Can Creative's new Zen MP3 player take on Apple's teeny Shuffle? Or will it sink like a, er, Stone
It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true then Creative is clearly in undying love with Apple – and it's not hard to see which of its players the new Zen Stone is here to challenge.
There's a serious case of 'anything you can do, I can copy shamelessly' from Creative, which is evident when you take a peek at the similarities between the Stone and Apple's tiny Shuffle. The rival players both have 1GB flash capacities, come in a rainbow of colours and ditch screens in favour of something a little more random.
The most obvious difference between the players is in the build quality and finish. Unlike a box fresh Shuffle, you won't gasp with delight when unwrapping a Stone. Its lightweight plastic is perfect for keeping the weight down when you want to take it jogging but lacks the class of the Shuffle's brushed metal finish.
It also feels less desirable to hold in the hand – you're less likely to display the Zen proudly clipped to your coat, and not just because you'll have to buy the clip add-on separately.
That said, it's nicely curvy, and easy to navigate thanks to the minimal amount of buttons needed. A couple of features which raise it above the Shuffle are the inclusion of mini-USB (so no messing about with proprietary cables) and the ability to arrange your music into folders (say, by album) and then skip from one to another with the flick of a top-mounted switch.
Considering the lack of a screen, it's a clever and intuitive way of finding your way around the contents of your Stone and may well sway those not entirely at ease with the Shuffle's typically Apple, laissez-faire attitude to spinning tunes.
We tried the bundled earphones for all of 40 mins before our ears cried out for relief – the harsh plastic buds not only sounded lacklustre but were also horribly uncomfortable. Switch to a set of Sennheiser CX300s, though, and the Stone sounds great.
We sacrificed our total songs count by upping the bitrate of our MP3s but still managed to fit a good 10 albums on the tiny Zen though, despite supporting USB 2.0, it was annoyingly slow to transfer with the drag 'n' drop method. If digital downloads are your thing it'll also play nicely with DRM protected tracks from online stores – just steer clear of iTunes Plus AACs, they won't find a loving home at Creative Towers.
Depending on how loud you like your tunes, battery life is around the quoted 10 hours, which admittedly falls slightly short of the Shuffle but will still keep you going for a good few days of commuting.
Where it really trumps Apple, though, is on price: just £28, nearly half that of a Shuffle. And with those extra functions and connectivity options making it more than a match for its Apple rival, it's easy-on-the-wallet price could be the knockout blow.