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on 19 April 2010

As I was buying my wife a new car with an auxiliary connection, she decided that in order to make full use of this, I could also buy her an MP3 player to connect to it. Ever eager to please, I did my homework online to find a suitable player. She wasn't interested in the iPod range as they were too feature rich and quite pricey for her needs. All she wanted was a bog standard MP3 player which would sit alongside her in the car and just play music. Whilst browsing Amazon, I came across the Creative Zen MX, it offered more than a bog standard MP3 player but without the cost of an iPod. I quickly ordered the device and waited patiently for it to arrive.

==In the box==

When the Zen arrived, I was surprised at how small it was. Measuring 83mm wide by 55mm tall by 12 mm deep, this really is a nice compact player. As well as the device, you get a set of headphones, a USB cable and a quick installation guide. The Zen doesn't ship with a mains cable but this can be bought separately meaning that unless you buy this, you will always need to charge it up via your PC which could prove problematic if you want to take it on holiday with you.

==Installing the software==

In order to synch the Zen with your PC, you must install the Creative Centrale application which manages communications between the 2 devices. This software is actually shipped on the Zen itself which I thought was quite clever as it means there is no need for a CD in the box, nor the need to download the application.

On running the Centrale Installation, you are required to register your Zen for future upgrades and additional warranty support. Once the upgrade has been completed, you are now able to start copying content onto the Zen.

==Tour of the Zen MX==

There isn't actually a great deal to discover about the Zen MX. Approximately three quarters of the device is taken up with its 2.5 inch screen which has a 320 x 240 resolution. This screen is extremely clear and can display upto 16.7 million colours. To the right of the screen are the navigation buttons in the form of an outer square (with directions of left, right , up and down) with an inner square as the accept button. Below the navigation buttons are the play/pause button and the power/standby button. These buttons are self explanatory so I wont go into detail about them.

If we twist the Zen to the left so that the right hand edge is facing us we will see the USB connector which allows us to connect the Zen to the PC. Above the USB connector we will find the headphone socket. Both the USB and headphone sockets are standard ports which means you will be able to use any headphones or USB cable with the Zen.

==What does it do?==

The primary use of the Zen is to play music. The two main music formats are supported (MP3 and WMA) however to my cost after buying my wife a £15 iTunes voucher, the iTunes AAC format is not supported. You can purchase software which will convert these into MP3 files should you wish but this was too much effort for me so we just bought the Cd's in the end and ripped the tracks to MP3 files. The Zen also supports the ID3 tag system which means you get the correct song title, artist and album displayed when the track is playing.

As well as stored music, the Zen also comes with a built in FM radio. As with most mobile phones, you will need the headphones to be connected when listening to the radio as the aerial antenna is located in the headphones themselves. You can store upto 32 radio stations which in my opinion is more than enough to keep you going. These can then be retrieved by using the navigation buttons to scroll through the programmed stations.

You can watch movies on the Zen, although I haven't tried this myself, the unit does ship with a demo video of about 20 seconds. When I watched this, I was amazed at the clarity of the video and the distinct lack of ghosting that I was expecting. When copying movies onto the Zen, the Centrale software will convert the file into Creatives own CTV format.

The final thing you can do with your Zen is view photos on it. I am personally not a great fan of this as, because the screen is a similar size to those on digital cameras you don't really get to see all the detail in a photo. It would be ok to use for one-off photos but I wouldn't really want to see a full slide show on it. JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG and TIFF file formats are supported.


My wife and I are really impressed with the Zen MX. We feel the sound quality is as good as you would get out of the iPod (both children have iPods so I can make this statement with confidence). The user interface is also simple and intuitive to use making this a perfect device for technophobes or experienced users alike. As yet, I am yet to find any real negative with the Zen apart from the fact that you cannot play iTunes music directly.
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on 26 November 2010
I'd like to add a comment to my earlier review:
Firstly,my mistake - I have the 16GB version, not the 8GB.
Secondly, the review updated.
I did get a replacement - actually I bought another as I wasn't convinced it was faulty - just a bad design - so I took a second chance. Thankfully I have had a better (but not perfect) experience.

