Creative Zen Vision: M review

This great iPod rival does video better than anything else

It feels quite plasticky, and bulky without seeming solid enough to warrant it

TechRadar Verdict

Superior technology, but so-so design


  • +

    Great video playback quality

  • +

    Versatile and easy to use


  • -

    Awkward touchstrip

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The company that essentially created the digital music player market now snaps forever at Apple's heels, but it's close to drawing blood. Creative has suffered a few years of slightly embarrassing misfires, so it's great to see it back on track with the Zen Vision range.

Its current players evoke what makes the iPod so covetable without shameless imitation - and in some ways have an edge over Apple.

First, the bad stuff. Undeniably worse build quality means this tortoise isn't quite going to beat the iPod hare to the mega-sales finish line.

It feels quite plasticky, and bulky without seeming solid enough to warrant it. The 60GB model is exactly the same size, so it's a shame that this 30GB version can't shave a few more millimetres off its depth.

There's a greater problem in the shape of the now-traditional Creative touch-strip, a determined alternative to the iPod's signature wheel.

It's more elegant than the annoying click-click-click of the button approach most other players favour, but having it sense taps as well as vertical rubbing means navigating menus can go a bit haywire. Think of a laptop touchpad, and how annoying an accidental tap on that can be. You'll get used to it, but it a little refinement could help hugely.

It's just big-boned

Now the good stuff. It sounds great, although only imperceptibly better than its leading rivals. More importantly, it's highly versatile, and will happily play back common video formats without any conversion needed.

Just dragging and dropping a movie file from Windows Explorer and then having it show up on the player with no other faffing about with software needed feels like dark magicks.

The player's screen is only 320 x 240, but it supports higher resolution video and will even output it to a TV at 640 x 480 if you attach an optional cable. It's a shame there's no option to zoom into widescreen videos to fill the 4:3 screen, rather than the ugly stretching offered, but nevertheless this absolutely whips all comers on the moving picture front.

Like most devices sporting the Microsoft-bestowed Plays For Sure logo, you don't need to install additional software to copy audio or video to this. It can all be done through Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer.

The manual's careful not to mention this, hoping to trick you into installing the bloated proprietary Creative software that's included instead. It's not terrible, especially compared to some other options, but it's redundant and sticks too many fingers into your system. Fortunately, it can be done without.

Given that, plus well-implemented extras such as an FM radio, voice recording and its good-looking menus and display, this is the good option for a more tech-savvy purchaser. The iPod is slicker and far better designed for sure, but it's a more limited device.

To put it slightly more snidely, the Zen's the one to go for if you're not bothered about looking like the bee's knees on the train. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.