Creative Zen Vision:M

15 Feb 2006

The digital music player market is starting to resemble the mobile phone landscape of some years back: Nokia once seemed to have things all to itself but rivals began to assert themselves and there’s more choice than ever for the consumer.

So it is with music/photo/video players.

There’s no denying the many ‘me-too’ elements to the Zen Vision:M — a video player, photo viewer and MP3 player to rival Apple’s latest offering — but it performs all of its tasks so well that it’s a very strong challenger to the runaway market leader.

At €361.95 it’s slightly more expensive than its iPod equivalent, although you get some extra features for the money.

Available in high-gloss black, white, blue, green or pink, it holds 30GB of music, equivalent to 15,000 songs or 120 hours of video or thousands of digital photos.

The sound quality is superb — when all’s said and done about a product’s look and feel, this has to be a massive plus in any music player.

It’s doubtless a result of Creative’s long heritage in making PC sound cards and I’m tempted to say the Vision:M has an edge over the iPod in this department.

When playing rock the songs remain crystal clear; try some jazz and it feels like the band is in the same room.

I’ve been sceptical of small-screen video but the more I see from devices like this, the less I hold my ground.

The video playback was extremely impressive on the Vision:M’s 2.5-inch colour LCD screen. Photos turn out very well too.

There are loads of neat touches around the whole package: the Vision:M hooks up easily with Windows Media Player software and a nice touch is that when you rip songs from a CD for putting on to the Vision later, the album art makes the transfer without any intervention by the user.

Creative Mediasource is the software supplied with the player for managing digital content but you can actually get away with simply using Media Player to load songs on to the Vision:M.

All told, it’s extremely user-friendly with little to intimidate the novice.

If anything lets the Vision:M down it’s navigating the player itself.

It won’t please Creative to hear it, but getting around the device isn’t as easy on the thumb or as intuitive to the brain as Apple’s famed clickwheel.

The centre pad is sensitive, although this level can be adjusted. In the end, a little patience sees you through but it takes some persevering.

Overall it’s worth the effort — whether you’re upgrading or buying a digital music player for the first time, don’t just make the default choice before you’ve had a Zen moment.

By Gordon Smith