When I saw this announced by Creative I had a sudden attack of fanboy. I'm not convinced it was a worthwhile purchase.
Changes from X-Fi 1:
It is even lighter, is thinner, but is a bit longer. Out go the useless wi-fi features (even when they worked the battery wasn't up to it) and the unusual buttons, and in come AV-out (a feature on previous players like the Vision:M which outputs video to a TV), better SD card integration and a touch screen.
Here's what I think about the player generally:
It weighs only 75g (for the 32GB version) which is light compared to other players. Compare this to:
Sony X Series: 98g
iPod Touch: 115g
Samsung P3: not sure but it weighs a ton
The size and weight make a difference. I can hardly tell I'm carrying it and it packs a lot in those 75g. It feels about half as light again as the X-Fi 1 which is probably a big achievement. Any lighter and it'll be about as light as a credit card. This must be an area where Creative is trying to differentiate the X-Fi 2 from other products, and only the Cowon S9 is a similar weight.
I love the sound quality of Creative players; this player is no different and improves upon the X-Fi features of its predecessor by having a sliding scale for both "Crystallizer" (fills in mp3 loss) and "Expand" (gives music a live feel). Some won't want to use these and it sounds good even without them. There are also the usual EQ settings and equaliser. Creative players can really only be beaten on sound by more expensive audiophile products like the Cowon S9. That's how good this sounds. It makes iPods sound total rubbish, an area in which Apple is starting to lag behind the competition. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio) is a welcome codec addition which does sound really good.
The touch screen works well and is for the most part an improvement on the little buttons on the X-Fi 1. For the techies out there, it's not a capacitive screen, so you have to apply a bit of pressure. But it works well and feels stylish, not gimmicky like the Braille on the X-Fi 1. Sometimes the screen registers a touch with flashes and sound but the player does not respond, which is a little annoying. Hopefully this can be solved with a firmware update. The GUI looks nice and is customisable, but sometimes not very responsive. Album art is displayed where available so this will please a lot of people, though I wish there was a way of turning it off, as my library looks messy with only about 50% art.
The earbuds are quite good and deserve a mention, but I prefer Creative's other EP830 that shipped with the X-Fi 1. They have a clearer sound but less bass. They sell separately for next to nothing, but don't be fooled by the cheap prices; these earbuds are really good. It'll be a matter of personal preference as to which are best for you.
The micro SD card doesn't exactly integrate with the library, but files imported from the card are integrated, which is a step in the right direction. With the X-Fi 1 files were stored in a separate area which was a bit inconvenient. But this does mean that to integrate, for example, a 2GB card, you need to have 2GB of spare memory on the player. This small niggle doesn't really bother me as I don't use SD cards that much, but note that the card reader is for MICRO SD cards, not the "normal" size. I don't know anyone who owns a micro SD card yet, so Creative might be taking a bit of a gamble on these becoming common (but they probably will). It means that like me, if your camera uses the standard size SD for example, you won't be able to use it with this player to transfer pictures. I've just bought a Canon G10 which uses standard size SD cards, not micro. But then again the camera has a far better screen.
There are no dedicated volume buttons. This is unforgivable and soon becomes really annoying. There is loads of space on the right hand side for volume buttons, so why didn't Creative include some? Even the fiddly buttons on the X-Fi 1 were better for adjusting the volume. The X-Fi 2 has only one button on the front, which returns to the main menu, and a small on/off/lock button on the top. Two more buttons for volume would have been most welcome as I don't want to fiddle around with a touch screen when adjusting the volume. I want to be able to adjust the volume without having to look at the player. Don't underestimate this negative feature if such things bother you.
The firmware doesn't seem to be finished yet. My player rebuilds the library every time I switch it on. And like some other posters to the Creative forums, I've loaded files to it which don't appear in the player's menu. Some video files that ought to play don't. I just get the general feeling that the player isn't working properly and I hope things like this will soon be sorted.
Once again this player has very little native video support. The formats it claims to support are through conversion software (in this case the ghastly Centrale) which seems to take even longer to convert video than does the Creative Video Converter that shipped with the X-Fi 1 (Centrale took about 2 hours to convert a 30 minute video and my PC isn't slow). Apparently there are better alternatives available which I will eventually try out. Also I've not been able to play BBC iPlayer content on the X-Fi 2. The X-Fi 1 has no problems with iPlayer. Maybe it's a firmware thing, or maybe like the Zen MX it no longer has native wmv support. I'm not sure which at the moment, but be warned if you like the iPlayer as it might not be supported.
The screen itself is larger than the X-Fi 1 and is a widescreen. The resolution is slightly higher, but one noticeable downgrade is the number of colours. Only 262K compared to a whopping 16.7M. It doesn't look as vibrant as the X-Fi 1 screen but does look higher resolution. A matter of personal preference again but surprisingly for me I prefer the vibrant colours on the original X-Fi. The touch screen also dulls the image slightly, so coupled with the bad video support I don't recommend the X-Fi 2 for those who like to watch videos. I still use my Zen Vision for this, a product several years old which apart from the dodgy viewing angle is really good and has not been bettered in this regard by Creative (apart from maybe the Vision W but this had a lower resolution). Overall I consider the screen to be nowhere near good enough for my needs so I've listed this as a negative.
I've not tried AV-out but I doubt that it's as good as the Zen Vision:M due to the file resolution limitations. RSS feeds don't interest me either, or synchronising calendars. I don't use the microphone much but this one works well, and the player has a good speaker. The X-Fi 2 doesn't have as many bonus superfluous features as the X-Fi 1. Battery life seems average by today's standards and is probably traded for weight, but then the Cowon S9 is a similar weight and has way more battery life (55 hour audio versus 25 hour) but note the S9 is more expensive.
Overall I don't think this is a better package than the X-Fi 1 for my needs, it's just different. I'd highly recommend it if your priorities are sound quality, portability and a stylish user interface. If your priorities are video, ease of use and ergonomics I would advise you to look elsewhere.
Lastly I should add that my player has a small fault that might mean it goes back to Creative. I won't say what it is yet as it's likely to be particular to my player, but I'm about to find out how good Creative's customer service is. Perhaps more on this later.