For a while now people have been waiting for a refresh of Creative's popular ZEN series of players; at last it has happened in the form of the ZEN X-Fi. This time around Creative has managed to pack in its popular X-Fi soundcard technology, along with Wi-Fi connectivity.
While these features are good in theory, there are some problems with their implementation. The key layout on the ZEN X-Fi could also use a little work. Nonetheless, this is another solid portable media player from Creative.
The biggest feature of this unit is undoubtedly its wireless connectivity. It offers a few possibilities, notably the ability to copy music across the network wirelessly, but it is slower than transfer over a USB cable.
Another wireless feature is the chat option. Users can chat via Yahoo Messenger, MSN or Creative's own messaging service. Unfortunately, the implementation has several problems.
Firstly, you can't be online when listening to music. Secondly, the keypad is extremely frustrating. It is laid out like a mobile phone keypad, so you navigate around the onscreen keyboard then tap the key multiple times to pick which letter you want. It is slow, tedious and not at all suited to typing long messages.
This isn't aided by the keys themselves, which are a little tough to press at times. This wasn't a problem during general operation, but in situations requiring lots of rapid keystrokes it made things difficult. Aside from this issue, however, the interface was easy to navigate, with Creative implementing its standard menu system, which will be familiar to past users.
Audio quality was fairly good, but not outstanding. Highs were rich and the low range had some punch, but we felt that detail was a little lacking at times. However, the ZEN X-Fi does come with a better-than-average pair of ear buds. They aren't going to satisfy audiophiles, but they are leaps and bounds ahead of the stock ear buds that are bundled with most MP3 players.
Users will probably want to stay away from the X-Fi modes. This technology, previously only found in Creative's soundcard range, was until recently unable to be placed into a portable device due to power requirements. While it appears Creative has succeeded, the end result is a pretty watered-down version of the real thing.
There are two modes, the crystalliser and the expander. The crystalliser does fill out the sound a little more, but it makes everything less controlled and gives it a synthetic tone. The expander enhances bass impact but muffles all the other registers, as if you're listening through a piece of cloth. We vastly preferred our music without either running.
Other features of the ZEN X-Fi include video, photos, FM radio and voice recording. The screen is fairly good quality and videos looked impressive during testing.
Our test unit was the 32GB version, although a 16GB model is also available. If you want to expand the memory further, there is an SD card slot. However, files on the SD card won't show up with files stored in the onboard media as a single list, and a lot of the basic functionality such as sorting and playlists can't be done to files on SD cards.
The ZEN X-Fi supports MJPEG, WMV9, MPED4-SP3, DivX3 4/5 and XviD3 codecs for video and MP3, WMA, AAC4 (.M4A), WAV (ADPCM) and Audible 4 for audio. We struggled to get the unit showing up as a removable drive on our Windows XP test machines. Once we'd installed the bundled software we could drag and drop files onto the device, but it refused to show up on several PCs when plugged in until Creative's software was installed.