Creative's Zen Stone is an 'us too!' attempt to knock Apple's iPod Shuffle from the throne of teeny MP3 king. At just over £25, it's half the price of the Shuffle, but is it too cheap to be any good?
Update: Read our review of the new Creative Zen Stone with Speaker.
The Zen Stone looks more like a pebble than a chunk of stone, and the glossy finish is identical to that used on Creative's Zen V Plus. It's absolutely tiny, although marginally larger and heavier than the Shuffle at 13mm thick and weighing 19g.
There's no screen, which means navigation requires patient reliance on the player's ability to play appropriate songs for your mood. You skip through your little 1GB collection of audible treats with four-way controls that are as pleasant to use as something of this size could be. Unlike the Shuffle, there's no clip, although there is a hole for a lanyard.
Thanks to its ludicrously low price, the Stone's main feature is its distinct lack of features. It's a simple player that does a simple job -- playing music. There are no equaliser options, no playlists, no quirky extras. This really can be a positive thing, though. If you're after something where you can just hit play and forget about it, this diminutive little contraption may be for you.
Supported music formats are MP3 and WMA, although copy-protected music files from online music stores are not supported. Like Creative's other players, the Stone will play Audible content. Audible is a popular online retailer of audiobooks, but they're delivered in a format compatible only with certain portable players.
Songs can be added using drag and drop in Windows, or by using Windows Media Player.
A little switch on the top of the player lets you shuffle the playback of songs or repeat them all in a pleasant continuous loop. The 'folder skip' button jumps to the next folder of music stored on the Stone, so if you don't want to hear an album you don't need to skip through all of its tracks to reach the next.
Battery life is worse than the Shuffle to the tune of two hours. Creative claims you'll get 10 hours of continuous playback from a single charge, a figure borne out in our tests. You'll have to remember how long you've been using the player, though, as without a screen it's impossible to tell how much juice you have left.
Like most MP3 players, sound quality is poor out of the box, thanks to some ropey cans. Use decent headphones, however, and the audio quality is a step better than the Shuffle.
The Zen Stone is outrageously good value for money and sounds fantastic with decent headphones. The minuscule price and tiny size makes this an ideal second MP3 player for times when it's just not convenient to take your Zen Vision:M or video iPod.
Is it better than the Shuffle? The Stone looks great and can sound better, but if you're after something a little more trendy-looking with a clip and longer battery life, the Shuffle may still be your best bet. Bear in mind though it'll cost you almost twice as much for the privilege. The choice is yours.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide