CES 2005 brought many new color-screen microdrive players onto the scene, and we got to see all of them--save one--in person. The player in question is Creative's Zen Micro Photo, and it turns out that even the PR manager was surprised when CEO Sim Wong Hoo pulled a prototype out of his pocket at the show. As such, we never got to lay eyes on the device, but we can still tell you that the photo-friendly version of the Zen Micro, available in both 5GB ($299) and 6GB ($349) capacities, shows definite promise.
Upside: The Creative Zen Micro Photo is the Zen Micro with a 262,000-color OLED screen and photo-display capabilities. You'll still get to choose from 10 body colors. Plus, the Photo, like its recently released, updated brother, ups the ante by offering an option of either 5GB or 6GB of storage. The latter allows up to 7,500 JPEG images or 3,000 songs. It boasts an FM tuner, as well as FM and voice recording. Like the monochrome Zen Micro, the Photo features an innovative touch pad that allows for vertical scrolling. Equally cool is a luminescent blue backlight that shines behind the buttons and around the edges of the device. The user-replaceable battery is definitely a plus, too. Finally, at 2 by 3.3 by 0.7 inches and 3.8 ounces, the player is a hair smaller and a touch heavier than the iPod Mini (by 0.1 inch and 0.1 ounce, respectively), and it's plenty small enough to slip into most pockets.
Downside: At $299 for the 5GB version, the Zen Micro Photo is $20 to $100 more expensive than its direct competitors--strange, considering the company's products have traditionally been on the lower end of the price scale (then again, full-color OLED screens are magnificent). As with its black-and-white-screen brother, the lack of tactile feedback from the controls will turn some users off. Finally, it won't be available until June--how are we supposed to wait that long!?
Outlook: When we spoke with Creative's reps at CES, they confided that they were having trouble keeping up with demand for the Zen Micro, so things are looking good for the Photo. Fans of the Micro and prospective buyers might find the color OLED screen hard to resist, but the question remains if they'll be willing to shell out the extra dough.