Creative Labs Zen Nano Plus 512MB
“The Creative Nano packs a ton of features in an incredibly tiny MP3 player.”
- Tiny size
- LCD screen
- built-in microphone
- FM tuner
- Cord required to sync
- confusing menu navigation
- non-rechargeable battery
The Creative Nano packs a ton of features in an incredibly tiny MP3 player. Creative included everything in the box that you’ll need to take this miniscule music toy out for a jog. While you will be stuck using an external battery charger and a mini USB cord to transfer music, these minor inconveniences shouldn’t deter most people from considering it a top-of-the-line MP3 player worthy of serious consideration.
Features and Design
There’s a different flash-based MP3 player for every day of the week now. Very little separates the options, so MP3 player reviews have begun to fall into one of two categories: a comparison to the competing iPod product and to the number of possible features that appear on any known MP3 player. We will take a look at both of these measures, even though we generally review products on a standalone (i.e., versus the general market) basis.
First: the basics. The Creative Nano’s size is on the order of a pack of gum. The plastics used are glossy, but tough and resist scratches well. All controls are located on a single edge, which can add to some confusion (more on this later), with the power/play/pause button placed on the front surface. There are a total of three buttons and one toggle control. The top surface sports the headphone port, with the mini-USB and line-in located on the opposite edge. The Nano sports a two line, blue backlit LCD that displays basic information, like EQ setting, play mode, time, battery status, and of course title information.
We were disappointed by two design faux pas. First, a mini-USB cord is required to sync the player with the computer. Creative should know better, having introduced other flash-based MP3 players with built-in USB connectors. This also limits the device’s ability to be used as a mass storage device, since few people are going to have easy access to a mini-USB cord whereever they go. The second design flaw is the lack of a rechargeable battery, or the ability to recharge over USB. While this is easily remedied by an external charger, the absence of this option leaves us shaking our heads. It should be noted that the player uses a single AAA battery, and lasts close to 14 hours on a single charge of a 750mAh rechargeable, at full volume.
The Creative Nano is jam-packed with features, including MP3/WMA/WMA (protected) playback, MP3 encoding up to 160kbps from the line-in, on-the-fly playlist creation, five graphic equalizer settings (one custom), as well as automatic synchronization software. As mentioned earlier, the Nano is recognized as a USB 2.0 Mass Storage device, which means you can store documents on it; the transfer rates are snappy. The built-in microphone can pick up sounds across the room fairly well, which makes this an ideal school gadget for recording lectures. It should be noted that the Nano in this review is the “Plus” version, which is different from the nearly impossible to find regular version in the inclusion of the FM tuner. Also on the list of nearly impossible to find Nano options are the nine colors available (other than black). Still, they’re out there, but it takes some searching. Both versions are available in 512MB and 1GB capacities. Packaged with the Nano are earbuds, an armband, a neck strap, mini-USB cord, line-in cord, non-rechargeable AAA battery, and organization software.
Image Courtesy of Creative Labs
Setup and Use
Sound quality is very good, with crisp, clear sound throughout the entire spectrum. We experienced some distortion on the low end when using the equalizer settings that boost bass. The Nano was able to drive any headphones we threw at it. We auditioned the Nano with several headphones: the Koss KSC-75s, Sennheiser HD580s, and Etymotic Er-6i, as well as the included earbuds. Surprisingly, the earbuds were not as bad as most of the others we have had the displeasure of using. While all of our headphones easily outperformed the packaged buds, we found them to have better range and clarity than those bundled with the iPod, the Playstation Portable, and various other portable electronics released in the last two years.
The user interface does leave a little to be desired. Music navigation is quick and easy, but once you try to use other features, the submenus can be confusing and difficult to access. We had trouble switching from recording mode to playback mode, and vice versa, without consulting the manual. After a brief acclimation period, though, there was no trouble. The screen is small and somewhat difficult to read, but still a welcome addition. The settings menu allows the user to change backlight timing, contrast, and orientation, as well as language and the idle power off interval.
How does the Creative Nano stack up? Compared to its Apple namesake, there appears to be a disconnect. Obviously, the Apple Nano holds more music and has a nicely colored LCD. But the Creative Nano is smaller, more rugged (read: a better workout option), and has built-in recording options. Plus, you get an armband and neck strap. But for just slightly more than the Creative Nano, you can get the higher capacity Apple Nano. In short, it all depends on use. The Creative Nano is intended to compete more with smaller flash-based MP3 players like the Apple Shuffle. While the Shuffle barely takes the price crown, if you tack on the price for the armband, the Creative Nano is a cheaper option–and it includes screen plus encoding capabilities. Another factor to consider is that the Creative Nano is a Mass Storage device, so there’s no proprietary software keeping you from using any number of options for organization and syncing your tunes.
The Creative Nano is the flash player to beat for stylish and rugged flash-based MP3 players. While other pricier options may have more storage, the Nano holds its own with a slew of features integrated into a remarkable small package. The ability to encode audio from a built-in microphone or FM tuner is a great option to have for students, and the player is rugged enough that it can be tossed around with little fear of accumulating scratches. While the lack of a rechargeable battery and cableless plug are a disappointment, the Nano still deserves close consideration for those in the market for 1GB flash MP3 players.
Pros: Tiny size, LCD screen, built-in microphone, FM tuner
Cons: Cord required to sync, confusing menu navigation, non-rechargeable battery
– Tiny Size
– Features an LCD scnreen
– Built-in microphone
– Integrated FM tuner
– No flip out USB adapter, the cord is required to sync
– Confusing menu navigation
– Non-rechargeable battery
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