Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creative Zen 4GB. My Review.

First the facts. The Zen is available in 2,4,8,and 16gb versions. The 4gb model is available in Red or Black. Black seems to be the only option in the other sizes. This one being reviewed came from my local Target store and is a 4gb model. You can find it at Target.com for $99.99. You can find it at Amazon.com for $10 less.
Mine came with 4GB internal memory, and an SD/SDHC slot for expansion. I found a Transcend class 6 16GB SDHC card for about $43, giving me a 20gb player for $143, tax not included.

It has a beautiful 2.5" ( 2" x 1.5") screen at 320 x 240 resolution. There are 6 different background themes/colors to choose from.

The Zen is 3.27" long, 2.17" wide, and 0.45" thick. It weighs 2.2 ounces (64 grams). Add 3 grams for an SD card. For comparison my Insignia Pilot with many of the same features also weighs 64 grams. The Zen fits easily in the watch pocket of my painter's pants.
The body of the Zen is Black, with a matt finish on the back and gloss on the front. The front is, like all other gloss players, a magnet for fingerprints.

The top edge has the SD/SDHC card slot and microphone. I like the convenience of the SD slot location. My Insignia Pilot also has an SD/SDHC slot, but it has a cover and makes it difficult to install a card.
On the right end you'll find the headphone jack, USB jack, and power/lock slider. Under the power slider is an LED that indicates power status. No custom cable required. The short USB cable provided is a cheap trick. Not really a problem for me since I've got several cables that will work, but the short length would be a problem for anyone with a PC that only has USB jacks on the rear of the CPU.
The bottom edge has a small reset hole. I've read that you can also reset a locked up Zen by holding down the power slider for 15 seconds or so.

In addition to the Zen, the box includes a short (4.5") USB cable, earbuds (48" cable), accessories brochure, savings booklet, a warning about hearing loss, a quick start guide, and a software CD.

The front face has a Menu/Back and Options rocker, a shortcut and Play/Pause/Record rocker, and a square direction pad with separate OK button in the middle. The buttons are not as easy to use as the touchscreen buttons on the Samsung T10 or the touchpad on the Zune. They are easy enough to figure out though and are logically located so long as you are right handed. For what it's worth the Insignia Pilot controls can be flipped for left handed users.

No sharp corners on this Zen. 1/4" radius on the back, 1/8" radius on the front, and four corners with a 3/16" radius. Mostly comfortable in the hand, although the seam between front and back is a little rough in places.

Main menu items include Microphone, Photos, Music, Videos, FM Radio, Extras, Memory Card, and System. Extras include Date & Time as well as an Organizer. The organizer includes Calendar, Tasks, and Contacts which can all be synced from your PC.
Microphone leads you to the voice recorder app. It records WAV files from the internal microphone. You can pause and resume a recording using the Play/Pause button on the Zen. You need to hit the Options button to begin and stop a recording.

Photos obviously opens the photo viewer. There is a zoom option, however there seems to be only one degree of zoom. Photos that are only 240x320 will not zoom. You can select a photo or part of a photo as your Zen's wallpaper. There are some interesting photo effects you can apply to the photo during that process including brightness (10% to 100% in 10% steps), warm, cool, graytone, and sepia tone. Music can be playing while you are looking at photos, and there is a volume control within the photo options for convenience. You can rotate photos in 90 degree clockwise steps. You can rate photos, and then move between rated photos. You can inspect photo detail, and also delete photos from the photo options menu. A press of the center controller button will turn off and on the filename of the current photo.
Music has many sort options including by Playlist, Album, Artists, Genres, All tracks, Recordings, Bookmarks, and DJ. DJ gives you a further set of playlist creation options including Album of the Day, Random Play All, Most Popular, Rarely Heard, Highly Rated, and Yet to be Rated. Any song you are playing can be rated. You can set bookmarks in a song. View details, add or remove them from playlists, and lookup the artist (within other songs on the Zen). Lists can be quickly browsed alphabetically. Sound quality through the include earbuds is typical, with no discernable bass but also no hiss or noise. I recommend throwing out the included buds and getting some higher end headphones. Through my Sennheiser HD595s the music quality from the Zen is excellent. Equalizer settings are not accessible from the music app, although you can back out of the music player with the music still playing to go into settings where the EQ options are. I suggest turning Bass Boost ON when you've got good headphone connected, as bass tones seem to be muted by default. More than likely to not overdrive the included earbuds.

