Creative Zen X-Fi
Singapore based company Creative has been duking it out with Apple in the digital audio player market since the year 2000. Their strategy has been to produce feature-packed devices at very impressive price points. They’ve never had the wow-factor or the cachet of their Apple competitors, but they’ve still attracted a lot of fans for their price/performance ratio.
The Creative Zen X-Fi, which comes in 8/16/32GB flavors, simply carries on in this tradition. First a brief description: the X-Fi is a light, plastic-bodied device with a silver back and black front. On the front, it incorporates a 2.5-inch TFT screen and an unusual 9-digit control pad on the front. Next to the control pad are a play/pause button, a shortcut button, a back button, and a contextual menu button. Elsewhere on the X-Fi can be found a power/hold switch and an SD expansion slot. Regrettably, there’s no dedicated volume control.
So what’s up with the weird control pad? Not much actually. In fact, only five of the nine buttons are used: the top button; the bottom button; the two side buttons, and the center button. These function as a simple directional pad with a center select button. Apparently the other buttons are included for use with future applications, but with the basic device they do nothing. Still, the onscreen interface is very good, menus are straightforward, and you have the option to customize menu selections
Included with the 16 and 32GB X-Fis is a pair of in-ear headphones. That’s actually a significant inclusion, as they’re decent quality and retail separately for $50.
The X-Fi is so-named because of its built-in sound enhancement options, or to give them their proper name: ‘award-winning X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity Audio technology.’ This is a feature you can activate during music playback to enhance sound quality (or so it’s claimed). The reality is that it makes only some songs sound unambiguously better, and it uses more battery, so it’s not really the feature Creative claims it to be.
What else? How about built-in Wi-Fi for the 16 and 32GB models. There’s no web browser, but the Wi-Fi allows you to wirelessly stream content from your PC to your X-Fi when you’re in range.
Rounding out the feature list are:
- An instant messenger application (which unfortunately is poorly implemented and next to useless);
- An FM radio tuner;
- A built-in speaker;
- Support for Audible audio books;
- Photo viewing;
- An SD card expansion slot (unfortunately, content on an expansion card doesn’t integrate with other content on the device, but at least it’s there);
- Voice recording capability, and
- Great battery life at 36 hours for audio and 5 for video.
- A good range of features then, even if not all of them are quite as polished as you might want.
As far as screen and sound quality go, the news is less ambiguous, as the screen is a 2.5 inch TFT beauty with a great viewing angle, and the sound is nothing short of fantastic.
Let’s face it: Creative portable media players are probably never going to have the cachet of an iPod, and its plastic body is not exactly sexy. But considering what you get for a very little money ($149/199/279 for 8/16/32 GB), people who buy them are unlikely to care!