For the past few months I used the Rio Carbon. While it fared well, there were a couple of things I didn't like about the device. There was no hardware hold button, and the audio menu was not sticky and always dropped you back to the audio list, rather than your last selection. So, I decided to give the Creative Zen Micro a shot. I happen to love the device, and in many ways I find it's feature set to be better than the iPod. The build quality and fit and finish aren't as good as the iPod, but this device comes closer to anything else I've tried. I suspect that it will be a matter of months, or a year before Creative and iRiver have matched Apple in every way while providing some features the iPod still doesn't have.

Make sure you read my post iPod Replacement Criteria before reading this review. Remember, I have only one goal, to review this compared to an iPod. I don't care about anything the device offers that does not meet my core criteria.

Lets see how it stacks up.

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Size: The size is much smaller than the iPod and comparable to the mini

  Zen Micro iPod Mini iPod 3G
Height 3.3 inches 3.6 inches 4.1 inches
Width 2.0 inches 2.0 inches 2.4 inches
Depth 0.7 inches 0.5 inches 0.57 inches
Weight 3.8 ounces 3.6 ounces 5.6 ounces

Pretty comparable.

User Interface: The User Interface is very similar to the iPod and it works how you would expect. However, it has some nice new feature like a DJ mode where you can pick a random album, or play all random music (I use this the most). You can also customize the menu to add you own top level items. The device builds the catalog after a sync, and boots quickly. It's got all the usual suspects to select music like album, artist etc. The device has this notion of contextual menu, when you can add items to playlist etc. One of my favorite features that the iPod lacks is that if you are currently playing a song, and you decide you want to break out of your current playlist you can use the contextual menu to jump into the current artist album. I like this feature as I have a lot of music and am really lazy. So I play everything on shuffle, and occasionally hear something that I want to hear more of.

The device has an unusual way of navigating, via this vertical touch sensitive slider. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it works fairly well. The device only has one power/lock switch and I love how it works. However, the toggle switch is a bit to close to the headphone jack which can make it hard to get to easily.

Connectivity:  The Creative Zen was designed properly from a connectivity standpoint. It has a single USB 2.0 port that supports charging and synching. When you plug the device into Windows it detects it as an MTP device allowing Windows Media Player 10 to AutoSync with it. Beautiful. My sync experience was nothing short of perfect.

Charging: Creative didn't quite do as good a job as Rio here, but they ship a charger with a hard wired USB 2.0 cable to charge it. The RIO allows you to use your computer USB cable plus a USB wall charger to charge.

Additionally, it's great that the device charges during sync (unlike the iRiver H320).

Sync: This device support PlaysForSure fully. This is wonderful, and their implementation is flawless. Creative just shipped a beta firmware that support subscription audio for services such as Napster-To-Go. It's a bummer that you need to install a firmware update to get this functionality and I suspect that a lot of users probably won't know they can do this.

Another bonus feature is that synchronization of playlists is supported, which is a nice bonus.

Accessories: The device comes with the following accessories:

  • Charger
  • USB cable
  • Plastic Case with Stand/Belt clip
  • Headphones
  • Pouch

The device has a remote control, but it does not ship in the box. Available for $19.99.

Battery Life: I get about 7-8 hours of battery life. It could be better, but with a removable battery, you can always carry a spare. This is great as I've had limited success with the iPod batteries not lasting very long (on the order of 12 months) before they start to lose their charge very quickly. In fact, my iPod always lost it's charge when it wasn't doing anything, while the Zen Micro always maintains its charge over long periods of time.

Software: The device comes with a CD that I didn't even need to use. Sweet.

Price: I purchased the device for $234 which is great.

Storage: 5 GB. Now offered in 4 and 6 GB. Not sure why no one makes a decent 20 GB device. However, I'm getting kind of used to having a small 5 GB device, I just sync up every few days and grab some new music.

PlaysForSure: The device supports the following PlaysForSure logos.

  • Full PlaysForSure support including synchronization of your playlists.
  • Purchased/Subscription Audio.

Support: Creative has been shipping new firmware for this device, and adding more PlaysForSure functionality. They are also shipping new updated devices with different size hard drives and are soon going to release a Photo version. They have a pretty decent forum as well.

Web Site: The Creative Zen Micro web site is pretty usable and doesn't promise features that the device can't deliver. They have their own forum. Unfortunatley, every time you use their site they ask you what country you are in. Hey guys, have you heard of IP to Country Check? Or maybe cookies? You could at least save my selection across sessions.

Optional Features:

  • Device supports Audio Recording
  • FM Radio

I LOVE that the device has an FM radio. I use it to listen to NPR every morning.

Final Rating (see my post on my review criteria to understand what this means).

Kick Ass - better than iPod. (this is the first device I have reviewed that has received this rating)

If you are looking for a device to replace your iPod or looking for a new device I would highly recommend this device. My only real complaint with the device is that the backlighting for the silk-screened keys is poorly implemented. It makes the device feel cheap.