Creative Zen Micro
At a Glance
The Creative Zen Micro 5GB digital audio player packs a lot of functionality into a small space. This ambitious player does a lot of things ably, but we found room for improvement.
The $230 player eschews the admirable tapered design of the Rio Carbon in favor of a streamlined rectangular form that nevertheless feels comfortable in the hand. It comes in a rainbow of colors--ten in all--and includes a thin fabric slipcase and a holster that doubles as a desk stand. The rechargeable (and removable) lithium ion battery supported 12 hours of use per charge in our tests.
As in earlier Zen models, the vertical touch-scroll at the center of the Micro's case is the device's primary navigation tool. The unit's slick scroll navigator responds nicely to touch; you get different options depending on which menu you're browsing. For example, if you're playing a song, the scroll navigator acts as the volume control; if you're browsing through your music library, it moves you through your options (backward or forward). At the top of the scroll are the rewind, play/pause, and fast forward buttons; to the lower left is the back button; and to the lower right is the context-sensitive option menu.
For the most part, we liked this approach to navigation. Because the menus are customizable, we could adjust the order of options and the information displayed on screen. Occasionally, however, we inadvertently invoked the wrong function, and the player's design makes it a bit difficult to use sight unseen--say, if it's still in your pocket. Another drawback: Some functions (such as the equalizer) are buried in the menus, and a few tasks (such as adding music to an on-the-fly playlist) take more effort than they should.
Another quibble involves the 1.5-inch LCD. The display is bright and readable when the backlight is on; but without the backlight, the screen is too dark for comfortable reading. And unfortunately, you can't adjust the screen's backlight--or the gimmicky blue strobing light that encircles the Micro and flashes whenever you press its controls.) Not only would an adjustable backlight help conserve battery power, it would make the device more discrete when used in a darkened environment (such as an auditorium or an airplane).
We have no complaints about the clean, robust sound transmitted through the included earbuds. The unit supports MP3, WAV, and WMA files, and it can record from its FM tuner and integrated microphone to MP3 format. Other handy features let you view your Microsoft Outlook contacts and calendar (thanks to the included syncing software), and use the device as an external USB 2.0 hard drive (you can allocate between 128MB and 2GB to the data partition).
The player ships with two software applications: the inelegant Creative MediaSource (for ripping CDs and syncing your music library with your Zen) and the Zen Micro Media Explorer (which simplifies viewing, sorting, and copying Zen Micro contents from within Windows Explorer).
The Creative Zen Micro is a solid choice if you're looking for a highly portable music player that supports FM radio playback and recording and includes a voice recorder.
Melissa J. Perenson