Creative has implemented an attractive and colourful animated navigation system into the Zen, though browsing a large library of artists is a little sluggish. A dedicated button brings up context menus within each of the player's function screens, allowing menu customisation and quick access to useful options. While this only takes a day or so to get used to, technophobes or MP3 player newbies might be a little uncomfortable.
After the 11-second boot up sequence, we got to some music. New Skin, an Incubus classic from the era when they were a decent band, was the first track to prove the Zen's superiority as an audio player. The song's driven guitars, slap bass, china crash cymbals, turntables and a steel Djembe, each were reproduced perfectly and were separated in the way the album's producer intended.
Next up was Windowlicker by Aphex Twin, a complex and surreal mix of electronica and dance. Each carefully constructed layer of this audible representation of drug-induced psychosis was clearly delivered, with no unfair weight to either bass nor treble. The Zen produces a clean and powerful sound regardless of genre and should please even hardened critics.
Video playback is similarly impressive -- pictures are smooth, with vivid colours and excellent blacks. The terrific LCD screen helps, of course. Sadly, not that it was a surprise, the bundled earphones are rubbish. Get yourself some posh ones to do justice to the excellent sound quality the Zen is capable of.
Creative's Zen is a terrific portable media player. Music, videos and photos sound and look superb. The inclusion of an SD card slot adds limitless storage potential, too. Features are well-implemented, though a small navigational learning curve will take a day or so to master. Overall, it's a solid offering and at a decent enough price to fairly compete with Apple's dominant iPod nano. We're just sad there's no hard disk version available.
An alternative player would have to be the new nano. Its unrivalled simplicity and seamless integration with iTunes will please newbies and MP3 veterans alike. If expandability and extra functionality is more your thing, check out Cowon's iAudio D2 -- its SD card slot and superb sound and picture quality could be just what you're after.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday