Tough times call for tough measures. With the Apple empire making Julius Caesar's cohort look like a momentary insignificance, Creative had to radically revamp the look of its MP3 spinners to keep the revolution going strong.
Rather than enlisting the help of an artist, an architect or a designer though, it seems Creative grabbed a copy of the yellow pages and called its local tiler. The bathroom floor-mimicking Zen Mozaic is a definitive departure from the hoards of iClones, with an original, anarchistic shell sculpture.
The Mozaic chassis feels well built and, despite the fact it's been hewn from plastic, it's solid and sturdy to hold. The buttons have a reassuringly solid click, and the screen is reinforced, so it's able to withstand a bit of rough and tumble.
Out on the tiles
Despite the iconoclastic motif, the Zen Mozaic is surprisingly easy to use. Adopting the same user interface that graces the X-Fi, songs, videos, and the FM tuner are only a couple of "tile clicks" away.
The menu and button combination isn't quite as intuitive as the Nano, but that's partly because the brutal dominance of the iPod range prevents any comfortable familiarity with other media spinners.
The Mozaic pumps out decent, if not spectacular, sound quality. Individual instruments and vocals are well defined, and sound is vibrant and well textured, but not as weighted and rich as the Zen's infamous rival. The Mozaic will support MP3, WMA, and WAV audio files, and there's also an FM tuner on board should you tire of your tunes.
The internal speaker is reasonably impressive, piping out surprisingly respectable sound. It offers a similar quality to the speaker you'll find in most music mobiles: tinny and lacking any depth, but capable of fairly dynamic, defined audio. Still, it's a useful, neat and iPod-bating weapon for the Mozaic to be tooled up with.
Sadly, the Mozaic's 1.8in screen is poor, and this is a real let down, especially when it comes to watching video or viewing photos. From the main menu, the low resolution of the screen is immediately evident, and as soon as you load up a video or a photo, the pixilated picture becomes even more pronounced.
Then there's the Mac compatibility, or rather the lack of it. Even neat features such as a built-in microphone, an alarm clock, and a calendar can't really make up for the puzzling decision to overlook Macs.
Creative has been bold and brave in sculpting an original and radical frame for the Mozaic. And that chic design twinned with handy extras, such as the built-in speaker and microphone, propels the Mosaic forward as a genuinely competent iPod alternative. Just not if you've got a Mac.