Creative Zen Vision review

Price when reviewed

With the digital music revolution in full swing, there’s an irrepressible desire among manufacturers to do the same with video. But even Microsoft couldn’t kick-start the market with its Portable Media Center operating system – only three products appeared on our shores, including the original Creative Zen.

Creative Zen Vision review

Controversially, the Zen Vision abandons Microsoft’s OS in favour of a Linux-based system. The Vision is smaller than the original Zen, but offers a larger, brighter 3.7in screen. With its magnesium-alloy chassis and 124 x 20 x 74mm dimensions, it’s reminiscent of a rugged PDA, if a rather hefty 230g one.

Aside from the expected music, photo and video options, there’s a recordable FM radio, plus voice recording and an organiser. This last option allows you to synch your Calendar, Contacts and Tasks from Outlook.

Just note that the Vision doesn’t have a touchscreen, so it’s for viewing information rather than entering it. Also note that the Vision won’t run third-party applications, isn’t an email client or a GPS device. Nevertheless, it’s still more than enough PDA for most people, also doubling up as a handy portable storage device. With its 30GB hard disk, the Zen Vision leaves the 4GB palmOne LifeDrive looking even less convincing as a do-it-all media device.

In use, though, selecting music doesn’t have the simplicity of a dedicated music player and, despite the opportunity, there’s no use of album art. There are, however, comprehensive playlist and DJ options, or you can browse music by the usual album, artist and genre criteria. Format support is restricted to MP3, WMA and WMA with DRM. This is enough to suit most, but excludes all those locked into the Apple iPod/iTunes AAC system.

Video options are more comprehensive, with MPEG1, 2 and 4 support, plus WMV 9, Motion-JPEG, DivX and Xvid. Although some obscure variants tripped it up, it’s otherwise a good showing. You can view photos too, but only JPEG picture formats are supported, with images viewed via a thumbnail gallery or slide show. You can browse from a CompactFlash disk or transfer files to the Vision’s hard disk – great for those with a compatible digital camera.

We’re slightly disappointed the screen isn’t wide aspect, but the 640 x 480 resolution is crisp and evenly lit. Viewing angles are terrible, with contrast declining rapidly off-axis, but this isn’t a major problem in use.

Battery life will vary substantially depending on the codec being used and screen brightness, but we saw three hours from an MPEG2 video file with the screen at 60 per cent brightness and a slightly disappointing eight hours of MP3 playback during shuffle mode. We’re pleased to see it charges over USB, even though this does taker longer than charging directly, and an extended-life battery should be available soon.

While the original Zen showed potential, the Vision has a far wider and more practical appeal, particularly for the regular traveller. Just bear in mind that Sony’s PlayStation Portable is currently available for an amazing £180 inc VAT from There’s no organiser, and the lack of built-in storage makes it less convenient, but the superb 4.3in widescreen TFT and gaming capabilities make it a tempting alternative.

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