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★★★★★

“Some people are never satisfied! I bought my husband a...”

Written on: 29/12/2005 by sandemp (5 reviews written)

Good Points
Massive battery life. Holds up to twice as many tracks as the iPod.

Bad Points
The supplied case is rubbish.

General Comments
Some people are never satisfied! I bought my husband a 512MB MP3 player for Christmas and filled it with music, but he regularly informed me that there wasn't enough variety in the music it could hold, and he really needed something that could hold even more. So I spent some time searching the internet and reading reviews on various sites and came to the conclusion that the Creative Zen Touch with a 20GB Hard Drive was the best value for money. So lets see if my conclusion was right or whether I'd bought a dud...



---First Impressions (The Packaging)---



Now if I was going by very first impressions I would say that the packaging was a bad start. The player wasn't packed in a nice stylish box, but was actually in that sealed plastic that needs to be hacked open with a pair of scissors. I personally hate this type of packaging, it's too hard to open, whiffs of cheapness, and means it just doesn't really cut it if given as a special present.



Once I'd finally cut the plastic to pieces, I found that I had the player, and a box. I was now starting to get excited, and opened the box to discover a charger (in two pieces), USB lead, CD-ROM, leather case (with belt clip), pair of earphones and a quick start instruction manual. So basically, there was everything I needed to get started, and I especially liked the fact that a carry case was supplied, as this meant I didn't have to go and hunt one out. I was a little concerned that there wasn't a comprehensive paper manual, in fact I thought it was missing from the pack, but I later discovered that there was one in pdf format on the CD-ROM.



---Second Impressions (The Styling)---



With the player finally in my hand, I must say I was very impressed. It has a nice solid feel to it, and although some may think it's heavy at just over 200g, to me it felt like I had quality in my hands. Size wise, it was a little larger than I expected, not massive, but you can definitely notice a bulge when it's worn. At 10.5 x 6.8 x 2.2cm it's just a bit smaller than a personal cassette player, only noticeably heavier.



The actual styling of the player is very nice, with a very minimalist feel. The front of the player is a gorgeous silvery white colour, while the rear is a darker grey. I really do like the look of the player, and feel it looks as good as the iPod.



---The Software---



Before I start talking about the actual player, I thought I'd tell you about the software that comes with it, so here goes...



On the CD-ROM you will find an installation program that will not only allow your computer to recognise the player, but will also install a couple of programs that make it easier to transfer your songs from the computer and then manage it on the player.



The first thing to note here is that the player only supports Windows 98SE and above, so I'm afraid all you Linux and Mac users out there will probably not be able to get this to work with your computers. Although I do use Windows XP, I think this was probably a big mistake on Creative's part. Other than Windows, your computer will need to meet some pretty basic requirements, including:



Processor: Pentium II 350MHz or higher (450MHz recommended)

RAM: 64MB (128MB recommended)

10MB Hard drive space

CD-ROM drive

USB 1.1 (2.0 recommended)



My own computers exceed this many times over, as will any computer sold within the last few years.



The software itself was easy to install, and gave me a new media player (whoopee) along with programs to organise, convert and move my music. I won't go into any great detail about the programs here, as they probably deserve reviews of their own, I'll just point out that although they are slightly confusing to start with, they are easily mastered with a little practise.



---The Battery---



Charging the battery is simplicity itself, simply connect the charger to the player, plug it in and wait four hours. Once it's been charged the first time it's a good idea to allow the battery to completely run out before charging again (at least for the first few times) as this will "condition" it and help give it the maximum possible lifespan.



Once charged Creative claim the battery will last anything up to 32 hours, but I really would take this with a pinch of salt, as they only claim this life when using very low quality MP3's. Personally I think their 24 hour claim for 128kbps MP3's is much nearer the mark. My player is used for several hours a day, and only needs charging weekly, to me this means the battery life is exceptional, and many hours longer than any of the competitors.



Transferring music from the computer, skipping tracks and playing with the menu settings do however use the battery up faster than just playing the music from start to finish.



---The Controls---



The main control on the Zen Touch is via a touch pad, and it is very similar to that which you'd find on a laptop. There are other buttons for calling the menu up, pausing, playing and skipping tracks, but the main control is this pad, and to move the cursor you simply need to rub your thumb up and down. I've found the default setting for this is at just about the right level of sensitivity for me, but you can easily change it if you find it scrolls too fast or too slow.



