Creative has launched the Zen Stone Plus a mere month after its little brother, the Zen Stone. The Plus comes with everything the lovely original model did, plus a screen, twice the storage capacity, an FM radio, a voice recorder and even a stopwatch. At just £49, there's huge potential here. iPod Shuffle, you might want to consider buying that suitcase.
Update: Read our review of the new Creative Zen Stone Plus with Speaker.
The Zen Stone Plus looks just like its younger sibling and at 21g, weighs only 2g more. It's as curvaceous and cute as a glossy little pebble, and fits into lots of handy accessories -- a keyring case and an armband are sold separately.
The main controls are on the front of the player, but unlike the original Stone, the play/pause button is now stuck on the top. This also functions as a power button. It frequently doesn't like to respond, but once it's on, at least it stays on.
The cute little 64x64-pixel OLED screen sits on the left. It's a simple blue-on-black display and does everything a display of this size should do. This is the perfect way to implement a graphic display into something this small, and the icons are just large enough to be useful.
As was expected, the glossy new player supports MP3 and WMA files, along with Audible downloads and copy-protected content. There's no support for subscription services such as Napster, but any music you buy-to-own from such stores will play fine. Track titles appear underneath a time counter as songs are played and albums can be browsed through using their folder and file names. You can also choose to have your library shuffled, as with the original Stone, but being able to navigate albums is a huge bonus.
We were pleased to see voice recording in this edition of the Zen line. You can record up to 10 hours of voice on a single recording and each are saved with their own file names as a recording finishes. Recorded files can be browsed through using the built-in navigation, or they can be dragged on to a PC through Windows Explorer.
In addition to a voice recorder, an FM radio has been thrown into the mix. This, combined with a wrist strap and the Stone's light weight, will make joggers' jogging sessions joyous indeed.
Creative is renowned for its superior sound quality. It comes as no surprise, then, that the £49 Zen Stone Plus sounds as good as the £250 Apple iPod, providing you use some decent headphones.
Music files can be dragged and dropped into the Stone's memory through Windows. It took 24 minutes to transfer 1GB of music, which, while a little on the slow side, is acceptable.
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.
FM radio reception quality varied in quality and up to 32 presets can be saved. A good signal sounded nice enough to listen to on a bus journey, but the difference between radio quality and even a low-ish bit rate MP3 was massive. The voice recorder is fairly useful, though. Sound quality is around what you'd hear through a telephone.
An expected 9.5-hour battery life is a little low compared to the iPod Shuffle's 12 hours, but as this is primarily geared towards sporty types, 9.5 hours should be plenty of juice.
If you're after a more stylish MP3 player version, off to Apple with you. If you want an even cheaper version of the Zen Stone Plus, there's always the original Stone. It's half the cost and has half the storage capacity, but the same sound quality and usability as its older sibling.
But the Zen Stone Plus does everything it should do, plus loads of extra stuff you might not expect. It's cheaper than the iPod Shuffle, has twice the storage capacity, better sound quality, a cute if rudimentary screen, an FM radio and true drag-and-drop management of files. It will be a wonder why anyone would choose a Shuffle, other than for looks.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide