While the world is obsessing over Apple's new iPod touch, let's not forget about all the other cool MP3 players out there. You know, the ones that aren't locked down to proprietary file formats and limited to use with only one PC or Mac (ahem).

Like this one for instance. The new Zen. It's the new MP3 player from industry veteran Creative, and it's pretty cool too.

iPod rival

Let's get one thing cleared away right from the start: this is no iPod touch competitor. It's a flash player but it's designed to be compact and it's also £170 cheaper than the touch. At the time of publication, the 4GB model was available online for under £70.

Instead, the Zen goes up against the new iPod nano, which we reviewed a couple of months ago.

The first thing that strikes you about the Creative Zen is its form factor. It's a very slim device... comparable to the iPod nano although marginally fatter. But despite its tiny size, the screen is exactly the same as the 2.5-inch, 16.7million colour display previously seen in the brand-leading Creative Zen Vision:m.

It's a bit confusing because until now, Zen was a brand name used by Creative for all its leading MP3 players. But this new one doesn't have a separate model name. It's just simply the Creative Zen. That's it.

So what's it like to actually use? Well, it's the first player to sport Creative's new Zen interface. And, as you would expect, it's slick and intuitive. And every button does exactly what you expect it to do and you're never more than a few clicks away from listening to your desired song.

Low-tech solution

There's no touch-sensitive scrolling on this player. One of the biggest criticisms of the Vision:m was that the scrolling was hard to get used to. But on this player, it's just a case of holding down a button. Less high-tech maybe, but certainly easier to use.

The Zen comes in a range of storage capacities from 4GB to 16GB. This 4GB model will hold 2,000 music tracks, but all models have a full-SD card slot so you can upgrade those capacities by up to 8GB if you so wish.

Potentially, then, you can get up to 24GB of flash memory out of one Zen player, which is pretty impressive.

And there's good news for iTunes users, too: The Zen is the first Creative MP3 player to support Apple's AAC iTunes format. So if you buy DRM-free tracks from the iTunes store, you'll be able to play them on the Zen.

And while we're on the subject of supported file formats, here's something that the Zen can do that the iPod nano can't: it plays DivX and Xvid video files. Great for anyone who likes downloading videos from the web, and other file formats can be converted using the supplied software converter.

A pretty comprehensive little player, then. It won't be enough to convince Apple fans to swap out their iPod nanos. But for those people who like to stay away from the iPod economy and go for something different, the Creative Zen is a great choice.