---The screen---



The screen on the front of the player is of a reasonable size and nicely backlit. Although it's nothing fancy, it does display all the necessary information, such as battery life remaining, track title and artist, in a way that's clear and easy to read.





---Storing your Music---



You are able to store and play two different formats of music on the Zen Touch, MP3 and WMA, for me this was the advantage over the nearest competition that completely swung my purchasing decision. Perhaps I should tell you the difference between MP3 and WMA files so you can understand why :



*MP3*



MP3's are now considered the standard for storing digital music, and they are audio files that have been compressed (by removing the sounds that you actually can't hear). A typical track will be 3 - 4MB in size at 128kbps (which is average quality), but can be bigger or smaller in size depending on what sort of quality has been used. I personally wouldn't go below the 128kb quality, as the music seems to become rather flat below that, but 192kb is near enough the top quality you'll find on the net. Deep within these files, there is an important little bit of information called an ID tag, which holds the track title, artist and album, among other details. In this format you can store up to 5000 tracks on the 20GB hard drive.



*WMA*



WMA files are Microsoft's own version of a compressed audio file, and use less space for the same quality. I find that a smaller compression will give the same quality output, and generally encode at 64kbps which gives a file size of 1.5 - 2.5MB. As with MP3's, all the track information is also held within the file. Using this format allows you to store up to 10000 tracks on the drive.



From the above detail, you can probably guess why I like the fact that it can play WMA files. If not I'll tell you, it means I can store nearly twice as many tracks on here as I could with one that doesn't play WMA's. In essence I'm getting the same amount of storage as a 40GB iPod!



Using the supplied software, transferring your music is a simple case of dragging and dropping files from the computer to the NOMAD explorer (the players browser). It literally takes a couple of minutes to transfer hundreds of tracks, and once they are in place you can change the track details, delete tracks or set-up play lists. I've personally found that this software does the job so well that I've never needed to use Windows Media Player, so I can't comment on whether it is as simple with that.



---Playing the music---



There are a few options for playing the music back, including creating play lists and searching for and playing a particular track. My favourite however is "random all" which plays all the tracks randomly. I love this because I get a chance to sample tracks from all the albums on the player, and never get bored with a particular singer/band. You can also choose to play all the music in a particular album, or by an artist, but I do prefer the random function. As each track is played, the embedded information is displayed on the LCD screen, along with track length.



While the supplied earphones are of reasonable quality, both myself and my husband have found that they are uncomfortable to wear for any length of time, so we had to buy a new pair. The quality and volume of playback from the player though, is to say in a word, extraordinary. It sounds so much better that when played on my computer or even my stereo, with a depth that's amazing. I find I can hear different voices and instruments in each ear, and when I close my eyes I can almost imagine that the singer/group is in front of me.





---The case---



The leather case that comes supplied with the player is a little naff. Not only does it cover the controls so that if you want to skip a track, or press pause you have to pull the player right out, but it is also a little tight, and I find it easy to catch it and find I'm skipping a track. So although it was a nice idea, it doesn't really work very well.



---Portable Storage---



As well as storing music on the Zen, you can also use it as a portable storage device, for storing those files you want to move between computers. Although you can store all the various formats, you can't actually access them with the player, it just works as a portable hard drive.



---Durability---



I can't completely comment on durability, as we've been extremely careful, as this has never been dropped and is always stored in the case, however it does feel very durable, looks as though it's very tough, and I've had no problems with it freezing.



---Technical Bits---



Hard Drive - 20GB

Track capacity - up to 10,000 tracks in WMA format (5,000 in MP3)

Battery Life - Up to 36 hours (nearer to 24)



Price - £149.98 from Comet including delivery (same sort of price can be found elsewhere online).



---My final opinion---



I was a little apprehensive spending this much money on something that can only be regarded as a luxury, but I'm so glad I did. The playback and storage capacity are amazing, and although the player is larger than many similar products, it really does feel like quality. Although I've never used an iPod, I really do believe that this is at least as good as far as playback goes (as I really don't see how it could be improved), and is vastly better value, as not only is it £50 less than the equivalent iPod, but can hold nearly twice as much music. So what are you waiting for? Go and buy one now!

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