While testing the musical side of the Zen X-Fi Style I listened to a variety of different musical genres including Metal, Trance, Chillout, Rap, RnB and more. Ultimately while each genre had its strengths and weaknesses with this media player, there were a few trends that stuck out throughout the testing.
These are the positives I found thoughout my listening experience:
- Very loud. While I wasn’t able to find an official decibel reading for the Zen, believe me this thing gets plenty loud. Even the more battle worn gig goers will have no problem hearing their music on this little guy.
- Very clear sound throughout. For such a mini little player, the X-Fi does an excellent job of reproducing the sounds as I’ve heard them on much more expensive media players such as my PC and lounge stereo equipment. Clarity is maintained throughout most of the volume range and mids and lows are well represented with plenty of peak on the higher frequencies. Clipping and other undesireables were almost non-existent and only came into play with poor quality recordings or heavily compressed tracks.
- The speaker built into the Zen is surprisingly impressive. It’s got plenty of clarity and the ease of switching to it (with the one button) is great for saying to people, "hey listen to this", just as a great bit of a song kicks in.
While there wasn’t much to complain about, I did find a few things that would be nice to see tweaked in future revisions of the Style:
- The bass could do with a little improvement. Now this could be down to the quality of the headphones (how great are they going to be when the player is "only" £60 or so) but even with the bass boost on, some of the heavier songs and especially the rap suffered with a lack of bottom end.
- While the headphones do indeed go very loud, at the top end they start to get a little tinny. Playing with the EQ and X-Fi settings can aleviate most of this but it’s impossible to irradicate completely. For a good mix of volume and clarity, I’d stick around the 20/25 area.
- The speaker, while of reasonable quality, could do with being a bit louder. While it’s great when you’re in a quiet place, it would be useless in a noisy environment. While of course this is a perfect place to put in your headphones, it’d be nice to see just a few extra decibels from the speaker.
Pictures are displayed very clearly on the device, and while the screen isn’t huge, the resolution is nice and gives you a clear view of whatever it is you’ve loaded on there. I’m not sure of the benefit of having pictures on a media player because you can’t take the pictures on this device. However, with an 8GB storage limit you can fit a fair ammount of images alongside your music and videos should you so wish.
I can see this function coming in handy a bit more often, as people might like to load in music videos of their favourite songs. The Zen handles them much like the photos, with good quality imagery. Movements are clear and crisp with very little pixelation or obvious issues during the more fast paced sequences. Some of the black could be a bit darker and the whites a little whiter (read: contrast ratio) but overall video is very nicely handled on the Style.
There are a couple of other features worth addressing on the Creative:
RSS feeds can be synchronised and downloaded to the Zen while you have it hooked up the Creative suite software. While this is a good feature for people who won’t have internet access on any other device for a short while, most people would be far better off viewing these on their phones. The purpose of RSS is that it’s quick, up to date information and if they’re downloaded and saved instead of consistently updated it’s far less useful. A cool feature to throw in, but I doubt many will find themselves reading RSS this way.
The FM radio receiver is very easy to use as you’re presented with a simple FM frequency modulator. You then cycle through in increments of 0.1MHZ and find your station of choice. For those too lazy for this option you may find the built in pre-sets to your liking. Simply hit auto-scan once and you’ll have five different stations to choose from. Clarity was also impressive – of course depending on your location; I can easily see this being a favourite function for users thanks to its simplicity. It would be nice to see a few more pre-set options, but not because I’d use them; just because.
While not necessarily a feature, I think this needs addressing. There are lots of added extras that you don’t get with the Zen X-Fi Style which can be bought seperately. These include: Screen guards, rubber housings, improved headphones, a mains charger and more. While none of these specifically are needed with the media player – and they undoubtedly contribute to the low price point – it will annoy some that none of these come as stock.
Here’s where the Zen X-Fi Style impresses even further. At just £60 at most e-tailers, it’s far cheaper than most mainstream rivals. For example, compared to the equivalent iPod Nano you’d be spending almost double; having to dish out an average of £100.