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The Old Vs The New
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.