1. The new one does connect up and talk to the PC and laptop every time of asking.
2. I have been able to load up with nearly 16GB of songs
3. I have been able to add a 16GB SDHC card ('Kingston' make only appears to work without problems extending the player to 32 GB - card available via Amazon)
3. It easy to manipulate via Windows media Player
4. Sound quality is excellent.

For all of these I have awarded 2 more stars.
1. The on / off switch is inferior to the early version and it takes an age of pressing to turn it on.
2. The extended memory exists only in 2 partitions - you have to edit as 'core memory' and `the card' as a separate drive, even in Windows media Player. Is that my ignorance?.
3. On random play you have to be in either `core memory' or `card' - it does not randomise between and across the separate 2 partitions. (I have loaded all Xmas songs onto the card and my normal collection into core memory)
4. The player is forever locking itself and repeatedly I have to 'unlock player' before proceeding.)
5. The player lacks the ability to record via line in - that was a big advantage for Creative over the Ipod. I like to record a lot of internet radio programmes directly onto my wee 4GB Zen V and V-PLUS players and then listen on train journeys where the radio reception can be non-existent. I'll be distraught when they give up the ghost (they do with all the pressing on their touch pad buttons. I have 7 working and have 'lost' 4 others over the years.)
6. 100 MB of space must be kept free on the player to enable it to operate.

I still like the player - my original one has now died - anyone out there repair Creative Zens? My previous comments (below) re the 4 GB versions still hold.
Comments from someone at Creative Technical would be welcome............

Previous comments:
This is my second 16Gb Zen (the other is still going as are 3 other 4Gb ones). As if to prove I couldn't get lucky twice this one is dreadful. Won't hold a connection to the pc, won't allow access to the starter pack from the files; has to be restarted with a pin after every use. I dragged files onto it and the player won't recognise them; it lost synchronisation with Windows media player after transferring one song on 8 attempts. Then I got fed up. Obviously I hope for Zen this is a rogue MX and this one is going back but what a disappointment from something which is supposed to be a 'new version' of my older one.
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on 13 December 2009
Easy to operate and set up. If you're not a techie, this is ideal for you.
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on 4 January 2010
I bought this item as a christmas present for my dad. I only work part time, as i am a student, so i needed an affordable MP3 player for him. However, he has SO much music, so i wanted a decent size hard-drive. This little beauty was perfect. I'd never seen one before, so i was very reluctant to order one, but i am so glad i did, for several reasons:
1) The size. My dad has large hands and so small buttons are never a good thing. This MP3 has good size buttons and is easy to hold.
2) The screen. Its bright, colourful and huge. The font is quite large, which is brilliant for my dad as he doesnt always need his glasses, and its easy to understand.
3) The player just feels ... like a quality product. It is NOT plastic-looking and doesnt feel like it cost 2p. The player isnt heavy, but its substantial.
In conclusion, i would deffinately reccomend this player for anyone (i myself have an iPod, but i would be happy to swap for this player), but most specifically the slightly older generation. My dad loves technology, but the simple fact is that he wouldnt use something everyday that wasnt easy to use or see. I think this thing is brilliant, its fast, quality and attractive!
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on 15 February 2011
To start, I've been a solid supporter of Creative Zen mp3 players for many years now, and I've bought at least 3 or 4 incarnations of my previous player, the standard Creative Zen 8GB or 16GB player. Despite their occasional freezings, or their tendencies to eventually cough up and die, I've always restocked, for a number of reasons.

I like the design- small, black and sleek, with a nice menu and background and a good quality display, it can play most types of music, sounds well, and it uses buttons. This is one of the main reasons I have so far stayed out of the Apple camp. I much prefer buttons over touchscreens and sliders, simply for the convenience of not having to look at what you're doing when you've familiarised yourself with your device. You can simply reach into your pocket and hit the next or the pause button at will, without having to take it out and navigate your way through, running the risk of bowling over another innocent commuter on your way to work.

They're also incredibly robust, and I mean, really, really tough. You can't imagine the amount of times, over the years, when my courageous little Zens have been dropped, knocked and sat on in the line of duty. I was even once swung at while it was in my breast pocket, and it took the brunt of the punch for me. The song playing in my ears never missed a beat (the song playing at the time was, funnily enough, "Safe From Harm" by Massive Attack). If that's not service, I don't know what is.

