Creative Zen 32GB review
Since the flash-based Creative Zen came out at the end of last year it’s been an appealing alternative to the iPod nano. And with the arrival of this huge, limited-edition 32GB version the range is expanding into the high-capacity market, formerly dominated by hard disk devices such as the iPod Classic, Creative’s own now-defunct Zen Vision:M and the A-Listed Archos 605 WiFi.
At first glance, Creative looks like a strong challenger. Next to the Zen’s sleek, slim black case, the Archos looks clunky and oversized, and it weighs nearly four times as much (232g versus 64g).
The 605 wins on screen size – its 800 x 480 display is actually larger than the entire Zen unit – but though the Creative’s screen is only 320 x 240, and measures just 2.5in across the diagonal, it’s so clear and colourful that we had no problem watching it for extended periods.
The Creative scores in terms of usability too.
There’s still nothing out there that’s as intuitive as the iPod scrollwheel (and, thanks to a restrictive patent, there probably won’t be for many years), but the Zen’s button-based user interface is logical and consistent, while the 605’s touchscreen interface can be fiddly and unresponsive.
Of all the players we’ve tried, the Creative is one of the easiest to control without taking it out of your pocket.
One key area where the Zen falls down, however, is its video support. It’s perhaps understandable that video playback would be a secondary feature for a 2GB or 4GB device, but with a 32GB player you expect full and wide-ranging compatibility.
Unfortunately, all versions of the Zen play only files at the native 320 x 240 resolution, so you can’t just throw any old movie file onto the Zen and go. Even on a fast PC, we found it took over half an hour to convert a full-length film. It’s especially annoying since the Zen’s predecessor, the Zen Vision:M, played DivX videos directly – as does the Archos.
We were also disappointed to find that, although Creative advertises an SD slot “so you can add extra memory”, the Zen won’t integrate the files on the SD card with your main music and video library. To get at them you must navigate to a separate menu and select them by filename. You can’t browse the menus while it’s playing from SD either. It’s nice to be able to add extra storage at all, but the way it works is hardly satisfactory.
The real problem, though, is price. Flash RAM is never cheap compared to a hard disk, but we were still surprised by the asking price of £212 exc VAT.
It’s probably the most portable 32GB player around, but if you’re in the market for a high-capacity player then £70 less will get you either the Archos, with its huge screen and wireless connection, or an iPod Classic with a scroll-wheel interface and more than double the storage at a whopping 80GB.
There’s no doubt that the Zen has many good points, including not only its size and ease of use but also a standard mini-USB connection, an FM radio and a built-in microphone. It also enjoys its manufacturer’s trademark sound quality, which is tremendously rich and punchy, and good battery life (quoted as 25 hours for audio, five hours for video).
But when you look at the alternatives the 32GB Zen is hard to recommend. A smaller model (such as the £77 4GB version) would make an appealing miniature music player, but unless your pocket space is really at a premium, this one’s simply too expensive, especially given its limited video capabilities.