Unboxed: Creative Zen X-Fi

A battle is hotting up, and we're not talking about the Olympics 100m final. With the announcement of the Stuff Awards 'Portable media player' categor

A battle is hotting up, and we're not talking about the Olympics 100m final. With the announcement of the Stuff Awards 'Portable media player' category imminent, big guns like Archos and iriver have sent their finest PMPs over to the Stuff office in an attempt to grab glory. Today, it was the turn of Creative's Zen X-Fi.

The most surprising thing about the X-Fi is its size – it's much smaller than we expected (check out the comparison shots with the iriver Spinn and iPod Touch below). Our model has 16GB of storage, but considering a 32GB version is available it's a pleasingly compact design.

The X-Fi is also very well built, more so than previous Zens. One slightly curious decision, though, is the inclusion of nine buttons for navigation – while this hints at advanced functionality, it doesn't offer any advantages over a standard d-pad and is initially confusing when you factor in the four extra buttons for moving between menus.

Two big advantages over the iriver Spinn are inclusion of an SD memory card slot (taking memory up to a possible 48GB on the 16GB model) and Wi-Fi. This doesn't mean full browsing though – instead you can use it to stream any music library on your network or connect to the 'Creative Mediabox'. These are preset channels that appear to be so far only be filled with podcasts, though Creative will apparently be filling it up with more exciting content in the near future.

On the downside, while the 2.5in, 320x240 screen is serviceable enough, it isn't quite as crisp as the iriver Spinn's or the iPod Touch, and is a little too small for anything other than video snacking. And our test model froze when we were trying to tune the FM radio.

Of course, the one major feature we haven't been able to test yet is sound quality, and the X-Fi has been making big claims here about its 'Crystallizer' and 'Expand' equalizers. We'll have a full review very soon to find out if the X-Fi's mouth is writing cheques its chassis can't cash.

Pros

Compact, pocketable design. 32GB version available. Well built. Extra Wi-Fi options.

Cons

Screen not outstanding. FM radio tricky to tune. Wi-Fi doesn't offer full web browsing. Slightly over-complicated UI