Creative ZEN X-Fi review Part 1

Rumours of a Creative X-Fi player have been floating around since the middle of last year. But at every financial conference, Creative repeatedly delayed the release of the X-Fi player due to technical difficulties. The powerful X-Fi chip was simply too battery consuming to be placed into a portable device. While the engineers were coming up with a solution for this problem, Creative itself was under going a turbulent period of mid-life crisis. After several quarters of less-than-stellar financial results, Creative has been taking measures to cut cost, increase it’s profit margin and return to profitability. This included laying off workers, delisting from NASDAQ, closing down unprofitable subsidiaries, selling off a factory in Malaysia and – God bless our souls – putting up its headquarter in Singapore for sale.

As a long time supporter of the company, I prefer to see these actions as simply means to reinvent itself to stay relevant and more importantly, alive. Afterall, the PDE industry is a highly competitive one that is dominated by one major player. Apple’s iPod is still the number one selling player after all these years and efforts by other companies (way larger than Creative in every aspect) like Sony, Microsoft and Samsung to dethrone it have been unsuccessful. Therefore, Creative is not without its merit. Over the years, I’m glad that Creative has gotten off the high horse and eat the humble pie. From the days of annoucing a USD$100 million dollar advertising campaign to upset iPod till today where it is part of Apple’s Made For iPod programme, it is no doubt that Creative has came a long way. It revamped its websites, improved its product design, increased its advertising expenditure (and expand its retail outlets along the way), it seems like Creative has indeed been getting its act together.

Could the ZEN X-Fi be the product that bring Creative back to its glorious days? Let’s find out.

Creative ZEN X-Fi – The Sound of Perfection

The Creative ZEN X-Fi comes in one colour, three capacity (8GB, 16GB and 32GB) and in typical Creative fashion – two versions: one with Wireless Lan (the 16Gb and 32GB ones) and one without (8GB). I won’t exactly call the ZEN X-Fi a new player but rather a upgrade of the original ZEN. This upgrade consisit of an X-Fi enhancer, Wireless Lan, inbuilt speaker and six new buttons.

Other features of the ZEN X-Fi includes:

  • Capacity: 8, 16, and 32GB with SD expansion slot
  • Display: 2.5″ with 16.7 million colors and 320 x 240 resolution
  • Audio: MP3, WMA, AAC (unprotected), WAV, and Audible
  • Video: WMV, MPEG4-SP, Divx 4/5, Xvid, and MJPEG
  • Built-in X-Fi technology with two effects
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for instant messaging (Yahoo! and Windows Live!) and wireless streaming
  • FM Tuner and Voice Recorder
  • Built-in Speaker
  • Premium quality earphones included
  • Battery Life: 36 hours for Audio, 5 hours for Video
  • Dimensions: 83mm x 55mm x 12.8mm
  • Unboxing of the ZEN X-Fi

    The first impression I had of the packaging of the ZEN X-Fi was: “Wow!” Thanks to its new acrylic box packaging, the ZEN X-Fi does has this sohphisicated and minimalistic look that induced a wow-factor.

    Package Contents

  • Creative ZEN X-Fi
  • EP-830 in-ear earphones with 2 pairs of earbuds
  • Mini-CD Software Installation
  • Quick start leaflet
  • Wireless function quick guide
  • Cross-sell leaflet(s)
  • USB 2.0 cable
  • Form Factor

    As Creative have previously announced, it will no longer be manufacturing HDD player. This might upset many as I myself would have loved to see a 160GB ZEN. Creative cited reasons like falling flash prices, slimmer form factor and overall a more stable part (flash has got no moving parts, unlike HDD) for its decision to go flash. Therefore, like the ZEN, the ZEN X-Fi is credit card size and a little thicker than the ZEN (12.8mm v.s 11.3mm).

    The ZEN X-Fi has got a very sturdy feel to it. For the ZEN, I felt that it was too light and plastic-ky that makes it looks toy-like. However, the ZEN X-Fi is a bit heavier (in a good way) at 68.75g compared to the ZEN’s 65g, has a sleek metallic silver rim around the player and a silver chrome backing. No ripples at the back this time but overall, the player feels really good in the hand.