I also like the support- these things have their little niggles, but your Zen is often little more than a stay at the electrician's or a firmware download away from a new lease of life.

In short, I've always liked this model, so, when my last one bravely gave up the ghost after years of service, I came to Amazon looking for a replacement, where I found a new model on the market. I didn't want to jump to the much higher price range for a brand new, top-of-the-line UberZen, so this one seemed to fit my needs nicely. Looks just like the old one, but with possibly some little improvements.

Unfortunately, I seem to have received the exact opposite- almost the same as the old Zen, but a little bit worse in many little ways.

The drawbacks are often miniscule, and it may seem like I'm nitpicking, as you'd probably only notice these things if you'd previously been in the company of a regular Zen. However, every time one of these new little niggles raises its ugly head, I find myself wishing with nostalgia for the days of the older, simpler Zen.

First off, the big issue- I can't play all my songs, namely my iTunes purchases. I used to be able to make this work on my old model after a bit of fiddling around, to my immense satisfaction. Usually, all it would take was an AAC conversion and a different method of transferring the files, other than using Windows Media Player. No longer. Now, I do the same method, the files supposedly go on, but then they're nowhere to be seen. I've tried many methods since, to no avail.

Second major flaw is the "Scanning Disk" message I sometimes get when I go to connect it to my PC. This happens more often than not. I connect it to my PC, and I hear the optimistic "Device Connected" sound from Windows, and am shown the device on My Computer. Then seconds later, the slightly more disconsolate "Device Disconnected" sound plays, and it's gone. Then it's back on. Then it's off again. All why the "Scanning Disk" message shows on my Zen's screen. "Disk?" I wonder. "What's this about a Disk? I thought we invented these devices to escape such things." But what do I know, I'm not very tech-savvy, as you may have noticed. All I know is, it didn't happen with the old Zen. This goes on for a very long time before it reads "Docked." Or sometimes, it doesn't happen at all. It docks straightaway. Sync at will. However, most of the time, I'm in for a wait. This Disk Scan can also take place randomly, when you're trying to change a song. It requires a reboot. It doesn't happen often, but often enough to tick me off.

Next are the little things that bug me. On the old Zen, when you were scrolling through the menu, the different tracks, options and listings would slide up and down the screen, in a way that looks nice, but not the sort of thing you'd go crazy about. It's only when you get the MX, and it simply flicks from one to the other with no animation whatsoever, that you feel its loss. When you're trying to scroll through large amounts of songs at once, this can slightly impede your progress. Apart from that, it's almost completely inconsequential. The only reason it affects me, is because I know what I'm missing. I end up thinking, "If this is the new model, why would they take something as small as that out?"

Another thing is the waiting times. Often if you go to check your most popular tracks, or to simply to play all your tracks on shuffle, the old Zen would incur a few second's waiting time. Seems reasonable enough, and once it's loaded, you can skip back and forth from this screen to something else. Not so with the MX. Anytime you go to select one of these options, you have to wait for a much longer period of time, sometimes long enough for the Zen to automatically flash back to the now playing screen, causing you to begin the whole process again. Grr. This would be bearable, but it asks you to wait even if you're trying to view a playlist of only 4 or 5 songs.

Apart from that, there are other minor things. The on/off/lock/unlock slider at the side is gone. All these functions are now governed by the Pause/Play button as well. When the player locks automatically, you have to take the button lock off using the buttons. This can be done, but for a while you need to take your Zen out and fiddle with it, which is a reason I don't buy iPods to begin with, as I stated at the start of this review, which is now long enough for me to print off and publish as a book. Leave your suggestions for a witty title in the comments section.

On the plus side, the reset button is bigger- not big enough to be pressed when you don't want it pressed, but big enough to pressed by a pen. This is much more convenient, as I don't carry needles around with me day-to-day, and I'm much more likely to borrow a pen of someone than I am to borrow the pin of their earring.

