Hey folks Valkor here. And after many a days of rigorous testing and putting this new device through all the test that the Valcave has to offer, I can finally say that this review is ready for posting - and what we have is a great contender in the Mp3 Market. Creative, the company famous for the Soundblaster series among other gadgets, has a new toy going up against the Apple Ipod mini called the Creative Zen Micro (5 gig version). Is it a Contender? Yes. Can it hold its head above water against all other Mp3 players? Yes. Would you wanna get one after this review? Maybe, but I hope that it’s a yes and you'l see why.
For starters let’s look at the asthetics. The Creative zen Micro, is small yet not too small that you can’t handle it properly or make use of it’s control. The buttons are all touch based, which is similar to the Ipod series, but without the funky wheel. All the buttons are placed in sections around the ZM so that you’re not twirling your finger around. One section provides the play/pause, previous, forward setting. Set just below the play button is the Volume/scroll/ok section. Just below the previous button is the back button so you can return to previous menus. And below the forward button is an additional menu screen option. At the top you have your headphone jack, on/off/hold switch, or USB/AC adapter port. At the back you can remove the battery pack for easy replacements. That’s right folks you can remove the battery and replace it yourself, unlike the Ipod which has to be sent in for replacements or taken to an Ipod store. And finally on the very front is the LCD menu screen which is easily navigated with the control buttons mentioned above. When in play mode and when charging you get a lovely blue backlight. But here's something creepy. I usually charge mine at night and when it does charge, the light kinda pulsates, like it gets bright then dark, repeat. The first time I saw that, it freaked me out. Now I just turn it over on its front.
Getting started with the ZM, you must first plug in the battery and charge it a few hours, and before you can install new music you must first have the latest version of Windows Media Player (Right now it’s at 10) for easy transportability of songs, also you have to install the drivers and the “favored” *gag* Creative Mediasource program. This is where I ran into some trouble. All you really need is the windows media player, rather than the creative source program, because (and maybe it’s just me) the source program just wasn’t happening. It’s supposed to be that once you plug in the ZM it would automatically recognize it and you can then begin to drag and drop music into it. But it never recognized my ZM and so no drag and drop. However with WMP it did recognize the ZM and it would move everything on its own. This is both good and bad because I can’t move over what I want. Well I can, but it took me sometime to do this. And after much tooling around I finally got the songs loaded. Once they were loaded you have many choices for listening, the most popular being the Random setting. But you can also play songs by Genre, album, and artist among other play options. If you don’t want to listen to Mp3’s, switch to FM mode and listen to your favorite radio station. Can your Ipod mini do that? It also has a voice recorder, so if you need to make a note of something, now you got one. Lastly you have a calendar, set the date and time, and an organizer, all crammed into this tiny package and it all meshes together beautifully. Oh ya on a side note, the Creative media source does have one good option going for it and that it’s a great CD ripper. But me personally I like using MusicMatch for that.
So after all that, just how does the Zen Micro hold up with sound? DAMN SWEET!! As well as it should I mean it's made by Creative: The Sound Gods! I had the opportunity to listen to the Ipod series and they sound great, but the ZM Mp3’s sound Beautiful! (This also depends on the quality level that you download. I normally grab songs that are 160 – 320 kp 44mhz). My first opportunity to listen to the ZM was at 2005 CES and I was really impressed. So I am glad that the quality carried over and it wasn’t just the demo they had going. I mean sound is what this company does best; if it sounded sucky I would never buy another Creative product again. Also the earbuds it comes packed with are really good, but I’m not a fan. So I purchased a pair of Sennheiser headphones, which rock! I’m totally immersed in my music and for a guy who travels as much as I do, sometimes you need that escape. You fellow commuters know what I’m talking about. With the voice recording, the quality and voices come across clear, but it's not an option I normally use. Lastly the battery life runs for about 12 hours; I doubt that was on continuous play. It’s six or seven tops, so for not too long trips the ZM should do just fine. Just don’t expect anything great when your on those long international flights. It’s not gonna cut it.
However the ZM is not without its imperfection. There are two problems one of which I hope is overcome with a firmware update. Oh on a quick side note, if you wanna keep your ZM optimal, get the firmware updates that Creative provides at there website. It won’t take long to download and easily installed. (Just be sure to back up your tunes because it will wipe them out… all of them). The first issue I had is with the loading of songs, but that I overcame once I adjusted to using WMP. Secondly, the ZM has a habit of stopping during continuous play. I used to think maybe it was because I would bump into something that would cause it to do that. However this has happened on numerous occasions when I am just sitting still. Plus it’s not a CD player so if anything, skipping should be at a minimal. I hope a future firmware update fixes that issue.
Overall I gotta give major props to Creative; this 5 gig bad boy comes through with flying colors. And if anyone is interested in getting an MP3 player, but don’t want the complexity of dealing with the Ipod’s battery issue, and want a bit more options to play with, then definitely give the Creative Zen Micro a try. Valcave tested and Valkor approved.