    One new feature of the ZEN X-Fi is the Wireless Lan. It enables you to chat on MSN and Yahoo! Messenger and also stream content over your home server. In replacement of the five-way tactile pad is 9 small round buttons. It works the way you text on your hand phone (Number 2 button represents “a”, “b” and “c”) for the instant messaging function while during normal player usage, the buttons 2, 4, 6 & 8 represents your up, left, right and down respectively. It’s rather idiot proof and you will get a hand of it instantly. However, the buttons might be too small for instant messaging, but more on that later.

    Creative have been pretty obsessed with built-in speakers recently (ZEN Wav, ZEN Stone Plus with built-in speaker) therefore, it makes perfect sense (to them) to incorporate one into its latest flagship player. Unlike the ZEN Stone Plus where the speakers are at the back of the player, it seems more logical for the speaker to be placed below the player, actually it would be more logical if it’s in front but i guess no one wants another ZEN Wav disaster here. The speaker is reasonable decent, afterall it’s a good to have and not really a feature.

    Someone asked if the TravelSound ZEN X-Fi can also accomodate the ZEN. Personally, i think the answer is no. Although the 3.5mm jack of both the ZEN X-Fi and ZEN is placed at the same position, the USB port is not. Therefore if the ZEN X-Fi can charge while it is docked, obviously it can’t dock the ZEN as the USB would be sticking out.

     

    The power button is now placed at the back of the player. While the re-set button is on the side. I think it’s god sent that the reset button is no longer so deep into the hole like it is on the ZEN. If your player hangs, you simply need a pointed object to reset it. For other players like the ZEN V Plus, Stone, you really need a needle for that. Above the headphone jack is the power LED light which shows green when it’s on, orange when its charging and red when it’s battery is low.

    Same as the ZEN – is the SD Slot and Mic.

    ZEN X-Fi  V.S  ZEN

    EP-830 premium in-ear earphones

    The EP-830 is Creative’s latest mid-range in-ear earphones. It is the predecessor of the highly popular EP-630. I have both the 630 and 830 and although the specs for both earphones are similar, I feel that the bass of the 830 is better. And because the 830 is longer than the 630, it gives a better fit in the ear as my 630 often drop out of my ear because it’s simply … too small. This is the first time Creative is bundling a premium pair of earphones for it’s player. And for the price, it does make it an attractive price to pay for the ZEN X-Fi. X-Fi + Premium in-ear earphones? I think some audiophile just died and went to heaven.

    [Part 2 of the review will be up soon. Thanks for the patience. Do leave a comment if you have any questions! =)]

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    53 Responses to “Creative ZEN X-Fi review Part 1”

    1. Ezential Says:

      Good God, kingone you might have just restored my faith in Creative. I was considering breaking down and just buying a Sansa Fuze next week seeing as how all of the new ZENs seem to have had major problems with WSOD. Quick question, SD card integration? Is it the crippled hindrance it was on the ZEN or is it…you know…integrated this time?

    2. basskaryaar Says:

      Very nice review! Thanks!

    3. Tony Says:

      Thanks for the in depth review- keep it up!

    4. Shashank Says:

      Ya even i wud want to know if the zen is able to read the SD card well enough. Unlike the previous zen. Also cud u tell me if the body is scratch resistant?

      Creative Rocks!!!!!

    5. kyoshiro Says:

      Let’s see the review before judging prematurely. XI-fi is a revolution or not ?

    6. Anonymous Says:

      I’m DYING to know what you think of the sound quality with X-Fi turned on…does it really make a difference?

    7. AlaskaHome1959 Says:

      Will likely never buy another Creative product again. I purchased MuVo TX’s for my self and my kids. You could fill it up with music and all the music would be recognized when plugged into the USB slot on computer but when you tried to play the music the player would only recognize and access about 25% of the loaded music. Creative repeated denied this was a problem, even going as far as suggesting I simply didn’t know how to properly use the player. Thanks, but no thanks.