I will say this for the Zen MX though- I bought it years ago, and I still have it. For all its little flaws, it's so far outlasted almost all of my old Zens. Zen appear have traded in all the old little conveniences and creature comforts for a Zen that's more robust, reliable, and long-lived. I've used it consistently for as long as I can remember now. Could it be that this Zen is a tougher, more rough-around-the-edges breed of Zen that doesn't care about doing things by the book as long as it gets the job done? Quite possibly. Maybe I'll just have to suck it up and say goodbye to simpler, happier times.

So all in all, this Zen gets 3 stars. All things considered, music transfers easily, it plays all mp3s, plenty of storage, well designed. The only reason it loses 2 stars is, I can't forget about all the perks of its senior, both small and big, and can't help but wonder if this could have been so much more.
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on 29 July 2010
Overall this is a very good music player. I would like to give it five stars but there are a few negative bits which for me bring it down to four; Compared to an ipod nano, the ZenMX wins hands down.

Good points:

- Easy to use simple software; perhaps not quite as simple as iTunes, however the Zen software doesnt try to take over your computer (try to make itself the default player) like iTunes does.
- Unlike an ipod, I can drag and drop files to the Zen like a folder on a computer. This is a fantastic feature. If you have a bit of knowledge about computers you don't have to install any software whatsoever if you choose not to. Just drag your IDtagged mp3s into the music folder on the player, and the player sorts it out for you. You can use one player with many computers if you wish. You may also transfer music between your players, unlike iPod.
- Nice easy to navigate user interface. You can customize the menu and background however you want.
- Graphic equaliser is good, and can be set to custom.
- SD Card slot means you can take more music / videos with you.
- Video playback is of very high quality.
- You can put in an SD card from your camera and look at pictures in high quality; It's better than the back of my camera anyway.
- Nice overall player look and feel - Look a lot nicer than the mozaic.

Bad points:

- Interface can be a SLIGHTLY slow compared to an iPod. You can't scroll through your music library as fast as an iPod, you have to click through every single album/letter of the alphabet. For all its faults, the iPod nano has a very nice clickwheel-scroll system.
- The SD card music is stored separately to the main player music. If your using it, treat it as if your playing music from a different player. This separation can be useful however; for example I store compilation albums on an SD card and normal albums on the player's internal memory. The two, however never meet. You can't list both sets of music in one menu.
- The SD card has to rebuild its own library EVERY TIME you turn the player on and access it. Yes EVERY TIME this takes 2-3 minutes. This only happens if your trying to play music off the SD card. If your just playing music off the player and not accessing the card at all its instantaneous.
- You HAVE to use ZEN's own format for video playback. You can't just drag and drop an AVI or WMV file. You can create their format but you have to use their software, and it takes a while.
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on 5 July 2010
Do NOT buy this product if you wish to download videos. All video content seems to need conversion which takes hours. If you are familiar with Creative Zen Vision, which is a wonderful product and will play most files, then please understand that this product will NOT do the same thing. It looks similiar, and it is a good price but I had to return it as I wanted to play videos. It will play music fine if that is all you need it for. I don't want you to be disappointed like I was. It was a gift for my daughters 18th birthday and she could not watch a single video. I had to simply put it back in the box and apologise for the disappointment!!
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on 23 December 2009
Firstly, this review mainly concerns the 8GB version - my 16GB MX has some issues & would only get 4-stars: I needed to buy a supplementary 8GB MX, which did indeed do the business. (see later).

All the major manufacturers produce pretty decent machines; the Creative devices have a longstanding reputation for sound quality and the unique feature of the SD card slot.

For those familiar with the old Zen, the main improvement has been the full integration of SD cards and main memory libraries.
Previously one listened to one library, lost audio while browsing in the other - with only a pretty wallpaper for company.
Now, the MX seamlessly continues with the album's audio while you browse in either library - and identical Artist/Album/Genre index routes are implemented as is full album-art support.

Creative's strategy of main memory plus set of SD cards I find to be an ideal solution to managing my catalogues.
This allows me to mimic a real bricks & mortar library's structure with PC-folders corresponding to music catalogues, these in turn corresponding to devices.

