Creative Zen Vision M: Suck On That, iPod

posted in Tech on Jul 16, 2006

This mini-review is for those of you who have asked the question: “What else is there in the mp3 player world that’s not an iPod?” Maybe you don’t want to join the Apple Zealot Club, or maybe you wouldn’t touch a Mac with a ten foot pole (or two five foot Dutch). Well, little fellow, your answer is the Creative Zen Vision: M.

Boasting an impressive 262,144 color, 2.5 inch display, the Zen has enough color depth for yo’ momma or anyone else for that matter. For comparison’s sake, the current fifth generation iPod will only display 65,000. That may or may not be around 200,000 MORE colors for those of you who like to do the maths. Other fun features include a FM tuner and built in microphone for those slacker kids who don’t want to pay attention in class, i.e. me. Of course, the player can display media in the forms of pictures and video, both of which work fine. Pictures look great and are zoomable and rotatable so if you don’t like the way they look you have some freedom to change ’em. Video playback is impressive. Without really having much else to go on in terms of comparison (other than iPods at the store), I can say that playback is darned good. I put my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle on the thing and it looks great, albeit with some drawbacks that I’ll get to later. I don’t have a crapton of videos that I have to just upload to the machine, but on a weekly basis I put xvid episodes of CommandN on it and they look great.

Syncing the player to your machine is a little wonky, but only in the fact that you have to plug in the player to a special little dongle before connecting it to a PC via USB 2.0. This little dongle is also used when recharging the device with the adaptor or while it’s plugged into a PC. In addition to that, you do have to use Creative software to access all of the files. Luckily, it’s not a “Hey Let’s Take Over Your Machine With Apps That Launch At Start” suite. Well, I take that back. I think after you install the software there’s a thing that wants to run all the time so that when you connect the device it’s raring to go, but you can turn it off fairly easily if I recall. The Creative software doesn’t take up much room or resources when in use. The program you’ll use the most basically is a window that shows you all of your stuff and makes it easy to throw files onto the player. While there’s no iTunes-like default service for the player like you’ll find with the iPod, the Zen will connect to pretty much any music purchasing service you want. For me I could not care less about buying music over the internet(s). I’d rather have my music on CDs first, sans rootkits of course but that’s a separate issue. One interesting program that Creative does have is their Zencast service. It’s basically a website and program where you can subscribe to a lot of podcasts. This is currently my bag, so I think it’s cool. They have a lot of shows from here and over the pond as well.

Now to the downsides, of which there are few. For one, just like other glossy as heck players, this thing gets scratched pretty easily. I’m hoping that the plastic screen cover that comes on the unit when you open the package is enough to keep my baby’s screen safe, but I guess I can only really find that out if I take the cover off, and I’m not about to do that crap. Another aggrivating point with the player is that it cannot playback super high bitrate videos. This doesn’t pose a huge problem most of the time, but sometimes you’ll come across files that the player won’t and can’t play, forcing you to either convert the file or forget it. It’s a tad bit aggrivating. The last thing that I’ll mention is that sometimes the menus can be a touch slow. When going from screen to screen, if you know exactly what you want, the player sometimes is just a little behind your movements. It’s not a huge deal, but noticeable.

So that’s about it for my mini-that-turned-out-long review of the Creative Zen Vision: M portable mp3 player. If you’re a PC user and don’t want bloated iTunes software on your machine, I couldn’t recommend anything more that this player.