    8. Dario Says:

      I hope this hits Canada soon, I need a new player and this is so sexy! BTW, what song was that playing?? I think it’s Winehouse, no?

    9. Shashank Says:

      and i also would want to know if you can replace the battery easily.. unlike creative zen M or ipod

    10. Triumphant Says:

      EP630 is the predecessor of the EP830 – not the other way round.

    11. nywytboy68 Says:

      Nice review Kingone – can’t wait for pt. 2. Maybe creative can get it right this time!!!

    12. Len Says:

      Waiting anxiously on the sound quality portion of your review.

      Let’s hope it lives up to the X-Fi name…

    13. me Says:

      for those curious on how the sound sounds like, Creative has an example of its sound quality on their website below.

      http://sg.creative.com/products/product_CreativeStore.asp?category=213&subcategory=214&product=17811&listby=#

      on the right hand side of that page is a product demo. u can hear the sound there and compare it with x-fi on/off.

      i reckon its pretty awesome with x-fi on.

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    16. Anti-tech Says:

      I’ve been using my Zen Micro Photo for a few good years now, its battery is now half dead and it crashes every now and then. I’ve been looking for a replacement, this seems to have everything that I want. Though I thought Creative would come out with a touch screen player already. The 2.5 inch looks small now compared to the ipod touch. And since all the buttons are on the right hand side, is it still lefty-friendly?

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    26. leo Says:

      does it get TV out from the headphone jack as old ipods and zune do?

    27. hello Says:

      i hope the sd card is integrated into the library

    28. Joe Says:

      I appreciate the information on the Zen X-Fi, but this review was almost unreadable due to the incredible number of grammatical errors. Come on Engadget, you can do better.

    29. best ecommerce tips » Blog Archive » Creative gets really official with ZEN X-Fi as it appears in the wild Says:

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    30. neothe0ne Says:

      “AlaskaHome1959 Says:
      July 13, 2008 at 2:37 am

      Will likely never buy another Creative product again. I purchased MuVo TX’s for my self and my kids. You could fill it up with music and all the music would be recognized when plugged into the USB slot on computer but when you tried to play the music the player would only recognize and access about 25% of the loaded music. Creative repeated denied this was a problem, even going as far as suggesting I simply didn’t know how to properly use the player. Thanks, but no thanks.”

      Uh, no offense, but it probably WAS because you didn’t know how to use the player. I have a MuVo TX and I’ve never had any problems loading up various kinds of MP3s (Lame and not lame, cbr and vbr, low bitrates up to 320) on it.

      Anyway, when my Zen Vision:M 30gb power/hold switch was acting up, I gave up and let Best Buy eat $30 (I bought the Vision:M for $280) and switched to a $250 80gb iPod Classic. Proper m4a/AAC support is nice and so is the 80gb of storage space… my only beef is that the iPod’s video playback is drastically inferior to the Vision:M’s, but I’ve since compensated by doubling the size of my subtitle fonts…

      I prefer the Vision:M/iPod Classic type of shape and physical interface, so I can’t say I’m too interested in the ZEN (or iPhone).

    31. Nick Says:

      I love the review so far, I managed to find it thanks to: http://mediamentalism.com/ and I am so glad I did. Awesome site!

    32. Spinnel Says:

      Get the part 2 up already!!! XD
      I can’t wait, and yeah this player is so damn hawt

      Just wonder what’s the use of the wi-fi if it’s so limited? Creative.. Give us freedom to use this as browser Goddamn it…

    33. Giornale Hi-tech » Creative gets really official with ZEN X-Fi as it appears in the wild Says:

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    34. james Says:

      I love creative Players! Im glad they incorporated WiFi into this one, but they could add a simple text browser or a text and image/html/css web browser and maybe youtube support. that would be awesome.