I use 'World' in 8GB main memory, 'Mainstream' in a 32GB SDHC card, 'Classical/Jazz' in a 16GB SDHC card, 'Odds&Ends' in another 16GB, and so on.
The use of the CD-cataloguer's genres (defined in Id-tags) is quite hopeless once one has accumulated a big library.
My 'Classical' contains genres: chamber, classica, classical, concerto, klassiche Musico, orchestral, religious, symphonic, vocal.
While 'Mainstream' is: alternative, blues, country, electronica, folk, jazz, latin, metal, O.S.T., pop, rap, rock, soul, soundtrack, world.

Genres fulfilled a useful purpose when MP3 players had tiny memories, but with the advent of large libraries, it can become a complete jumble.
So, if your library can be partitioned in this manner, you'll find life much easier to just assign your albums to your desired SD card.
Then you've a sporting chance of finding the album you are looking for (or one in the same vein).
Thus I choose to assign Anouar Brahem's "Thimar" to my "World" partition even though the CD-cataloguer would assign it to "Jazz".
So, I reckon the MX & SD card strategy to be effective.

Well, how does the MX sound compare? I've listened to friends' iPods and not been especially impressed.
They are beautifully engineered but unfortunately most of my friends seem to have succumbed to the marketing hype: their music source principally being 256Kbps or 128Kbps CBR MP3 from iTunes.
Not hi-fi. At least you get 256Kbps VBR MP3 from the Amazon uploads. I've downloaded a couple of albums from Amazon and you do get resolution up to 320Kbps with variable bit-rate.
I realise that you can rip VBR MP3 from CDs for the Apples but it seems a pretty roundabout task for Windows Users.
I won't go into a Lossless format(s) discussion: mainly, they're not suitable for the Zen - files are too large and there's little, if any, audible benefit.

I rip all CDs using Windows Media Player 11 in VBR form with the quality setting at max. This yields WMA files of ~120MB encoded in the 290-400Kbps range, median 345Kbps.
Classical/acoustic music encodes at lower rates owing to greater soundstage stability.
It is possible to downgrade to 320Kbps max by using WMP-11's "synch". I prefer to drag&drop the files as they stand to MX or SD/MMC.
[Hint: remember to uncheck the automatic synch at Synch Set-up - if you want 'manual'].

The burgeoning HD camcorder market has led to the development of fast, affordable SDHC cards.
I employ a 150X cardreader (£2.99 from Amazon) which yields transfer rates: Write ~8.5MBps, Read ~ 17MBps.
I believe "like greased lightning" is an appropriate epithet.
When only transferring a couple of albums to the player I just use the player's SD card slot when I get a respectable ~4.5MBps.

What can I tell you about the sound? I intended to upgrade my Grado SR60's to the 325is but spotted a special offer from Creative for the Aurvana Air.
These offer wonderful transparency, so much so that my much-loved SR60s have been honourably retired (except when I want real meaty bass).
The reason I mention rather pricey 'phones is not to demonstrate my self-indulgence, but to point out that the source sound quality from the humble Zen is worthy of such headgear.
I used to have a pair of modest EP-830s (since stolen) and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. You don't have to spend a fortune.

One ot the bonuses with the Aurvana Airs is that they come with a beautifully made leather case (for the cable-tidy).
The Zen slips perfectly into this, so a new role.

OK. My issues with the 16GB version. There's the not very important - very slightly slower navigation and the decidedly slower music library re-builds.
The audio & video quality is identical. However I was driven nuts trying to track down the source of a soft "tick" which occured rather rarely and seemingly at random.
This only occured when the source was main memory - very fast SDHC data-source was unaffected.
So, armed with the clue 'why no 32GB version in the MX-series?', I decided to check the 8GB version.
Problem evaporated.
I reasoned that the 4GB address space limit of FAT32 was placing the ambitious Creative firmware under stress with the extra mapping overhead.
I can find no other reports of such a random/rare, but irritating, flaw. So, either I've a defective unit or I'm being excessively fussy.
I still continue to use my 16Gb MX (now 1 year old) with no discernable deterioration. This flaw is rare and in practice it's quite useful having a second device.

I've noticed adverse comment on the Creative Centrale software. I've no problem with this though I only use it when I need to "edit song info".
In this area it is better than WMP-11. Many CDs, especially Classical, have missing info which needs to be manually entered.

