For PC users, Creative provides the latest version of its sub-iTunes MediaSource software, but you can also use Windows Media Player 10 or Creative's Zen Media Explorer, its drag-and-drop tool. Yes, WM10 requires a separate client to do something drag and drop. Don't let anyone tell you Microsoft's approach to DRM and content lock-down isn't all encompassing. Pity poor Creative - and any other hardware vendor that wants to use WM10 - that has to jump through all these hoops just to get that 'Plays for Sure' logo...
Pity PC users too. I installed WM10 and Media Explorer on a Sony Vaio running Windows XP pre-Service Pack 2 and got the Blue Screen of Death every time I tried to run the Creative Software. Fortunately, Creative's drivers also make the ZM appear under My Computer's My Audio Devices section, and I was able to drag and drop a stack of MP3 files over that way. It wasn't quick, even with USB 2.0.
And the sound's pretty good with the iPod-styled ZM earphones. If it's not quite right for you, the player offers the usual equaliser pre-sets - eight in this case - plus a custom, five-band EQ setting so you can adjust the sound to your personal preference.
The ZM keeps a count of the number of times each track is played. There's a cute option, DJ, which plays the most popular - or the least loved - songs or will pick an album at random and play that. Just what you need when faced with the inevitable indecision that comes when you can choose from thousands of songs.
If you prefer to pick things out yourself, the ZM allows you to create any number of playlists and save them on the device for future reference. It's a powerful system, but one made confusing by the fact that saved playlists, when selected for playback, are loaded into the ZM's single 'live' custom playlist, Selected Music. You can only edit Selected Music, but changing it doesn't affect the stored playlist. Saving it again with the same name simply creates another saved playlist, the original's name having been automatically changed slightly.
In addition to playlists and Selected Music, the ZM also offers ten Bookmarks. These note exactly where in the song you were when the bookmark was saved. It's handy for marking out a good riff or an important part of a recorded meeting, say, but that's about it.
If your stored music doesn't appeal, the ZM has a stereo FM tuner for you. It's a tad hissy, as most personal analogue radios are, but it works and you can save up to 32 stations in nameable pre-sets. You can also record broadcasts, but be warned, make sure you start recording five seconds early or you'll miss a bit of the programme while the ZM's hard drive goes through its inevitable short but noticeable spin-up cycle.
The Zen Micro is a real improvement on Creative's previous compact HDD-based music player, the MuVo2, and over the company's large-format hard drive units, the Zen Jukebox range. I'm not sure about the line's bright colours but the white unit I looked is certainly Creative's best looking player yet.
But by trying too hard to look like an iPod, it risks being seen as a 'me too' product. That would be a shame - it's a good music player, and it's size, styling, capacity and radio make it a worthy challenger to the Apple product. ®
|Creative Zen Micro|
|Pros||— Mobile phone-like styling; removable battery; one-hand usage|
|Cons||— Not as easy to use as an iPod; Windows Media 10 idiosyncrasies; slow to spin hard drive|
|More info||The Creative UK website|
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