Creative has apparently decided it doesn’t live in a glass house: today, the company announced a tiny new digital music player dubbed the Zen Stone, due to hit retailers in six colors on May 14 at a suggested price of just $39.99.
"The Creative ZEN Stone, at just $39.99, opens up a huge new market for MP3 players," said Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo in a release. "This is an incredible price for everyone to get a superior quality MP3 player capable of holding up to 250 songs. Whether it’s your only player or a second player to take with you anywhere, the low price lets you think of MP3 players in a whole new way. You can loan it to a friend just like you would a CD or a mix tape and not have to worry about it, but you’ll like it so much that you’ll want another, so you always have one with you."
The tiny Zen Stone music players boil the portable digital music experience down to just the basics, offering 1 GB of flash memory, up to 10 hours of music playback time on the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and support for WAV, WMA, and MP3 audio, plus audio books from Audible.com. The Zen Stone offers no integrated display: users are limited to play/pause, skip forward/back, volume, and other necessary controls. Users set up the Zen Stone by loading music onto it from their computers; the included Creative Media Lite software (Windows only) can rip music from audio CDs, create playlists and folder groups (the Zen Stone is limited to 100 folders nested up to three levels deep). The Zen Stone supports up to 1000 tracks, although at typical song lengths, most users will fill up the 1 GB of onboard memory before they hit that limit.
It’s extremely tempting to compare the Zen Stone to Apple’s iPod shuffle: the shuffle is, of course, about twice the price, although it’s still smaller than the Zen Stone for the millimeter-conscious crowd. More interesting, however, is that while the iPod shuffle is traditionally left out of the iPod accessories game, Creative plans to launch its own docking TravelSound speaker system for the Zen Stone in July, giving users an option for pumping their tunes into the air without going through an awkward headphone-out/aux-in setup on another device.
The Zen Stone will be available in six colors—black, white, pink, blue, green, and yellow—and Creative says users will be able to customize their players with translucent skins (which include a clip), armbands, keychains, and other accessories.