I’m always looking for alternatives to the iPod so today I thought I’d take a look at the Creative Zen X-Fi. This new player is intended to replace the older Creative Zen digital music player. I ran across this short video of it on Hulu that I’ll kick things off with and follow it up with some of my impressions of it.
Review Continued Below…
The Creative Zen X-Fi has all the basic digital media player features you would expect to find in a non-iPod unit. This includes being able to play MP3, WMA (including subscription and protected), WAV, Audible and AAC audio files, displaying pictures and videos, a voice recorder and FM radio. It also includes WiFi capability and upgraded earbud headphones on the 16gb and 32gb models. There is also a stripped down 8gb that kind of seems like an after-thought. While the WiFi thing isn’t all that appealing to me, the upgraded headphones are a nice touch. Most players come with very cheap, crappy, earbuds but headphones like these would probably set you back $50 if you purchased the separately.
The Zen X-Fi is flash based, rather than disk based, which is something I like. It does have a SD card expansion slot but like these slots in just about every other DMP out there the slot memory doesn’t integrate with the main system memory which is an annoyance. As for the user interface, while a little different, isn’t that hard to get a feel for with a little use. The operation is crisp and precise, unlike what I’ve found on some other players, and user customizable to some extent.
The Creative Zen X-Fi looks sleek, but, unfortunately, the case is plastic which makes the player feel cheap to me. If I’m spending $250+ on a device like this I want metal, not something that will get cracked at the first ‘oopsie!’. It reminds me a lot of the cheap, almost disposable, Coby and Emerson MP3 players I’ve bought. I can’t believe that they would do this with a flagship product as a cost cutting move.
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Let’s talk about the sound quality of the Creative Zen X-Fi. Sadly, I think it gets a ‘C’ in this department. My main problem with it is that it seems underpowered. While I guess this is an ear saving thing it does create a very weak signal for working with car audio, either FM or Aux connections, or connecting to a boom box or home stereo. I also found the X-Fi sound enhancement, essentially EQ presets, to be less than thrilling.
On battery life, I also found this disappointing as well. While Creative says that the Zen X-Fi has a charge for 35 hours audio and 5 hours video I found that in practice it was more like 15-16 hours audio and a little of 2 for video. I’ve almost gotten to the point that I take the advertised charge times with a huge grain of salt. I don’t think I’ve encountered a player yet that lived up to the advertised charge time, especially for video playback.
The bottom line on the Creative Zen X-Fi is that it’s a feature rich digital media player with several disappointments. If the WiFi features appeal to you and if you’ll be mostly using it with headphones it may be worth it. You may find a good deal on one that might also make it worthwhile. Otherwise, I’d say look elsewhere.
A big thanks to Mike, a neighbor who’s an electronics store manager, for letting me test drive this player for a few days.