In addition to music and video playback, the Vision:M lets you transfer and view photos too, sending them over at full size - the limit's eight megapixels - and allowing you to view them scaled to fit the display or to pan around the picture, looking at the detail. Neatly, Creative has added a tiny on-screen guide frame in the bottom-left of the display to help you navigate around the picture, and it does help. There's the usual slideshow capability, backed with audio, and you can password-protect content folders, allowign you to hide your mobile pr0n away from prying eyes...
The Vision:M has an FM tuner on board, and broadcasts can be recorded to MP3 - with both radio and voice recording, the screen shows a handy level meter, though there's apparently no way to adjust the gain. There are 32 station pre-sets, with an autotune facility that populates them with the 30 strongest stations. The player even displays the signal strength with a mobile phone-style icon. The Vision:M's UI features a neat pop-up virtual QWERTY keypad, allowing you to use the touchpad to change the names of stations - and, indeed, rename recording files.
Like the Zen Micro, the Vision:M will synchronise with Microsoft Outlook so you can take your address book and diary with you. The new machine can also operate as an external hard drive, but again Creative forces you to decide how much space you want to allow for data - you can't simply connect it and use whatever space is available. The player does support dragging and dropping media, but through Windows' Media Transport Protocol (MTP), it seems, rather than USB Mass Storage, though without a PC handy I wasn't able to verify this.
Content can also be transferred using Windows Media Player 10 and Creative's own Media Explorer app, new with the Vision:M.
Curiously, Creative has dropped the removable battery facility of earlier players. We didn't have our hands on the machine long enough to verify the company's play-duration claims, which are four hours for video and 14 hours for music.
On the basis of what I've seen today, the Vision:M is clearly Creative's best video-enabled device yet, and certainly its best high-end music player. It doesn't come cheap, but unlike the iPod, includes a power adaptor and offers more features, in particular a radio. It supports a broader array of video formats, and it doesn't impose a potentially lengthy photo reformatting process on you when you want to copy over pictures - which, like the videos, look great on the 262,000-colour display.
I'm less struck by the Vision:M's looks, though Creative's designs continue to improve. It still feels like a me-too iPod, and I suspect plenty of punters will prefer the genuine icon rather than the immitation. And Apple continues to lead the field on control mechanisms - the clickwheel is just so much easier to use than the Vision:M's buttons-and-touchpad combination.
I like the Vision:M, and while it's probably not going to knock Apple off the top of the MP3 player pile, it's certainly a very worthy competitor to the video iPod. Recommended. ®