    35. james Says:

      I love creative Players! Im glad they incorporated WiFi into this one, but they could add a simple text browser or a text and image/html/css web browser and maybe youtube support. that would be awesome.

      sorry for the double post but my email wasn’t correct

    36. Hari Says:

      SD Card Integrated? Nice Review

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    38. Optimus Prime Says:

      How did you get the input to work like a phone? I tried instant messaging with it and I had to navigate using using the arrow keys to the corresponding keypad.

    39. Evans Says:

      Anybody know if it’s possible to plug the device to the TV using a cable or somehow ?

      The previous Creative ZenVision-W was delivered with a RCA cable which is useful. Maybe the docking station will provide this feature ?

    40. LiQuiD_FuSioN Says:

      Yes, bring on the second part of the review already! Can’t wait to see what the sound quality is like for this thing. After all, “X-Fi” seems to be the biggest selling point. =)

    41. sputnik00 Says:

      thanks for the review and the nice pictures. tell us how it sounds pls!

    42. DavidE Says:

      I discovered that the Creative Central app that can be downloaded from the Creative website includes a X-Fi users guide. Unfortunately, this makes it only too clear that there’s no SD card integration. For that reason, I won’t be buying a X-Fi and I’m glad I bought a Sansa Fuze where the SD integration is seamless.

    43. David Says:

      Would also like to know if the SD card is truly integrated this time. This is what drove me to return my creative zen … it was very annoying not to have it integrated.

      Additionally – can it read video files that are encoded at resolutions greater then 320×240? Having to recode video was also very annoying on the original zen. I suspect this is still the case on teh X-Fil but hoping it is not.

      Finally – I can it listen to streamed files over WiFi from any Upnp server or does it have to be creative’s server??

      Would appreciate any answers on these questions.

      – David

    44. DaGnome Says:

      According to ALL other review’s I’ve read, the section where you wrote the following is untrue:
      “It enables you to chat on MSN and Yahoo! …[sic]…9 small round buttons. It works the way you text on your hand phone (Number 2 button represents “a”, “b” and “c”) for the instant messaging function…”

      Perhaps your source information was wrong, or there is a firmware pending, but the UI 9 Buttons do not function in this manner as of 7/19. In fact it’s one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard of the new features. I WISH it functioned like you described.. but Creative decided to get Creative with the UI :(

    45. Singapore Says:

      Yessss… !!! I got one.

      I have no doubt that it is the sound of perfection, the greatest sounding MP3 player ever. I own the original Zen and find that the quality is great but as I got Soundblaster extremegamer x-fi, I know there is room for improvement. I hope to see the Zen with built-in speaker and here it is! I hope to see X-fi integrated to Zen and here it is! I hope to get longer battery life and here it is! I hope to get 32GB at greatest value prices (bundle with high quality earbuds EP-830) and here it is! When I bought this (from Creative in Singapore at S$399 the day it was released) and load my songs in, with X-fi crystalizer ON, X-fi expand ON (some people don’t like surround, so you can off it), paired with EP-830, the music is even better, louder, ups and downs better, better bass without distortion, the best that you can get so far. The wireless streaming feature and instant messaging (wifi) is a plus but I have yet to seriously use them. There is no internet browser. The 9 button is comfortable to press and improves navigation over the original Zen. It is slightly thicker than Zen, but it looks and feels more high class due to the sliver backing and chrome edge and the slightly heavier mass. Overall, it is a great improvement over the original Zen and offers better value and full package for sound of perfection (EP-830 with X-fi and Zen quality). You can also buy a docking station with built-in rechargeable battery (not yet available) that also charges Zen X-fi. Will update once I got more results on wireless features.

      You can also buy fromamazon. I recommend you to buy with the skin protector , you can get discount.
      zen x-fi

    46. MichaelJugar Says:

      I like Creative…Actually, I have a ZEN.. I love how it sounds but Creative really has to put value on customer’s demands..Long ago, people wanted to have SD card integration but Creative ignored it…since they are releasing 16GB versions, a 16GB SDHC upgrade isn’t much a big deal to them,people would still be buying their products. The case with ZEN is different when they have lower capacity version, say 2GB and if they have the SD card integ, then they are on the losing end. Just imaging people buying just a 2GB ZEN + 16GB SDHC….The case with ZEN X-Fi is different, and so Creative must have that SD card integration in their next firmware release…I really love Creative, much like I want to help them or something..I dont want them to suddenly disappear from this type of market..They must know the commoner’s demands, and not just focus on the High tech features….

