Creative ZEN X-Fi 16GB Review ~ Creative Labs Zen MP3 Players Sound Blaster Card
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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Creative ZEN X-Fi 16GB Review

Creative ZEN X-Fi 16GB Review
This is a Creative ZEN X-Fi review by Today. The author offers a mix views on this new mp3 player and mentioned an improvement in design and audio quality but not much in terms user-friendlyness.

Creative’s latest delivers superb audio quality but is not quite user-friendly

THE Zen X-Fi is Creative’s latest flagship portable media player (PMP). For the uninitiated, X-Fi stands for Xtreme Fidelity, Creative’s award-winning audio technology that makes sound more dynamic and realistic.

The Zen X-Fi is available in three variants:
The wireless LAN-enabled 16GB ($329) and 32GB ($399) models and the wireless-absent X-Fi 8GB model ($229). This review is based on the 16GB model.

At only 68.75g, this credit card-sized PMP touts voice recording, video playback, built-in FM radio, built-in speakers, Outlook synchronisation and wireless streaming. Another bonus is the included premium EP-830 in-ear earphones.

The X-Fi’s design seems to have traces of Apple’s influence, from the transparent acrylic box packaging to the shiny rim and silver back, which is reminiscent of the first-generation Apple iPhone. But if you look closer, you’ll realise that the X-Fi is essentially the Creative Zen with a facelift and packed with the same smooth black face, sharp 2.5-inch liquid crystal display and an SD card expansion slot. The only difference is the replacement of the Zen’s fiveway directional pad with nine small buttons.

While the buttons are small and cramped, they are still tactile and responsive. But with an unintuitive interface, you are left guessing whether you are pressing the right buttons to get to the menu you want. I pressed the wrong buttons all the time.

The power-cum-lock slider button at the back is not the best power button I’ve encountered on a portable device. Slide the button up to lock the device from accidental input, and down for power up and shutdown. I was left guessing whether I have powered up or shut down the device, as the device did not respond at times when I slid down the button.

The initial startup took an excruciating 17.4 seconds. You can put the device to idle shutdown with a slight tug of the slider and it will start up at 4.1 seconds afterwards. A full shutdown took around 4 seconds but it was still too long for my liking.

The Zen X-Fi supports only Windows XP and Vista with the Creative Centrale software. Centrale is supposed to convert whatever media files you have and transfer them over to the device.

However, there are some WMV files, which I transferred, that refused to play due to screen resolution. Also, media streaming can only be done through Creative Centrale. So, if you have a big iTunes library like I do, forget it.

Also, you can’t browse the Internet even though the X-Fi has wireless LAN capability.

The next best thing is the support of instant messaging (IM) services like Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. But I’m not going to use IM, as the text input method is a chore. Imagine typing SMS without text predictive function on a typical cell phone.

Then, multiply the difficulty level by two.

Having an SD card expansion slot seems sensible. But what good is it when the card is treated as a separate entity? You cannot searchor create playlists and bookmarks from data in your SD card. Even playback is fixed.

On the plus side, the built-in FM radio reception on the Zen X-Fi is good, with the auto-scan picking up all local stations in less than a minute.

Also, picture and video playback is sharp and vivid. Audio recording is loud and crisp, with the integrated speakers doing a good job. Using the EP-830 earphones, I listened to the same songs on my iPod and on the Zen X-Fi. The X-Fi, installed with the firmware 1.02.01, definitely sounded better, with solid bass, clearer vocals and smoother mid-tones.

But, this is with X-Fi Crystalizer and X-Fi Expand options switched off. Switching the X-Fi Crystalizer to “On” or “Max” is supposed to accentuate the audio but the bass is just too strong for me. It overpowers the vocals and degrades the mid-tones. With the X-Fi Expand switched on, vocals sound muffled as the option tries to deliver a “surround sound” experience. A new firmware 1.03.01 has since been released and is available from the Creative website. Hopefully, it’ll fix the X-Fi problem.

The Creative Zen X-Fi has plenty of features on paper and the audio quality is better than that of the iPod. However, it fails to deliver in user friendliness,
wireless LAN and SD card implementation, and even its touted X-Fi capability.

Perhaps, I’m simply not zen enough for a Zen.

Trevor Tan
via Today

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Anonymous said...

if you have ever used the previous Zen, you would already know the interface. as for some other complaints regarding the SD card, it's not possible to create playlists for it because it IS a separate entity. the player has to scan it every time it boots up to make sure it knows what's there. it's not built-in, so you just can't do it. it wouldn't work. and whenever you activate sound-boosters, you're expected to be using a custom EQ setting in tandem with it. as for the IM feature, i have no complaints. text prediction is shoddy at best, and if you ever used a psp, internet would be tediously slow on anything other than a computer, and the text input isn't so bad. you get used to it easily. just wake up and realize that the ipod is flawed. the tech from creative is far better, and i have never had a problem with them. just because the controls aren't in bold, doesn't mean two minutes and a quick thumb won't get you used to it. the Zen series is great for one handed use, and it's very durable. mine has suffered many falls and beatings without problem.

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