Creative's Zen Stone got a decent write-up from us when we saw it last May, but it's back in 2008 with a teeny speaker built in to its iPod shuffle-bashing internal cavity. Is this what the shuffle was missing, or was it absent for good reason?
The Zen Stone looks more like a pebble than a chunk of stone, and Creative has done away with the gloss that coated the normal Stone, instead opting for a gorgeous matte finish. Aesthetically, it's identical to its speaker-less brother, but it's now 3mm deeper with that internal speaker.
There's no screen, so navigation requires patient reliance on the player's ability to play appropriate songs for your mood. You skip through your little 1GB or 2GB 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 built-in clip, although a silicon case comes in the box as standard and includes a clip.
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, plus protected WMA. Sadly, there's no love shown for DRM-free iTunes Plus downloads -- unlike the Zen Stone Plus with Speaker -- and Audible downloads are not supported, unlike the iPod shuffle. Still, songs can be added using drag and drop through Windows, or by using Windows Media Player, so that's something.
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.
This is all a mirror image of the original Stone, of course, but what we've now got is this little speaker wedged in the back. Now, if you've ever ridden a bus when it has a group of music phone-loving 14-year-olds on it, you'll understand how infuriating their incessant recycled pop sounds when blasted through a tinny loudspeaker. If they find out the Zen Stone is both affordable to them and comes with a bonus speaker, we're never going to be able to endure a bus ride again.