    47. Azkaban Says:

      Waiting for the sound quality review, and the Wifi, i wonder why creative add wifi to this mp3 but u still can’t surf web =))

    48. Abhinav Mishra Says:

      ok seems the mod of this blog isn’t replying to the questions…anyway i’ll try myluck too ;D
      important question (some r repeated)

      1. How do you convert the videos? does it have a converter in the installation disk? If centrale is the way to go, i couldn’t find the convert button anywhere

      2. Is the screen scratch proof?

      3. Overall, what would you rate higher and why? (b\w zen and x-fi)

      4. How much of disk space would a movie (originally in divX format [torrents !;) ] which is about 700 mb, ) be in the format the player requires???
      If you could answer these questions, I (we) ‘d be glad .
      Thankyou.

    49. Lokey Says:

      “One new feature of the ZEN X-Fi is the Wireless Lan. It enables you to chat on MSN and Yahoo! Messenger and also stream content over your home server. In replacement of the five-way tactile pad is 9 small round buttons. It works the way you text on your hand phone (Number 2 button represents “a”, “b” and “c”) for the instant messaging function while during normal player usage, the buttons 2, 4, 6 & 8 represents your up, left, right and down respectively. It’s rather idiot proof and you will get a hand of it instantly”

      Well thats really wrong because the system/method to text on this player is not like that all, the method is nothing like a standard cell phone which you are suggesting. If you don’t believe me hit “Creative Zen X-Fi wireless Features Part 2″ into youtube, then you will really see how frustrating the teexting system is. I find it the most useless feature and is only there to get people buying it.

    50. Jhon Says:

      Yup, after watching that youtube video, he’s very right.

    51. Jhon Says:

      “One new feature of the ZEN X-Fi is the Wireless Lan. It enables you to chat on MSN and Yahoo! Messenger and also stream content over your home server. In replacement of the five-way tactile pad is 9 small round buttons. It works the way you text on your hand phone (Number 2 button represents “a”, “b” and “c”) for the instant messaging function”

      Well thats really wrong because the method to input text on this player is not like that all, the method is nothing like a standard cell phone which you are suggesting. If you don’t believe me hit “Creative Zen X-Fi wireless Features Part 2″ into youtube, then you will really see how frustrating the texting method is.
      I find the Messenger Live! and Yahoo! IM chat feature the most useless feature and is only there as an attractive yet still very useless feature. Although I must say everything else on the ZEN X-FI is perfect. maybe all that plastic could have been metal though… but I suppose that makes the player lighter.
      Very good Review.
      4/5

    52. Brad in FL Says:

      If Creative could get their marketing people together, maybe they could actually close the gap with Apple. They won a ton of money in a lawsuit from Apple.. they should have gone onto one of the popular Home Shopping Networks, cut the price by $50 (or at least undercut comparable iPod) and sold the crap out of them. Word of mouth is a far more better advertiser than print, web ads, tv, etc. If they could get a ton of these out there, maybe, just maybe, Creative will be taking seriously by the rest of the world. iPods are great.. I have hesitated simply because of copatibility issues with video and other things. My 30GB Vision:M is still kicking and enjoy dumping a view Xvid/Divx movies for when I travel. Add the vid output and I have a portable movie collection.. drag and drop.. no convert. Anyway, get in the game, Creative.

    53. Prim Says:

      Thanks, good review. I almost converted to Apple, as the new Creative series did not catch my attention anymore. I had a first gen Zen but thank God I saw the X Fi 10 days ago, and bought it immediatly. I am very pleased with the sound my X fi card delivers in my pc. It really makes a diffirence. Cant wait to receive it!!!

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