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Creative first to deliver 32GB flash MP3 player

First INQpressions Creative Zen 32GB
Tue Jul 01 2008, 12:18

Product: Creative Zen 32GB
Website: www.creative.com/zen/
System Requirements:
Price: ?329.99, £249.99, $299.99 - £187.09 eBuyer


WHEN TALK of the world’s first 32GB flash mp3 player echoed through the cavernous INQUIRER Lab, it initially piqued our interest due to gigglebytetastic capacity.

Realising it came from those boys at Creative, curiosity got the better of us and we had to call it in. We’re a tad unaccustomed to reviewing real consumer tech, but thought it would make a nice change, putting something other than the the usual fare thoroughly through its paces.

What actually turned up was the 4GB version with the simple explanation attached “well, the only thing that’s different is the size” ? which was the whole point of calling it in. But we went with it anyway. So please omit any reference you see of 4GB and replace with 32GB. In fact we’ll do this for you.

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Creative Zen

Creative claims in all the literature that the 4GB 32 GB Zen player is credit-card size. Only it’s nowhere near that. It measures 55 x 83 x 12mm. Looking at the screen head-on you do see where they’re going with this, if you ignore the overall beefiness.

Some of the materials used in its manufacturing aren’t the sleekiest in the entire world, compared to offerings from the likes of Samsung. This is a bit of a shame, as for some users the look does hold a lot weight and casts a shadow over the purchase decision. These days that people seem to want shinier and shinier products and may put form over function.

Using its GUI is very straightforward and it is very simply laid out, although on first impressions it does appear that the functions of the Zen seem to be out of order. Not in a broken way, just not in the correct order of usefulness. The players menu leads with Microphone, Photos, Music, Videos, FM Radio, Extras, Memory Card and then Settings. When surely you want to start with the common features people have bought the device for and not burying them away under Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One or something like that. However, the main menu is customisable and rightly so to, as Creative has done a poor wee job on it so far.

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Creative Zen

Its base storage capacity is a mighty 32GB, with another possible 32GB tacked on in an SD Card ? expanding the overall size to a grand total of 64GB. Creative says the Zen is capable of holding 8,000 songs or 120 hours of video or 16,000 songs or 240 hours of video, which we came close to with 128Kbps based MP3s and were suitably impressed.

There is a downside to the SD card functions. For one, it isn’t fully integrated into the player as it’s seen as just storage. When users try to find the cards contents under the Pictures, Music or Video menus they’re out of luck. It is only viewable from the Memory option in the main menu, which is disappointing. Though you can import everything from the removable storage into the Zen, but this does seem a tad redundant as you’re buying a card in the first place to increase capacity.

To show off the quality of the screen Creative has thrown in some sample pictures, which does bring across how sharp the 2.5-inch lcd tft screen really is with its 16.7milyon colours. Don’t forget that those demo snaps are so over exposed and bumped up in bit-rate that even on a black-and-white TV they show up colour.

As a MP3 player the Zen does just that, it plays MP3s and that’s about it. Oh, there’s also support for wmv and non-protected acc/m4a files for those iTunes-philes out there. Without preaching to the choir, we all know there’s a wider range of lossless formats around that are preferable to mp3. Judging by the audio quality already heard from the Zen and we can’t stress how good this already is, these formats would really be shown off par excellence and are sadly missing. On another note, we found buried away under the settings menu an audio equaliser with presets. This is odd, as we assume it would have been more easily accessible ? as an option for music whilst being played.

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Creative Zen 32GB

On the video playback front, the Zen can’t naturally play most video content. Nearly all we found had to be converted using the accompanying software. As an example we converted a divx avi from the Argentina Vs Scotland rugby game with all the standard settings, where Scotland, the finest team on [insert 'Middle' -Ed.] Earth, beat one of the greatest opponents for the first time in 18 years. The avi began life as an 890MB 512x284pixels file and was reduced within no time to a 320x240 WMV ? the viewable Zen format. On playback the video was extremely good quality, especially in fast motion. Creative mentions the player can support divx four and five and xvid natively. Those files do have to be in the 320x240 pixels and the video convertor does not output to these, only wmv.

Battery life is stated to be around 25 hours of audio or five hours of video playback. In our tests we found it to be fairly close to that without any quibbling, and just a little under when the SD card was in play ? which is all fairly decent and acceptable in terms of an operational life.

Just to round things off, also onboard is a FM radio with 32 presets, Voice recorder, Clock with alarm functions and an Organizer/calendar. The latter of which actually syncs with Microsoft Outlook Contacts, Calendar & Tasks and all rather well too.

How they qualify the Zen as the first 32GB flash player all depends on where you are on the planet and also how you read into it. Creative first announced theirs in December in the states with no shipping date; Sandisk unveiled a similar offering around CES time also with no shipping date. In Blighty, the Zen was finally officially released around March, with full shipping everywhere a month or so later. Where Sandisk has still yet to arrive on our shores, but it might be with you wherever you are.

We did aim to find out some more specifics as to what ICs were used, custom audio processors involved, what’s brought across from other ranges, what’s been OEM’d ? the usual basic INQUIRER review details. But we received the most curious response: “Creative aren’t keen to give out this sort of information as they think it goes far beyond what would be required for an average review”.

Surely they don’t read The INQ then, which will just have to change and we’re guessing will do after this review.

In Short
Despite the frankly outlandish lie about the size, which just goes to show people in marketing can be trusted as much as a politician or an ex girlfriend ? it does have its good points. Although for perfection some reworking of the GUI needs to be done, better inclusion of decent codecs plus dropping the SD slot in this model for a slimmer build.

The Good
Capacity, screen
The Bad

GUI lay out, SD card content not fully integrated
The Ugly
Size, lack of codecs

Bartender's Report
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