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Review of the Creative Zen Micro

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Last weekend, I picked up a 5GB Creative Zen Micro and I have to say that I’m loving it! It’s not a perfect MP3 player, but it’s got a lot going for it! We talked about it on our last podcast and even did a short video review, but incase you don’t listen to the show, I thought I would write up my experience so far. If you did listen to the show, I’ve gone into more detail with this review.

Read on for the full reviw…

What’s hot:

  • First of all, it’s much smaller than I thought it would be (like a short, fat cell phone). It fits into the front pocket of my jeans very comfortably and I even forget that it’s there.
  • The sound quality from the device is absolutely amazing and the thing will really crank out the tunes! I haven’t had the volume over 18 (it looks like it will go to 25 or 30) from the fear of permanent hearing loss from my Sony MDR-EX51 earphones! The device also has 8 subtly different (but noticeable) equalizer settings and the ability to do a custom eq mix.
  • The player fits into an included hard plastic case that has different attachments so that it can be used for a desktop stand or a belt-clip. It would be really cool if the device could be put into this case backwards for protection, but it can’t. It’s still a nice feature though.
    Zen
  • The battery in this thing is tiny, but it lasts forever. Creative claims 12 hours and although I haven’t drained it more than half way, my experience has been on par with their claim. The fact that the battery is user-replaceable was a contributing factor to my purchase.
  • The built-in “DJ” feature is a creative way to have the device choose some songs from your library to listen to. It is a little like the “Smart Playlist” functionality in your favorite desktop media software – with fewer options.
  • The included software doesn’t actually suck. From previous experiences with this kind of device, I had terribly low expectations for the bundled software and even balked at installing it at all. The desktop media player software isn’t going to unseat WMP or iTunes (the cheesy blue-hand pointer is one of the dorkiest things I’ve ever seen – come on Creative), but thankfully the syncing and management software is quite good. When you have the player attached through the standard mini-USB interface, the software will let you listen to music through your PC speakers while it charges your player, edit and organize the music on your device, or access the storage partition that you allocated.
  • Having spoken about the software, you wouldn’t need it at all if you’re on a Windows system with Windows Media Player installed. I have been able to sync all of my music, clean up ID3 tags, and make all of the changes I needed through software already loaded onto almost every Windows system out there.
  • Construction quality is good. I have picked up a lot of MP3 players that felt cheap, but this one is much better than most. While it’s not an iPod (which has always seemed ‘over-engineered’ to me…if such a thing is possible), it’s built well enough that I’m not worried about any quality problems.
  • The vertical “Touch Pad” works quite well. It has a drag-and-hold function that will scroll through your music faster than you can recognize the titles flying by. I only have 525 songs on my unit, but it will scroll through those in about 5 seconds. It’s functionality is a lot like the touch pad on an iPod that goes up and down instead of round and round. I guess your preference here is dependent on whether you spent more time on the teeter-totter or the merry-go-round when your were a kid.
  • The display on the unit is more than adequate. The resolution provides clear text that is easy to read with all of the information you would expect to find on an MP3 player. The backlighting and contrast can be changed in the menus, but I have found the factory settings to be very usable. Not that Portland, Oregon, is a great place to test visibility in direct sunlight, but my experience has been that the display is quite readable outdoors.

What’s not:

  • The FM reception appears to be substandard. I also own a Creative Muvo Micro and the reception on it seems better. I know that the earphones act as the antenna, but I’m using the same pair on both devices. As a side note, you can name the 32 FM presets the device will handle – that’s cool.
  • The interface takes a little getting used to (it’s still quite intuitive though).
  • The voice recording is just OK – don’t expect studio-quality recordings and you’ll be fine.
  • The included earphones are awful, but that’s no different than any other MP3 player on the market – included headphones are always a disappointment and replacements should be factored into the price of any media player.

Conclusion
There’s no doubt in my mind that Creative is trying to steal market share from Apple with this MP3 player. Everything from pulsing glow of the display while it charges to the fading backlighting is reminiscent of Apple engineering. I considered an iPod and lots of other devices before I spent my money on this device, and so far, I have been pleased with that decision. For $200 (or cheaper online), it’s a very good deal for what you get. I would recommend it to family and friends and coworkers and total strangers that stumbled on this review through a Google search and…well…you get the point.

I’ll gladly entertain any observations or questions via comments.

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12 thoughts on “Review of the Creative Zen Micro

  1. arnold says:

    i’m curious, after having the zen micro for i would say about a month now, have you experienced any problems with it? like the infamous headphone jack problem? i’m asking because i’ve been itching to get one mainly because of the sound quality. and you cant enjoy good sound when your headphone jack’s busted heh. what about the firmware upgrades? how dedicated is creative with improving the stability of the player (in terms of lockups, functionality, touchpad sensitivity etc…)? i’m also looking into the archos xs200 but there isn’t that much resource on the internet for it.

    good job on the review btw

  2. I have had no problems with the headphone jack on my unit at all, but then again I’ve only had it for about a month. Had I known that there was this issue, I would have looked harder at the replacement plan option. Hopefully I’ll never experience the problem.

    I really am enjoying the device. It works very well for what I like to do with it. There are no regrets for this owner. Now we just need to get Josh to weigh in on the issue since he just pikced up one of these last weekend!

  3. Yeah i have the Ear phone Jack Problem…My first creative came with the problem straight from the box, so i returned it. My new one now about 4 months maybe 5 months old is having the problem again so time to talk to creative again. Over all i am happy with the creative but they need to fix this head phone jack thing.
    Harpo

  4. anybody know if there are any hacks or mods for this thing / specifically something that will let you change the startup screen, etc?

  5. jake says:

    this is very interesting to me. i had a ipod mini about 3 months ago. and it had a head jack problem too. i recently ordered a creative micro online and i hope i dont have to worry about this phone jack problem.

  6. Iain says:

    I have had one of these for a good 18 month now and have only just got the headphone jack problem… and to be honest the way ive abused that thing it doesn’t suprise me. I’ve been well impressed with it. The amount of times ive dropped it while riding my bike, have it fall through the spokes, hanging by the wire… well its done better than it had any right to. with the outer case on its practically indestructible. The touchpad is a swine when the batteries are low though.

  7. ben says:

    Yeah, I have used my Zen Micro 5GB for about a year now. The headphone jack is giving me problems now, like not outputting the full volume but a rather flat sounding piece of song all the time.

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