is something which Creative has always impressed us with, and the Mozaic is no exception. Sound quality is excellent, outstripping the iPod nano, creating a detailed, open sound, with heaps of detail across the entire spectrum. While other parts of the player reflect its affordability, audio performance does not. Just make absolutely sure you get yourself some decent earphones, as the ones in the box are, as with all MP3 players, rubbish.
Creative says you'll get 32 hours of battery life for audio. We're testing this as we speak, so check back. We'll also test battery performance for video, though even an impossible 100 hours wouldn't make us watch any video on here.
While neither revolutionary or exciting in terms of functionality, the Mozaic offers terrific sound quality and a decent feature set, and at a penny under £120 with a 16GB capacity, it's superb value.
Screen quality was our main put-off, and it's something easily trumped in Apple's competing iPod nano. So if video on the go is crucial for you, be sure to check out Apple's new model.
Edited by Marian Smith