Creative Zen Stone MP3 player

More of a pebble than a stone really

Controls are simple enough for even the most ardent technophobe: the central play/pause button doubles as on/off switch, with volume levels and forward/back skip replicating the tried and tested iPod design format. The top of the device has a sliding bar that allows you to choose standard play format, shuffle, or skip to the next folder of music. In fact, this is probably one of the key differentiators from the Shuffle, it’s nice to be able to store multiple albums and move from one to the other – which doesn’t make up for the lack of screen, but makes it a lot less of an issue, especially considering the low price of the device. While there is no limit to the number of folders/albums, there is a limit of 1000 files, which may restrict some users. Also, songs not in a folder will be played first.

Creative Zen Stone MP3 player (group shot)

The Zen Stone is a UMS/MSC type of MP3, which means it plays with any operating system without the need to download software – Windows, Linux, Mac, you name it – an all too rare moment of common sense from an MP3 manufacturer. This means folders/files can be simply dragged and dropped to the device, each album taking around a minute – mercifully quick and easy. As well as MP3s, the Zen Stone takes both unprotected and purchase-only WMAs.

Creative recommends users to download its Creative Media Lite software for the best user experience, which is up to individual taste really. It offers basic features like CD burning, music transfer, folder organiser and a battery-level read-out, together with a volume-setting function protected by password, which will surely only appeal to meddlesome parents keen to protect their little tykes’ eardrums. The device can also store other files on it if you want to.

The sound quality on this little number is pretty good too, at least it’s certainly good enough to compete with all the other wannabes on the market vying for a little chunk of Apple’s market share. In keeping with the basic look and feel of this product it doesn’t have EQs, but that’s no great loss.

Verdict

Whether you prefer this to the Shuffle really might depend on how many DRM-protected iTunes tracks you’ve bought. If the answer’s none/few, then it’s worth considering, primarily as a secondary player to take with you on occasions where you need something very light, and which won’t cost too much to replace if it gets damaged. In addition the folder-skip function gives it a big advantage over the Shuffle, and for something priced at under £30, it's certainly worth considering.

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Creative Zen Stone MP3 player (black)

Creative Zen Stone MP3 player

Creative Shuffles up to Apple's door, Stone in hand...
Price: A snip at just £28 ($55/€41) RRP