Creative Zen X-Fi 16GB review

£128
Price when reviewed
When the Creative Zen 32GB launched earlier this year, it impressed with its ease of use, sound quality and sheer pocketability, but the price was simply too high.

It doesn’t initially look like it has learned its lesson with the Zen’s successor – the X-Fi. The 16GB version we’ve got here costs a whopping £150 (inc VAT) and the 32GB version is even more – a lot of money for a simple MP3 player.

But Creative offers more your money this time around. In addition to all the same features – microphone, FM radio, memory expandability via an SD card slot and a good quality 2.5in 32 x 240 resolution screen – the X-Fi has a built-in speaker (good for annoying people on public transport, if you like that kind of thing) and integrated Wi-Fi.

Yes, that’s right, with this player – which isn’t much bigger than a box of matches – you can connect to any nearby Wi-Fi network, then browse, stream and download media directly to the device. It sounds a bit of an odd feature, but it’s actually quite a nice thing to have. With it you can download and listen to music on the device itself, or even use the X-Fi as a streaming music gateway. Hook it up to any other device with a 3.5mm input and, instantly, you have access to your entire music collection without having to transfer the music to the player.

The X-Fi’s Wi-Fi connection can also be used to connect directly to Creative’s own media server service, which hosts a good selection of categorised podcasts for you to listen to. And, bizarrely, there’s also the ability here to log in to your MSN or Yahoo IM accounts and exchange messages with contacts.

This is more gimmick than practical proposition, however. Even if you have the patience for the tortuous setup process, tapping out text on the X-Fi is excruciating. With nine buttons on the front of the player, you might think that it would work like texting on a mobile phone keypad but, as it turns out, you have to use it more like a rather over-complex directional pad. You’ll use it once or twice; but no more than that.

Other than this it’s a very well put-together player. The nine circular buttons work much better as simple navigation controls than they do for typing: the centre button selects, the keys to the right, left, above and below move you around the interface while the corner buttons give add extra navigation tools such as page up and page down, home and end features – handy when navigating long lists of tracks. The button layout also makes this an easy player to use in your pocket – skip, pause and play controls can all easily located by touch alone.

Battery life has been improved over the Zen too. The X-Fi will deliver up to 25 hours of music playback and five hours of video playback, which is as good as most people need.

It’s a nice-looking player. By no means the sleekest at 12.5mm thick, but the gloss black front, matte-silver rear and chrome effect trim are rather fetching and, again, more polished than the Zen. Music file format support is good if not outstanding – MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and Audible formats can all be played back – and video compatibility isn’t bad either, including support for DivX, XviD, MPEG4 and WMV9. You’ll still almost certainly have to re-encode your video to 320 x 240, however – it won’t play back files of a higher resolution.

And sound quality is up to Creative’s usual high standards. It’s punchy, solid and well-balanced, and helped massively by the inclusion of a pair of Creative EP-830 ear canal noise isolation headphones. These usually retail at around £30 a pair, and are the best bundled headphones we’ve ever clapped ears on – a little bit woolly in the bass, perhaps, but nothing serious.

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