A couple of hints [1] set System's Idle Shutdown "off" if you want to keep the player on standby all day.
With audio & video both locked off there's little battery drain;
[2] reassign your Shortcut button to "Switch View" from "Lock"; unlocking stays the same: double-click "up", OK while locking becomes "Menu", OK (after 1st time).

To conclude:
if you happen to be on a tight budget the MX system can be built piecemeal;
if you're in the market for exotic earphones (eg UltimateEars, Shure) you can be assured that the Zen MX will stand up to the sternest scrutiny from the likes of Aurvana Airs;
for the sound quality, tactile, visual and functional excellence - I've no hesitation in stating: 5-stars.

Products I've found trustworthy:-
Bytestor 32GB SDHC Class 6 Memory Card
Transcend 16GB SDHC Class 6 Memory Card
Creative Aurvana Air Earphones
Grado SR60i Headphones 2009 Model
EASYi USB SD Card Reader for SD/SDHC Cards (Supports Windows Vista, ME, 2000 & XP)
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on 3 January 2010
I have had the creative Zen for over a year now and it is a brilliant MP3 player with little faults at all. Throughout the year i have had the product i have had it crash on me twice, which meant i needed to press the reset button, which once clicked worked perfectly again. After having it for a year it is starting to have a few minor faults with the buttons getting a bit stuck, but i have used it a tremendous amount in all weathers and have got it wet many times. The menu system is very attractive with the option to use your own picture as a display picture. The music quality is fantastic and even the provided headphones worked for a long time providing good sound.
For this price its a must buy, it simple and does everything that a good mp3 player should do. Watching films is also simple and the picture has good quality for the size of the player.

This is by far better than a lot of mp3 players and especially all Ipods with there fixed Itunes software. Creative use a simple drag and drop system which is much easier. All albums also have the thumbnails of the cover if added correctly making the player look even more attractive.

This is a must buy for people who want a great Mp3 player with great quality and stunning appearance.
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on 23 March 2011
I bought the 4GB predecessor to this model in Seattle back in 2007. It was working great right until January 2011 when the oft-talked about white screen of death ( "WSOD" -boots up but dead screen) finally claimed it. Although some of you may feel that 3 years is more than enough use, whatever I tried including contacting Creative's useless Helpline in the US failed miserably.

The problem is that until its death, I really enjoyed using this player. I specially liked the features like the bookmarker, sleep timer(for all the functions not just for music), quick file location/navigation and the fact that you can actually see the controls in the dark.I've got a Sony player too and these features are either lacking or unsatisfactory (e.g. no bookmarker, the Sony's sleep timer doesn't work for the radio and the controls are impossible to see in the dark) and for me on features and ease of use, the Zen beats the Sony everytime.

As long as you stay away from the bundled headphones, the sound quality is great and as I use an old version of something called iriverter, I have never had problems with video conversions that some people have been complaining about. In any case, one of my main uses was to watch BBC programmes and that worked fine.

Now to move on to my main beef. although I have been lucky, it seems that many others are unhappy with design faults and the subsequent indifferent responses from Zen Customer service both in the UK and the USA. A player should function for at least a year and this WSOD problem has been well documented for years without Creative fixing the bug. Moreover, Creative simply cannot turn round and say that after the warranty period is over that you are on your own.

I don't know about the USA but in the UK, goods must be fit for purpose and of reasonable quality. The 30 day returns policy is only guidance and if something breaks down, depending on the fault, both the retailer and the manufaturer have certain obligations even if a product is more than 3 months old depending on what it is.

Certainly,If I had bought my Zen in the UK, since I have the time and energy, I would have chanced my arm with the Small Claims Court even on a three year player. That avenue is not open to me as I bought my Zen in the USA. Given that I really like the product, where does that leave me?

I think Zen are treating their customers badly or is it that they are cynically taking built-in obsolesence as their sales strategy? Whatever the real answer is, as a matter of principle, I am not going to buy another of their products till they get that their act together. Shame really, as I really love my Zen.

So my advice to you dear reader is excercise the power you have as a consumer; go for a more reliable brand, or if you do buy a Zen product and it goes bad on you, go with your consumer rights. Or if you are not up for that, just buy a second-hand one(like I did on Ebay for £20) till Creative takes their consumers concerns seriously!
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