Videos look better than decent on the 2.5" screen. The .5" larger size over a 2" iPod Nano or Samsung T10 screen makes a big difference. Videos can be "Fit To Screen" or "Stretched To Fit". You can also Seek to any spot in a video to play it from that spot. The Zen came with several AVI sample files. It plays WMV9, MJPEG, and MPEG4-SP video formats.

FM Radio uses the headphone cable as it's antenna meaning your reception will vary depending on the length, position, and any shielding your headphone cable may have. There are 32 possible channel presets. You have to let the Zen autosearch for channels, as I could not find any way to manually tune the radio. Once a station is preset you can add it's name to the frequency. Pressing the center controller button will bring up a list of preset channels for quick jumping to a specific one. There does not appear to be any RDS reception or display. There is also no recording of radio programming available on this Zen. Radio play will also cease when you leave the FM application. No looking at photos while listening to the radio.
Although it sounds fine, I'm disappointed with the FM feature of the Zen. No manual tuning means I have no way of telling it to tune to one of my favorite local channels that the autoscan couldn't seem to find. Every other media player with an FM radio I have does tune this station. Mystery.

Extra features are alway welcome in these pocket media players. I'm not sure how useful the Date/Time and Organizer will prove to be, though. So far my Zen has lost track of the time and date I set it for one day ago. You can't enter tasks or contacts on the Zen directly. I rate the extras a scientific "ho-hum".

Memory Card is where you'll find the content on any SD card you've inserted. It's unfortunate that removeable media is not automatically incorporated with the internal library. You can Browse and subsequently play any media file you select. You can import any media files found on an SD card directly to the Zen's local memory. This might be a great way to get photos off an SD card from your camera. You can also look at information about the memory card you have inserted.

System includes Information, Audio Settings, Photo/Video Settings, Display Settings, Player Settings, Clock Settings, Language Setting, and Reset option.
Information will reveal the Firmware version (1.21.01), total space, Free space, Track count, Album Count, Playlist count, Photo and video counts.
Audio settings include Play Mode, EQ choice, Smart Volume, Bass Boost, and Restrict Volume.
Photo/Video settings include Slide interval time (3, 5, 10, and 15 seconds) ,and slide transition style (None, Fade, Bounce, Pan Zoom, Shrink, Roll, Flip, Squeeze, Blend, Scroll, and Random).
Display settings include the ability to turn on or off menu selections, a backlight timer, Brightness, Theme, and the option to Reset your wallpaper.
Player settings include owner name, Idle shutdown time, Sleep timer, Shortcut button option, Protected Content: Show and Protected Content Password.
Clock settings include View Clock, Clock in Title Display, and Set Alarm.

Language settings include 22 possible languages to choose from.

If you mess anything up you can always choose to RESET the settings.
Summary? The Zen is a great music, photo, and video player. Controls are easy to manuever although not as direct or simple as most touchscreen players are. Sound quality with good headphones is above average. The FM radio gets a C for having no recording or RDS, and no way to manually enter a station frequency. My Zen won't be my player of choice, but for the $99 I spent it has a better (larger) screen than most and can keep up with most for audio quality. No bluetooth (for wireless audio) or Text display, along with no RDS or FM recording puts the Zen a couple of big steps below my Samsung T10. No wifi puts it below the Zune (any of them). I'd rank it higher than an iPod Nano, with a better screen and FM Radio, but just barely.
Should you buy one? If you can find one on sale for $69 or less then go for it. If you have $100 to spend then look for a 4gb Samsung T10.


1 comment:

  1. I have a Zen. You can tune the FM radio manually.
    Here's how: Go to the FM Radio menu. Scroll to a preset number. Press the right side of the horizontal bar control below the central square; (the symbol is an arrow with two vertical bars). The words Preset N will disappear. Using the right or left direction keys you can scroll to the desired frequency. Then press the menu key above and select Save as Preset. You can repeat and name the channel as well.
    Enjoy your radio.
    PK Chai