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Creative Zen X-Fi
Creative’s previous Zen had the potential to be a great PMP, considering its slim design, large clear display and the button placement for navigation, but it fared quite averagely. Their next-level Zen called the Zen X-Fi comes equipped with Creative’s famous X-Fi engine that should make the audio experience something to look forward to. To cut to the chase, here’s what I think of this upgrade...
The design of the X-Fi is not altogether different from the Zen. The display has the same characteristics – 2.5 inch TFT, 320 x 240 pixel resolution, and 16m colors. The X-Fi also supports memory expansion via MMC/SD cards. The placement of the slot is also on the same side.
The main difference with these two players, aside form the dimensions that differ with a few mm here and there (Zen = 55 x 83 x 11.3mm, X-Fi = 83 x 55 x 12.8mm) is the navigation pad. While the Return and Sub Menu keys (and also the shortcut key and Play/Pause keys) look a bit sleeker and embedded into the design, the nav-pad looks like that of a mini keypad. This is because the X-Fi was originally deigned to come equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities for internal chatting through services like Windows Live.
However, the version launched on this side of the globe doesn’t have Wi-Fi, so I’m wondering what's the point of the keypad, other than providing a way to save your radio stations with their respective names. If the 16GB and 32GB models get here, I guess they would be Wi-Fi compliant.
The navigation is not difficult to figure out. The center key is for selection and all other keys can be used to move up, down, back, and forward. The USB port and 3.5mm earphone socket are in the same place as before, but the power slider switch has been bumped to the rear for some reason. Lack of space? I think not, so go figure. The design does nothing for me.
Features and performance
The interface is as vibrant as before with a few colorful themes, and the ability to use your own images as backgrounds makes it more attractive. But there’s no difference from the previous Zen. The icons are the same and miscellaneous features (like the Sync capabilities for Calendar, Tasks and Contacts list feature in the Organizer with your PC) are also present.
The main differences are the presence of the X-Fi feature with the Crystalizer and Expand option, and an external speaker located on the bottom of the player. This speaker is quite redundant, considering there are mobile phones that offer louder sound. As in the previous model, the player charges via USB.
There’s nothing much I can tell you about the Image Viewer, except that pictures look simply superb. You can set an interval for your slide show and transitions, and play music in the background for effect. Nothing new here, it was as good then as it’s now. It reads JPEG (and BMP/ GIF / PNG / TIFF) formats.
Creative’s new and improved player management software called Creative Centrale is quite flashy but takes a bit of getting used to if you’re a first-time user. The worst part is it takes unusually long to scan your PC or drive for audio. In my case after the installing, removing and reinstalling it kept scanning my Music folder for an indefinite period till I got quite frustrated and simply shut it down and copy-pasted the files on to the drive.
Users can access a memory card from the dedicated menu option provided for the same, which is nothing new either. The problem is, if you’re playing music files, you won’t be able to access the other settings like the EQ or anything else for that matter. So it’s simply playback and nothing more. I wasn't able to access the memory card via the PC when connected via USB. The only drive accessable was the player memory.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, the audio quality of the Zen X-Fi is quite good. I can’t say it was great in all honesty, but it was good nevertheless. With the X-Fi turned on, the quality is definitely a lot better, but your recordings will have to be immaculate in order to enjoy the truly superb sound quality of the EP-830 in-ear bundled earphones paired with the player. Music fanatics may have a bit of an issue with the bass level when the X-Fi is turned on.
Thankfully, all can be controlled with help from the music settings menu that provides a set of EQ presets and a manually customizable graphic EQ. The X-Fi also has the Creative Smart Volume option, so your player will try to prevent you from losing your hearing by keeping the volume level in check. The Bass Boost feature is something I’m particularity fond of. But again, if your recordings are not perfect, you’re not going to like the jarring one bit. Something has to go. Take your pick.
The highs may sound crisp and clear with the X-Fi engine running but the mid frequencies are a bit off and the bass is reduced slightly, which I did not like, but on the whole it was an interesting experience and much better than its predecessor. Playlists can be created directly from the drive on the PC without the use of any software.
Other kinks that should have been worked out are the access to the Audio Settings from the music submenu. Sadly, as with some of the less impressive players, you’ll have to go all the way back to the main menu, scroll down to the Settings and then go into the Audio Settings. You can’t even assign it to the shortcut key. However, once the desired option is selected, you can click on the Play key to go back to the track playing and return to the Settings by clicking on the Return/Back key.
The FM radio works quite well, providing decent enough reception even while commuting. It did take a while to locate and store the presets though – over 25 seconds, which is way too long for me. It didn’t store all the stations either. But once you’ve manually found the missing ones, you can just save them and won’t need to worry again. FM recording is also present, as well as a separate voice recorder.
One vexing problem with the X-Fi is that it didn’t come with any conversion software, so I had to download it. For some reason it seemed as if most files I introduced into the player needed conversion. I’m sorry to report that conversion continues to be a tedious process, and the process is a pain in the rear. Small files could be added easily and converted quickly, but movies were a different story. Most of the time the player hung when I tried to add a file.
I figured there could be some issue with the .EXE file I downloaded, so I uninstalled the software, downloaded the setup once again, and reinstalled it. No change. I did this on two PCs and faced a similar problem (of the software shutting down when it came to heavy files). I doubt this would be the case with everyone... at least I hope not. The player allows you to fit videos full-screen in case you don’t like black bands, so long as you don't mind elongated faces and scenery!
The Zen X-Fi reportedly supports MJPEG, WMV9, MPED4-SP, DivX 4/5 and XviD formats, but you can’t copy-paste files into the drive. The converter is necessary. That makes it even odder; I wonder why it wasn’t included in the packaging.
Let me add this though: considering the resolution of the display, once you work a way around the converter and the painstaking file transfer process, you can sit back and enjoy the videos. Just remember: the more wide-screen the video, the smaller it’ll appear on the X-Fi’s display. So choose your files carefully.
The battery life falls short quite drastically except when it comes to video. I squeezed two full-length videos out of the X-Fi and a little music as well (but only a little). That’s not too bad. Unfortunately when it comes to audio I was expecting over 20 hours of nonstop usage, but got only 16.5 hours. That’s in no way good; the company claims 36 hours. If you’re a stickler for power, like me, this doesn’t cut it at all. Not by a long shot.
The price of Rs 13,550 (without Wi-Fi) for 8GB of space is not too happening, even though the X-Fi engine may be a boon for the Zen's audio capabilities. Although this upgraded version offers slightly better sound quality, it's unchanged on all other fronts. A price drop will make it a deal... if you’re willing to put up with the painful video conversion and transfer process. Otherwise the player's fine, and the in-ear earphones provided are really good. It's the price I'm unhappy about; I expected better from Creative.