Why I Wanted an MP3 Player
I'm not the typical user: My teenage years have long since faded, I don't go around all day pumping music to my ears, and I rarely buy music to add to my collection. My primary purpose for an MP3 is as a CAR STEREO. That's right--I wanted music for my car. And it just so happens that an MP3 player is better suited for this task than any other gadget on the market. More on this later...
After a ton of research I discovered a few things that added up to my decision to buy the ZEN V Plus. First, it seems that Apple products consistently get the best reviews. They also command a premium price. Now, I'm not against paying for quality, but it seemed that Apple products cost at least twice as much as all other competitors. They couldn't be THAT much better, could they? Besides that, I have this lingering distaste for Apple products that began with the introduction of the Macintosh. But that's another story.
So, focusing on things non-Apple, I found that most other products had a great deal of both positive and negative reviews. Hmmm. How to sort through the jungle of info? Price seemed to be one factor--the cheaper the product, in general, the worse the reviews tended to be. Should I reconsider about Apple? No, sorry, can't force myself to do it.
I actually narrowed by choice down and settled on the Sansa Express and initially purchased this model, but later returned it. For details on this, see my review of that product. Briefly, it did everything well except Shuffle music--the ONE feature I had to have for my purposes.
So I researched some more and came to the Creative Zen V Plus. Although there were some naysayers out there, the bulk of evidence appears to be in favor of most Creative products. They tend to be a little pricier than their Sansa equivalents, but then there's that price versus quality thingy again.
Before going further with my own ramblings, here are a few facts about Creative Zen V Plus features. The model I review here is 2GB. They have models that range from 1GB to 8GB that use the same casework and, presumably, the same firmware and features.
1.5 inch OLED screen
Full Color 128x128 display
Direct line-in recording option
Built-in clock with alarm
Task and contact management
5-way joystick for navigation/selection
Equalizer with 8 presets plus custom settings
USB 2.0 transfer rates
Up to 66 hours of WMA music (64kbps) 1000 songs
Up to 15 hours battery life
Built-in rechargeable battery
Charges from USB port while connected to computer
Doubles as a mass storage device for computer files
Supports MP3, WMA, IMA ADPCM, WMA DRM
JPEG support for displaying pictures
Also plays movies! Sample clips included.
Wow. A lot of features for a player at the mid-range of the spectrum.
The packaging is nothing to scream about, but there doesn't appear to be any components that would excessively wear or fall off over time. The case itself is not the hardest plastic, but has a better feel than many players on the market. The buttons feel solid and not loose. You could probably drop the unit from any height onto carpet without suffering any damage. I would be a little worried if it dropped on a hard surface, but I can't judge how much of an impact it could absorb and I'm not willing to experiment.
Screen quality is very good and very readable. More on this later.
The on/off slide switch, joystick, and option buttons have a good feel with sufficient tactile feedback.
Standard to all MP3's you get less than the advertised 2GB because systems software eats up some space. There is still plenty of room for your music. Just keep in mind that the advertised 1000 songs is a wild estimate. This depends on the format you store your songs in and the length of each song. There is no way to tell you up front how many songs a device will truly hold.
The Zen ships with numerous music, photo, and movie samples. All of these are interesting and you may want to keep a few. But, to maximize your storage space consider ditching the canned samples as they do take up some room.
Of all things Zen, initial setup of the device was most daunting. Unlike some other players (Sansa comes to mind), you can't just plug the thing into the USB port and start using it. You have to install the Zen software, reboot your computer, then charge the device. Not only that, you can't run the player from USB power--the battery has to be sufficiently charged before you can access the menu.
When I went through the setup process my player kept flashing an icon indicating the device was in use and I shouldn't detach it from the computer. Even after charging overnight this icon remained. I sent a message to tech support, but got antsy waiting for their reply. I eventually unplugged the player with the icon still showing and found everything to be OK and ready to use. An annoying glitch in their software, but a forgivable one since no harm was done.
Once setup and charging are complete, the player is ready to receive transfers and behaves itself nicely thereafter.
Despite coming with it's own software and encouraging its use, I found that Windows Media Player (WMP) works fine for transferring music. I like WMP because I can rip CDs, organize music, and sync to an MP3 all in one place. Creative does something to alter WMP so that you get a Creative screen when syncing files, but this is otherwise transparent to the actual operation.
The only thing I note about file transfer is that the speed seemed a little slow to me. It seemed as though the Sansa Express I had might have moved things about twice as fast, but this is a subjective measure as I didn't actually make time measurements between the two. If you're transferring a few songs or maybe one CD at a time, you probably will be satisfied with the speed. When I transferred 200 songs at once, I had quite a wait before it was done.
I'm no audiophile, so I can't answer to the perfectionists among you. To me, the Zen sounds as good as any CD. I run the player through a cassette adapter in my car and I can't tell any difference in sound quality or volume between the player and the radio.
