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Review of Creative Zen X-Fi Wireless LAN media player

Review of Creative Zen X-Fi Wireless LAN media player

23 September 2008


A feature-packed and versatile top of the range media player.

Zen X-Fi with earphones


The Creative Zen X-Fi Media Player is an advanced, powerful and lightweight media player, but let down somewhat by a general lack of attention to detail and poor media management software.

It is available in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB models and the selling price is around £80-£190.

It plays MP3s and displays video and photos and the 16GB and 32GB models have wireless LAN connectivity built in.

The player has an excellent sound, and plays radio as well as MP3s.

The display is excellent and the buttons are an odd arrangement of 13 round buttons that look cool but are not great to use.

File transfer can be a bit difficult and slow but file navigation on the player is extremely quick, easy and flexible.

NAVIGATION

Buttons


Navigation is done by a nine-button arrangement, with an additional four corner buttons which makes things not entirely straightforward.

The nine central buttons are not labelled in anyway. They are closely packed and feel identical to the touch.

This means it is near impossible to operate the player by feel alone, and difficult to clean the glossy surface in between the buttons making them an excellent preserver of fingerprints and an effective grime magnet.

The four corner buttons are easier to operate and to clean.

File Navigation


Music navigation is done by MP3 tags – artists, albums, tracks, genres. It’s also possible to bookmark tracks (up to 10) during playback and to retrieve these by using the bookmark menu.

Playlists and recordings also have their own navigation menus.

If a playlist is very long it’s possible to do a search by keyword. Or you can rapidly flick through the list by selecting a specific initial alphabet letter.

When browsing large lists of MP3s, you can scroll either at one track at a time or keep the arrow keys pressed to get smooth fast scrolling. A progress bar on the right provides useful feedback.

Video files are stored in folders.

Photos can be stored in folders or slideshows and can be browsed using useful automatically generated thumbnails.

Photos and videos dropped to the player in their original Windows folders can be browsed using the same folder names.

DISPLAY


The 2.5-inch screen is a selling point. But strangely the menus do not always make full use of the space available - of the ten items available in the main menu, only 5 are visible at any given time.

Images are not exceptionally sharp, but the overall impact is very good.

Movies come out particularly well - the player's movie conversion software produces films of an ideal sized for the screen.

SOUND


The sound quality is fantastic – along with a fairly full range of sound controls, there is the added feature of the X-Fi 'Crystal' technology which gives the player its name.

In truth this sounds a little like a graphic equalizer with the treble set pretty high. It can be positively irritating at high volume, but is easily turned off.

The earphones are a reasonably comfortable set. The in-ear design and quality design produces a clear, penetrating sound.

There is a small loudspeaker which comes on the instant the earphones are removed.

PLAYBACK


During playback, fast forwarding and rewinding happens at a speed which accelerates very quickly.

It takes about 5 seconds to get to the middle of a 3 minute song, 10 seconds to scan to the middle of 1 hour podcast and about 20 seconds to scan to the middle of an 8 hour Audible audiobook.

There is also a Seek To function which operates at a similar rate.

Files can be bookmarked during playback using one of the 10 slots available – very useful for long files.

Audible files are automatically bookmarked on exit. Audible files also display album art, and the longer files can be scanned using chapters during actual playback. The chapter locations are automatically labelled and accessible by pressing the centre button during playback.

There is a basic range of playback modes. And there is a sleep timer which is found under the System menu.

DATA TRANSFER and SOFTWARE


Data transfer and battery recharging is done on USB using a standard USB cable.

The initial charge is 4 hours and this gives upto 25 hours music playback.

Recharging is fairly quick, and the speed of data transfer is impressive if done using Windows Explorer drag-and-drop.

The software provided is Creative Centrale which is a disappointment. The software converts videos to the required format, but does so very slowly. It allows slideshows and playlists to be created, but file transfer is very slow.

The software crashed quite a few times and caused the PC to become rather sluggish. It seems the player must be connected to allow video conversion to take place. This arrangement is not at all ideal because conversion occurs at such a slow pace.

The software scans user-selected and a number of default media folders and converts photo and video files before transfer. It also creates music playlists and photo slideshows. The scanning process starts immediately the software is launched and again causes the PC to operate sluggishly.

Creative Central is also used to serve the media folders so they can be accessed on the wireless LAN.

BATTERY


Battery life is reasonably good. A full charge gave about 13-18 hours music playback, though Creative believe upto 25 hours is achievable.

Recharging is done via the standard USB cable. It takes about 2 hours for a full charge.

OTHER FEATURES & CONCLUSION


The player features FM Radio, and is SD card expandable, but the full benefit of that feature seems to be when used for transferring photos from your camera straight to the player.

Wireless LAN

The wireless LAN is straightforward enough to use. The Centrale software needs to be running and enabled to act as a media server first. Once that's sorted, the player's Online menu allows you to connect in a few simple steps and to have access to your photos, videos and music. Music can be browsed by MP3 tags or playlists or folders.

The main complaint was that when the connection was lost, it really required nothing less than restarting the PC to regain it. A selection of online podcasts was available pretty much all the time though.

A microphone is included and there is a programmable short-cut button.

The Zen X-Fi's visual attractiveness is undermined by the cheap plastic, lightweight feel, and the badly designed buttons.

It is fair to say that the Creative Centrale software is not the best around, and users of other media management software may find it is better to use that if it is compatible with the Zen X-Fi.

This is a very good player, but not great enough to shout about.
Plays:
MP3, WMA (DRM 10), WAV, AAC (M4A) Audible formats
WMV9, MPEG4, DivX, XviD Video file formats;
JPEG photo file format;

USB rechargeable internal battery.



Versatile, feature-packed, and advanced.

LITREV Rating 4/5

 

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