Price (RRP): $439
Ask any tweenie or teenager what they want and the answer is invariably an iPod. iPods are cool, the rich and famous have them, they are colourful, well marketed and easy to use.
Thankfully what the Zen lacks in street-cred, it more than makes up for in features and performance. In terms of sound quality, the Zen boasts CD quality 96dB signal to noise ratio with 20 – 20kHz frequency response. The supplied headphones don’t do the Zen justice, but when you connect a decent set of speakers or quality headphones you will hear excellent sound with rich bass and crisp but not tinny treble. The 20GB hard drive can store up to 10,000 songs as well as partitioned to also act as a removable storage device that works with any USB enabled PC or Mac.
The Zen supports uncompressed WAV and is MP3 and WMA file formats, which means that it will work with your own music collection and songs that you purchase from music sites such as Bigpond Music or Destra Music. Unfortunately since the Zen does not support Apple’s ACC format you will not be able use it for music purchased from iTunes.
Software and menus
The supplied software is very easy to use as it integrates directly with Windows Explorer. Simply connect your Zen via a USB 2.0 port and Windows XP automatically opens the Zen Media Explorer where you can import music to the Zen, rip CD audio tracks, organise music, create playlists, sync Outlook contacts, calendar and to do items, manage the Zen organiser and transfer files.
The Zen menu takes some getting used to and the control button tends to be a little sensitive. On several occasions we found ourselves launching into a menu because we inadvertently clicked the button rather than slid our fingers up and down.
Once you familiarise yourself with the menus, you will find that the Zen has some great extra features. There is an FM radio with station presets that can also record the program while you listen to it. The voice recorder with in-built microphone is handy for students and office workers, particularly since the recordings can be transferred back to a PC.
Provided you keep the electric blue backlight to a minimum, you can squeeze up to 11 hours of listening between charges. The battery can be charged using either the supplied AC adaptor or by drawing power from the USB port and, unlike some portable MP3 players, the battery can be replaced when it eventually wears out.
It may not be chic or able to display photos on a tiny colour screen, but when it comes to quality sound and useful features, the Zen is an excellent product.