Photographers will find the Zen Vision:M offers several advantages over the photographic capabilities of the iPod, including support for 8-megapixel images and a zoom function.
The overwhelming reason to consider the Zen Vision:M over the iPod is its superior video-playing capabilities. Creative's player can playback MPEG2, MPEG4, Xvid and WMV among others. Those formats that the player cannot natively support are usually easy to re-encode to a compatible format using the bundled software.
The BBC, Napster and 7 digital are three media organisations offering clips and shows to UK users that will play on the Zen Vision:M. Currently, the BBC's interactive media player is still on trial, but will launch properly this year, providing a wealth of new material for all those happy new Zen Vision:M owners.
Those who want to play video on a bigger screen can use Creative's AV lead to connect the Zen Vision:M to a full-sized television set, as we mentioned. Output is 640x480 pixels, which is more than enough for traditional televisions, and certainly a huge improvement over the 320x240-pixel resolution of the iPod.
Audio playback on the Zen Vision:M is clean and uncoloured -- this is the kind of performance we like from an MP3 player. The Zen Vision:M left Jack Johnson sounding much like he does through headphones on our NAD reference system. Upgrading the headphones on the Zen Vision:M from Creative's stock-issue 'phones pushes the audio quality into iPod territory.
Casual listening reveals little difference between the iPod and the Zen Vision:M on the majority of tracks. Preference is more a matter of taste than any specific deficiencies in either player -- essentially they are equally capable at music playback without distortion or unwanted emphasis.
If you like cranking your MP3 player into realms that guarantee later-life tinnitus, you'll be pleased to learn that the Zen Vision:M is capable of the same dangerous volumes that the iPod can generate when driven hard. The Vision:M certainly left us slightly shaken at full volume -- we could tolerate the sound level for a few seconds before it became physically punishing.
Where the Vision:M trumps the iPod is video playback. In every sense this is a fully fledged portable video player. Admittedly Apple held back on proclaiming the video iPod to be a true portable video player, but given its comparative size, the Zen Vision:M embarrasses the iPod because it does portable video properly, whereas the iPod dabbles in it.
The Zen Vision:M's 4 hour battery life makes full-length movie watching a feasible enterprise. The iPod can scrape 2.5 hours. There is, however, one caveat with the Zen Vision:M, and that's the navigation controls on the unit. Despite its far superior feature set, the Zen Vision:M's thumbwheel is initially frustrating to use, and later just irritating on occasion. We often found ourselves accidentally selecting items when we intended to continue scrolling.
The absence of an infinite-scroll capability -- which the iPod's circular Clickwheel offers -- is a sore point with the Zen Vision:M. To Creative's credit, we've never before got to the point where the control interface is a player's only major shortfall, and many users will become used to the minor quirks of the scrolling functions on the Zen Vision:M.
If you're looking for an extremely compact video player that's serious about full-length movie playback, there's no question: buy the Zen Vision:M. If you're not committed to video, and love MP3s, we would recommend that you test drive the interface on both the Zen Vision:M and the iPod and make your choice based on that. Sonically, there's not much in it.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide