At least they won't be disappointed with the Touch's other features. The sound quality is, as usual, very good. The bundled earphones aren't the best I've used, even compared to Creative's other bundled headsets, and ironically sounded better on my first-generation iPod than the Zen, on which they sounded muffled. On the iPod they brought up the bass, for what was to my ears a more vibrant sound. With the iPod 'phones, there wasn't a great deal of difference between the players.
But such tests are highly subjective. In any case problems individual users have with the sound can usually remedied with an alternative pair of 'phones or tweaking the EQ. It is true that the Zen isn't as loud as the iPod - with both machines' volume set at max per cent, the Zen is quieter, whichever headset I used.
Creative quotes a battery life of 24 hours continuous playback when running 128Kbps MP3 files, more with a lower bit rate, or less with a higher bit rate or a more compute-intensive format, such as WMA. So, loading the Zen up with 128Kbps MP3 files - courtesy of Richard Low's Mac OS X-based XNJB; for PC users I'd recommend Red Chair's Notmad Explorer - set the player to Repeat All, switched off the EQ, pressed play and let it go about its business. The Zen Touch isn't a USB Mass Storage device, by the way.
And, yes, it runs for 24 hours. In fact, I got at least 25 hours out of it, maybe more since, being suddenly called away for an hour or so, I missed the point at which the Zen died. The point is, however, is that Creative's claim was substantiated.
Of course, it's all down to the battery the company has put in there. A quick peek revealed a Lithium-Ion job attached to the inside of the casing. So while, its replaceable, the battery isn't one you can swap in and out on whenever it runs down. It's not a small unit, so it's not hard to see where the Touch's extra weight comes from. But, frankly, the extra 50g over the 20GB iPod is worth it for a battery life that's double what the Apple product is rated at.
The 24-hour playback time isn't entirely down to the battery - gone, for example, are the battery-eating EAX audio-processing features of yore, but as I've always said, while they're fun to try, they were never must-have features.
The 20GB Zen Touch, although a major step forward in the Zen line's approach to industrial design, will never have the cachet that, rightly or wrongly, the iPod possesses. Its control system is overly complex and more fiddly to use than the iPod's. But it's getting closer, and the slight price advantage it offer - £20 - plus the significantly better battery life make it a worthy alternative.
It's less compelling when compared to other HDD-based players, such as iRiver's H120, which though fractionally more expensive, includes an FM radio and remote control. You can get these for the Touch, but you'll pay extra. The H120 also offer Ogg Vorbis support, as does the 20GB Rio Karma.
But what it loses on feature-set, the Touch makes up for in looks, sound quality and - crucially - that full-day battery life. It may not be the most feature-filled digital music player around, but the Zen Touch won't disappoint. ®
|Creative Zen Touch|
|Pros||— Best-looking Zen yet; amazing battery life; solid build quality|
|Cons||— Unnecessary multitude of controls; no bundled FM tuner; touchpad not as useful as it could be|
|Price||£200 inc. VAT|
|More info||The Zen Touch website|
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