As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, er, don’t add a screen to it. But Creative is a maverick and while we’ve barely had time to listen to all the songs on our ordinary Zen Stone, it’s lobbed this in our direction – the 2GB Zen Stone Plus, for those of us who just can’t handle a screenless MP3 life.
With the same budget look of the standard Stone, we were expecting a pimped up version of Creative’s cheapest MP3 spinner, which, in a way, we got. It’s just a shame that such minor additions in functionality have overcomplicated what was a great little Shuffle rival.
The new circular OLED screen is about the size of a 1p coin and shows track info and a battery indicator during normal playback – so far, so handy. But delve into the menu system and its slow and clunky operation will just make you furious. We often found ourselves putting it on random simply to avoid having to navigate it.
Similarly, while the regular Stone was up and ready to go in next to no time, the Plus has a good old think before it’s willing to start pumping out tunes.
There’s a new programmable shortcut button that seems slightly pointless and has infuriatingly replaced the ‘skip to next folder’ function. With no facility to browse by artist or album it now takes an age to cycle from Aphex Twin to Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
MP3 killed the radio star
Alongside the welcome extra gigabyte of storage, Creative has also added an FM radio and voice recorder. Sure, they add versatility and the 10 hours of voice recording could come in handy if you’re a spy, but we bought an MP3 player to escape the radio and that extra gig just means we’ve got even less need for one.
It’s marginally longer and heavier than the standard Stone – presumably to accommodate the extra storage and screen – but it’s an unnoticeable extra. What is noticeable though is how the Plus sounds a touch more compressed and muddy than Apple’s Shuffle, with a shorter battery life too.
While the Stone trumped the Shuffle on price and functionality, Creative’s quest to blow raspberries at Apple with this more feature-packed player has ended up compromising the effortless simplicity of the original Stone.
On paper it’s the best of the mini MP3 players, but battles aren’t won or lost on a spec sheet, the real art is in the execution. And that’s where the Stone Plus sadly loses the plot.