Creative claims the Sleek can hold 10,000 average-length MP3s -- this is extremely optimistic, and the Sleek's actual capacity will vary depending on whether you pack the player with classical music or punk and what bit rate you encode at. Creative's claim assumes you'll be using WMA at 64kbps -- in our opinion, tracks in this format are basically unlistenable to. You should be encoding at an absolute minimum of 128kbps to get anything like the intended frequency of modern pop, and much more for classical music.
You can tweak audio playback on the Sleek using the five-band custom equaliser. This has eight preset settings that cover the major genres. If your MP3s are properly encoded they shouldn't require any EQ alterations, but it's good to know that the option of boosting or reducing certain frequencies is there if you need it.
The Sleek's ability to record live sound is especially useful at live gigs. Before you arrest us, many bands encourage tapings at their live shows, so long as you're not wandering about with a microphone getting in the way. The Sleek's microphone is incredibly discreet. Journalists and other professional interviewers could use the Sleek as a very effective alternative to the Dictaphone.
The Sleek will sync with your Microsoft Outlook Contacts, Calendars and Tasks. This is tricky to set up, and doesn't really warrant the complication. You can use the Sleek as a standard removable storage device -- just like a USB hard disk -- but make sure to include password protection on your files because, as with all portable devices, there's always the risk of loss or theft.
In our informal tests, sound quality on the Sleek came close to the iPod, but the Creative player didn't have quite the same warmth on tracks like Nirvana's Lithium. Running the Sleek through flat-response studio monitors produced a solid and present sound with excellent low end, especially on tracks encoded at a high bit rate. Fiddling with the Creative's EQ settings could sometimes give tracks that extra fidelity the iPod seems to achieve more naturally.
The vertical touch pad control on the Sleek is extremely frustrating and seems overly sensitive and slightly counter-intuitive. We often found pop-up menus appeared unexpectedly and we selected functions accidentally when reducing finger pressure on the pad or brushing it by mistake. It's a world away from the iPod's Click Wheel.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide