Creative – Zen Stone Plus review

updated version of the cute little iPod Shuffle competitor
Photo of Creative – Zen Stone Plus
£38

Earlier this year Creative released a simple music player called the Zen Stone, as an obvious rival to Apple’s iPod Shuffle. The big advantage of the Zen Stone was its price, but it was quite basic. Now the company has released the Zen Stone Plus, which adds a number of extras including a display, FM radio, voice recording, a watch/stopwatch and twice the memory.

The most obvious addition is the display, and the 64 x 64 pixel, blue OLED screen has enough room to show the current track title, battery status, graphic equaliser (which includes four presets) and time, but disappointingly, it doesn’t show album or artist. Can you remember the names of all the tracks in your music collection?

The play function has been moved from the joypad on the front of the Stone to a separate button on the top edge of the Stone Plus, which makes it easier to use, particularly as it doubles as the power button when held down.

2GB of onboard memory is enough for around 500 MP3s or, Creative claims, 1,000 WMAs. The player can handle copyrighted material protected by Windows DRM if you use Creative’s downloadable software or Windows Media Player to transfer it.

Music playback quality is good; better than good, if you replace the unexciting Creative earbuds with something better. Bass is still lacking, but mid and high frequencies are crisp and well differentiated. Overall, sound is marginally better than an iPod Shuffle but, unsurprisingly, no better than the original Stone.

The new recording mode is good enough for noting thoughts that come to you when out and about, but sound is fairly muffled and not up to the standard of a dedicated voice recorder. FM radio is better and, assuming you have a reasonable signal level, quite listenable. There’s a rather excessive 32 presets available and a frequency scan or manual tuning option.

There’s no software CD supplied with the Zen Stone Plus, but if you have a recent version of Media Player it will be automatically recognised and you can drag files to and from its sync list. At the simplest level you can open up a Windows file browser and drag and drop MP3, WMA or Audible files to and from the player. It can also be used this way to transport data files.

Various optional accessories are designed to endear the player to those who jog and drive, as there are wrist- and arm-bands, a key-fob, a number of skins and the TravelSound, which engulfs the Zen Stone Plus with speakers.

Company: Creative

Contact: 00 353 1 806 6790


Verdict
The Zen Stone was a simple but high-value competitor to the iPod Shuffle, and the Zen Stone Plus is even more of one. It's less than twice the price of the Stone, but offers so many extra features. It's a very good pocket player, particularly if you want to stick to a well-respected brand.