First Looks: Creative Zen PMP (4GB)

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Creative has marshaled in a new portable media player, hailed simply as the Creative Zen. This new flash based Creative Zen is available in capacities of 4GB, 8GB and 16GB, and comes right after the company announced the discontinuation of the Creative Zen Vision:M, a full-fledged, hard drive multimedia player with up to 60GB of storage.

Oh, you sexy Zen!

Slim, small and slender, the Creative Zen is a good looking thing. Curved edges, round corners and a glossy exterior give the player its chic, contemporary look. Complementing the modern design is its compact size and a featherweight of just 65 grams. It's no bigger than the footprint of a regular credit card, which means it's highly portable and pocket friendly, certainly more so than its predecessor.

A relatively large 2.5-inch TFT screen gives no pretense that the Creative Zen is primarily meant to be a portable video player in addition to music playback. Unlike its predecessors and offerings from competitors, the Creative Zen stands out by supporting 16.7 million colors and the result is an amazing visual treat. Not only are colors more dazzling, there was practically no color banding in our photo and video tests, making the whole experience of enjoying photos and videos on the Creative Zen a very satisfying one. The built-in radio however, was not as good, suffering from weak reception and interference a little too often for our liking.

As easy as the screen is easy on the eyes, the controls on the Creative Zen are also easy and intuitive to use, so much so that there is virtually no need for you to read through the user manual. It shouldn't take long for anyone to figure out what each of the keys in the control column represent. Around the player are a mini USB port, a 3.5mm earphone jack, a microphone and the hold/power key. On the top edge is a SD card slot for expanding storage beyond the factory default size. There's also a reset button to get the Creative Zen responding should it ever freeze unexpectedly.

Meet Zen Black

For a company that's known to offer products in many striking colors, it was surprising to find that the Creative Zen is only available in black. There is however, a skin pack comprising of three silicone covers that is available for SGD$29. These not only let you change the color from black to fiery red, chic blue or mysterious black, but also protect the glossy exterior of the Creative Zen from unsightly scratches.

Transferring media files from the computer to the player is easy enough. Music files can simply be pulled over from your notebook or desktop PC, but transferring of video files is slightly trickier. You see, conversion of video resolution is necessary before video files can be enjoyed on the Creative Zen, but the downside is waiting time. Converting an hour of video into the required format and quality took the conversion software roughly an hour to complete. This basically means conversion time is more or less the same as the playback time of any video files you wish to load into the Creative Zen. Not only that, you'll have to have DivX codec installed in addition to Creative's media explorer.

Our take

Offering a maximum of 16GB, the Creative Zen is a smaller beast than the largest of Zen Vision:M – 44GB smaller to be exact. This means storage will quickly be a concern in the former where video files are concerned, not forgetting the time consuming video conversion process. In spite of the shortcomings, we think the Creative Zen is going to be a hit. Yes, loading video files may not be as straightforward as we liked it to be, but we cannot deny that it has one of the best screens around for a portable multimedia player of its size. Consider that and its impressive audio quality that's business as usual from Creative and you'll find the Creative Zen a very worthwhile purchase indeed.