Creative Labs Zen Micro
Hard disk based digital audio player
The Creative Labs Zen Micro is the latest in an established line of hard disk based audio players. Contrary to popular belief, Creative were making these gadgets some time before Apple launched the iPod.
This player is pitched against 1" disk units including the iPod Mini. Specifications move on and the drive built into the Zen Micro is larger than the iPod (5GB versus 4GB).
The styling of the unit and packaging appears intended to woo consumers who would otherwise only consider the Apple product. Overall it does appear that the designers had a look at the iPod Mini and tried to produce a device that is technically and aesthetically better.
On first inspection they have succeeded. This is a Shiny Thing! Even the packaging is shiny. Itís nice to see someone playing Apple at their game. Normally you might only expect the likes of Sony to provide the complete package in this fashion. The casing of the unit is made with clear plastic over white. This is very nice, with ripples embedded between the two.
The unit has 2 connectors. A mini USB2 for data and power, and a 4 pole 3.5mm headphone socket. This will take headphones or the forthcoming remote control. The face of the unit is almost flat. The monochrome LCD has a white back light. This fades in and out when the controls are used: A nice effect. The controls are all touch sensitive parts of the front face. These light up in blue, along with the border of the fascia. Itís all quite intuitive apart from the scrolling action of the main up-down section. Two days of playing with my new toy has made it second nature.
Getting this little box of tricks up and running was extremely easy. Youíll need a PC running Windows, but theyíre in such a majority Iím not considering it a limitation. I havenít used the bundled music software, as I have MS Media Player 10. I have to say that this works really well. I copied most of my WMA files over in a matter of minutes. There are a few at 64kb/s, some at 128kb/s, but most are currently 96kb/s. The 64kb/s files were ok, but I preferred the higher bit rates. Creative reckon youíll get 2500 64kb/s songs on the drive. All I can say is that I think Iíll get most of the music I ever listen to with decent sound quality.
I havenít tested the claimed 12-hour battery life, as yet. Iíve been too busy playing with the menus and play modes. It is important to mention a big plus over the iPod Mini: you can swap the battery. Simple, really. My unit was supplied with a free extra battery. I should also note at this point that Creative have issued an updated firmware to get around some charging oddities noted with the original version. This update also adjusts the sensitivity of the touch-pad to be more consistent and easier to use.
In summary, the Micro is a jolly good piece of shiny kit. It does exactly what is should do and it looks really nice. If you were thinking of getting an iPod Mini to match your iMac, buy a PC and a Zen Micro. Theyíre cheaper and just as easy to use. Oh, and they perform better as well.
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