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:
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.
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! =)]