Picked up a Creative Zen Micro – Review

As Brian mentioned, I picked up a 5GB Creative Zen Micro MP3 player the weekend before I got sick. I ended up with a silver one, and I’m liking it so far. I want to talk about it in detail in tomorrow’s TinyPodcast, but here are my impressions of it so far:

  • The packaging experience is great. Almost as nice as an iPod.
  • The hardware is sexy. Feels great in my hands. I like to just hold it and touch it (sounds naughty!).
  • It was a real pain to install the software from the CD. The installer just crapped out and didn’t work half the time. I ended up downloading and installing a newer version of the software from the Creative site.
  • I thought that the Zen Micro would play nicely with Windows Media Player out of the box, but this was not the case. I couldn’t set up any automatic syncronization – only one-time copies of music files. No playlists. Frustrating. Then I found a firmware update on Creative’s site that makes the Zen Micro a “Plays For Sure” MTP-compliant Windows Media device. I flashed to that firmware, and now Windows Media Player can see and manage (including automatic syncing and playlists) without even having the Creative software installed. Very nice.
  • I use Dopper as my podcast aggregator, and while it supports adding downloaded MP3s automatically to Windows Media Player, it doesn’t seem to work all the time. Not sure what the problem is, but now I’m constantly checking my Library in WMP to make sure that it’s got all the latest podcasts (I’m only putting podcasts on the Zen Micro for now). I’ve even set WMP to monitor the folder where Doppler saves the podcasts. Could be just a glitch, but I’ll be checking manually until I’m sure that all newly downloaded podcasts are getting added to the Windows Media Player Library.

What do I like most about it so far? The fact that I can add MP3 files from my work computer during the day (standard mini-USB connection and a true Windows Media device) without messing with existing playlists I’ve synced over from home. I often run across a one-time podcast, interview, or other audio file that I want to add, but not necessarily subscribe to. With my iPod Shuffle, I’d have to remember to download the file once I got home, and manually add it through iTunes (which means I usually forgot or didn’t bother). I could use the little rebuild_db app to add MP3s to the Shuffle database, but that screwed up my existing playlist order, which I relied on (I arranged the pocasts in the order I wanted to listen to them – new interesting stuff first, then longer stuff like IT Conversations toward the end, to be listened to when I got to it). With the Zen Micro, I can plug it in to my work laptop, Windows Media Player recognizes it, and I can drag and drop new audio, no problem.

Also, I discovered today that the MP3 files are not hidden or obfuscated like on the iPod. My Zen showed up under My Computer, and allowed me to copy media files directly to and from the device. The folder structure gets created on sync, and it doesn’t use a hidden/cryptic structure like Apple does on the iPods. I did discover that it won’t let you copy a file to the Zen that’s not recognized as a “supported media file” (like a .MOV or .EXE). You can, however, partition a chunk of space in the Zen settings to act as a Removable disk (128MB up to 4GB), and keep non-media files there.

I got the inline wired remote for the Zen Micro tonight. I’ve only played with it for a minute, and I’ll talk more about it in the podcast tomorrow, but first impressions are good. Quality is great, like the Zen Micro. It’s laid out like the iPod’s wired remote, and clips to your shirt in the same way. One nice feature – a “mode” button on the remote that will switch the Zen Micro between MP3 and FM Radio modes – something you can’t even do easily (as in one click) on the player itself. Nice. More thoughts on the remote after I’ve had a chance to actually use it for a while.

Overall? I like it. It’s a great value at $199 (only $50 more than a 1GB iPod Shuffle), compares very well with the $199 iPod Mini 4GB – more capacity, great UI, plug-and-play with Windows Media Player (with the right firmware), plus FM Radio and an outstanding voice recorder (one of the reasons I wanted it, but which I’ve yet to really try out).

I’d recommend it to any Windows user looking for an MP3 player in the multi-GB range who isn’t already committed to music purchased from the iTunes Music Store or otherwise comitted to iTunes.

What’s to come? I might try out something like the $4.99/month Yahoo Music Store, although to be honest, I mostly listen to podcasts these days. 5GB isn’t enough to hold my whole music collection, let alone new stuff from a subscription music service. But I’m very interested in how well those services work with “Plays For Sure” Windows Media devices, so I might give one a trial run just to see.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions about the Zen Micro. Between Brian and I, we should be able to cover all of the bases.


4 thoughts on “Picked up a Creative Zen Micro – Review

  1. Phil R. says:

    I too picked up a Zen Micro recently. I got the new 4GB model from the Creative website for $179 after rebate. I have had a very similar experience as you have with being able to load files from both my laptop at work and my desktop at home. I have subscribed to the Yahoo Music service (another review) and really like the ability to download anything I want. I have to get better at creating playlists though!

  2. barbara says:

    I’m new to MP3 players and have just bought a nearly new micro on e-bay. My PC has windows ME and I just can’t get the cretaive software to load. Will the notmad software work on my PC do you think?? The previous owner has updated the firmware to v2 but not sure if that will work with ME??? I only want to put my CDs onto it, not bothered about download sites for now!

  3. Barbara, I hate to say it, but you’re not likely to get the Creative software working on Windows ME. That’s an old version of Windows that was very quirky to begin with. Most manufacturers like Creative are only going to support their software on newer OSes like Windows 2000 or XP.

    There should be a trial version of Notmad that you can try, and see if it works. I seem to recall getting Notmad working under Windows 98 (ME is 98 with a paintjob) with my wife’s old Nomad IIe.

    Good luck!

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