I have noticed that there can either be an abrupt cut-off at the end of a song or a delay before the next song starts up. I don't believe this has anything to do with the Zen as the same thing happened with the Sansa. This is probably a characteristic of the CD ripping process. Just don't let it surprise you.
I found no reason to change the settings with the graphic equalizer. Sound right out of the box was good with me, so why mess with a good thing?
Volume is adjustable through quite a large range. I found that rather low volume is sufficient through the earphones while moderate volume is required through the cassette adapter to match the car stereo. I've never found a need to turn the volume up toward the high end.
I didn't even realize when I bought this player that it could do pictures and videos. And, honestly, I have no use for these features. That said, I found the picture and video samples included to be entertaining. I was very surprised at the video quality--quite good for such a small screen. I could envision watching a movie on the Zen, though I have no idea if it would fit in 2GB.
Menu Navigation and Operation
The Zen really shines in menu navigation. I compare it to the Sansa Express, which had only a 4-line display. The Zen has the equivalent of about twice that, and seems to be wider as well. It's much like navigating around on a cell phone display.
The joystick makes it easy to move around in the menu. Up/down/right/left/select are combined in the one button. I found this easier than separate buttons. However, there are two separate buttons for play/pause and sub-menu activation. The least intuitive is the sub-menu button--you just have to kind of learn when it's needed.
One relevant feature buried in the documentation is that the sub-menu button is used to call up a menu on a song while it's playing to activate options such as Remove. The Remove option is missing from some MP3 players, and is quite convenient when you want to ditch a certain track. Some players, such as the Sansa Express, will only let you delete a song while attached to your computer.
The one drawback in my opinion is the on/off switch. You slide and hold the switch to turn it on/off. I found the press-and-hold switch of devices like the Sansa Express to be easier for one-handed operation.
Because I use the Zen twice a day in 15-minute increments, it's a little difficult to give exact figures on battery life. I can only say it seems sufficient and I have no complaints so far.
The manual indicates a 6-hour charge time, which seems excessive. Since I let it charge overnight, this doesn't bother me.
Also note that the manual indicates the "first few times" the battery should be completely discharged before recharging.
I searched for information on replacing the battery but couldn't find any. I would expect, like most such devices, the cost would be prohibitive when/if battery replacement is required.
I found the documentation to be a bit skimpy in print, on the CD, and on the Internet. This is no worse than any other brand. I can't put my finger on exactly why I got this feeling, I only know that I felt there wasn't a good complete reference of everything the player is capable of. Fortunately, the menu system is easy enough to move around in that getting to any particular feature has not been a problem.
I'm sorry folks, but I found Creative's web site to be awkward to use. It was difficult to research specific features without a whole lot of clicking around and jumping through hoops.
Creative really shines in the amount of accessories they offer. Their prices, however, seemed excessive so prepare to pay out the nose for the toys. Here are a few things you can buy...
Various color "skins"
I've contacted tech support only once, and that was through email. You get a fairly quick "we got your request" auto-reply. An actual answer came within 24 hours. This is probably above average for the industry.
The answer to my question, however, was canned. This was to be expected, but it wasn't much help. I had already figured out my answer before I got their reply. My assumption is that there would have been two or three back-and-forth emails to get the actual answer I needed.
At least you don't have to wait DAYS for a response as with Sansa.
Car Stereo Substitute
Why buy an expensive CD changer when you can use your MP3 player instead? No need for one of those new stereos with an MP3 player slot, either. For ten dollars you can get a decent cassette adapter that works with any MP3 player. Then you have a huge library of music at your fingertips. And, all told, your total cost should be well under a hundred bucks.
This has worked very well for me. The sound quality is good and the convenience is maximum. The only thing to look out for here is that the instructions for some of the adapters tell you to turn the volume all the way down on your player and use the stereo volume control instead. WRONG! Two problems here: 1) You get all sorts of background noise with this method and, 2) when you switch from MP3 to car radio the volume will blast you out of the car. Instead, turn the volume up on the MP3 such that it matches the level of your car stereo. You WILL have to adjust the MP3 volume back down if you plug back in the headphones, however.
No operational problems so far. The setup was awkward as I've already mentioned, but once things got going I was quite pleased.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I was "tricked" into buying a refurbished player. I say "tricked" because I went back to the web site where I bought this player (Sorry, won't mention any names) and found the word "refurbished" was rather plainly displayed. How I missed this is my detailed research I still don't know. My personal rule is that I never buy refurb electronics. That said, the player has performed as a new one. I'm hoping there are no long-term effects of my mistake.
I'm pleased with the Creative Zen V Plus and I would highly recommend it. The documentation and setup are the main drawbacks. I would have liked to see a little sturdier construction for the price, but it is above average for most players I've seen. I don't think you'll go wrong with this player and, I think you'll find some of the extra features pleasant additions to your run-of-the-mill player.