Compared to its bigger brother, this Zen is small. A little smaller than a credit card. However, unlike its bigger brother it lacks a user-replaceable battery, TV-Out, a built in speaker, and a 4.3″ screen. This little baby only has a 2.5″ screen. But while the W has a useless CF reader, the 4GB has a very useful SD reader.
But enough about the W, the more apt comparison is with Apple’s new video-capable Nano. Points against the Nano are that it only has a 2″ screen, has no SD drive, no built-in microphone, and no radio. The Nano does have TV-Out if you buy an extra cable from Apple for nearly fifty bucks. But while the Nano costs about $149, the Zen only costs around $129. For that price I consider it a great deal.
It plays the following video formats natively: MJPEG, WMV9, MPEG4-SP, DivX, and XviD. However, unlike its bigger brother, the 4GB Zen is picky about resolutions. The Zen 4GB is limited to resolutions no greater than 320×240 (320×180 for WS format). In other words, you won’t be able to download stuff from the net (cough PirateBay cough) and play it without first converting it.
Fortunately, Creative includes a batch converter to make that process simple. You load the videos you want, select the quality you want, and let it go. It’ll even load them for you when it’s done. But if that’s too confusing, it’ll convert incompatible videos for you automatically when you transfer them.
The converter can shrink full sized movies down to less than 500MBs each. So even at only 4 gigs you could easily fit 8 full length movies on it. And even more with an extra SD card.
To try out the SD reader I bought an 8GB card from Newegg. You can play video, music, and view pictures off of it. I’ve filled up the player with MP3s and will likely use the reader for movies.
Plenty of reviewers of both this Zen and the Nano have complained about watching videos on the small screen. I don’t get it. It’s not like you have to watch it from across the room. Held at a bent arm’s length it’s about the equivalent size to the 22″ WS monitor on my desk. I have a blast watching TV and movies on this little screen while I’m stuck waiting with nothing better to do. (Like the W it remembers where you left off when you turn it back on. So it’s great when you’re on the stop and go.)
It plays the following audio formats: MP3, WMA, non-protected AAC, WAV, and Audible 2,3 and 4.
The non-protected ACC format is interesting, that means it’ll natively play DRM-free songs bought from iTunes… no conversion necessary.
I never tried the FM radio. The last time I listened to radio Van Halen were not considered classic rock. About around 1982. Does anyone listen to the radio anymore? I guess it could be handy for NPR junkies, but I doubt if it’ll get any use from me. Heck, maybe the lack of radio is an advantage for the Nano!
So to sum up, I love it and would certainly buy it again. If you’re already tied to Apple’s vertical business model, you’ll probably want the Nano. But if you’re living free and small, you’ll want this tiny but full featured Zen.
Handy video and audio converting.
SD reader to increase storage.
Crisp and sharp video.
Also comes in 8 and 16GB sizes.
Non-proprietary USB cable.
Decent ear-buds included.
Can be used as a portable flash drive for data.
The screen is protected under hard plastic.
Full and rich sound.
Intuitive controls and UI.
25 hour battery charge for music and 5 hours for video.
No support for Windows 2000.
Limited video resolutions.
Plug-in charger not included, you have to charge via the included USB cable.
The included USB cable is very small.
It makes my Zen W seem fricken HUGE!