Pros Excellent audio and video quality, easy UI.
Cons Creative Centrale, so-so battery charge life, derivative iPhone styling
Summary Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoy the hardware side of my 32GB Creative Zen X-Fi. Performance-wise, I think it's one of the best PMP devices I've ever owned. It does almost all the music formats I need it to do. It's been packed with even more features than the already excellent 32GB Zen it supplants as leader in Creative's flash-based lineup. And its delivery performance (picture, audio) is as good as it gets.
But as great as the hardware is, the Creative Centrale software tempers a lot of my enthusiasm for the platform. It's been about as UN-stable a media client application as I've ever used; constant lockups and outright crashes, and this irritating ability to destabilize Windoze XP Pro as a whole...it's not a program I like or care to use as a result. Unfortunately, I have to if I want to import in video since a bit of translating often needs to happen before certain video files can be used on the X-Fi. And I have to rely on Centrale if I want to use any of my non-DRMed AAC library I maintain for my iPods (roughly 26,000 song files at this time), since the drag-n-drop feature available to MP3 and WMA users doesn't work with AAC (additional "translation" is needed, which unfortunately is what Centrale does when it's not crashing, that is). Unlike my wonderful Sony NWZ-A818, where drag-n-drop works for a wide range of formats, including for those AAC files I rely upon, so much of my content has to works its way through buggy Centrale before it's rendered useful for the X-Fi.
Enough with the depressing stuff...at least the hardware is bloody near brilliant. As a former owner of the predessor Zen (I went through TWO of those, both of which bricked due to a faulty optional Creative AC adapter I purchased with my first 32GB Zen and I belately discovered after-the-fact when the second unit froze up in the same manner--right after charging), the X-Fi does everything I asked my Zen to do and a fair bit more, although I will say with mixed results. The audio processing of the Zen's X-Fi Crystalizer and Expander to me is hit-and-miss; with some genres of song it works great, with others it oversaturates the extreme ends of the sonic spectrum, which make for an unpleasurable listening experience. I typically use my Shure SE530 canals with my X-Fi (as I did with my Zens before), and the combo makes for an near unbeatable listening experience. I say near-unbeatable, since the Zen X-Fi does have one downside: it doesn't do lossless audio, only compressed bitrates and/or formats.
As for the Wi-Fi/wireless features...I'll have to defer to others on that. It's a feature I have little use for since I'm of an age that I don't see myself using such a tiny device for conversing. And for aesthetics, the X-Fi's iPhone-like styling is take-it-or-leave-it to me. It seems very copycat-like, yet it gives the the X-Fi a classy feel. I admit I prefer the main, two-piece controller on the Zen over the nine-button configuration on the X-Fi, but with the X-Fi it gives four additional command points (the corner buttons) that the Zen didn't have. As of now, I've only discovered that the two left corner buttons are used by my X-Fi among the features I've toyed with so far with the firmware that's on the player right now (1.00.06), and only in a limited capacity at that. But with additional firmware updates (hopefully), Creative could develop this interface into something more useful.
As for the player's actual UI it's straightforward Zen, although data input has been revised from a Qwerty-like interface to a cellphone-like multitap one, which ironically works a LOT better, even though the nine-button isn't yet programmed right to realize its full potential. For instance, when naming a playlist with this firmware, I still have to select the actual letter I want with the center "5" spot button, and use the the other eight button to navigate to the right "key" to pick out the next letter, rather than the X-Fi assigning the actual physical button to the appropriate key, like a multitap cellphone does.
The front face is just like an iPhone in another way...it's a fingerprint magnet. The silver rear cover at least is matte-finished, and though I don't share Jasmine France's desire for a metal back I do think that the Zen's matte black back looked a lot better. I don't like the repositioning of the power/hold switch to the rear of the X-Fi (it was on the right side of the Zen), but I applaud the relocation of the reset switch from the bottom of the player to the side, and to using a flush-type switch instead of the pinhole type (you WILL on occasion need to use the reset too, as I've rudely discovered). The X-Fi is marginally thicker than the svelte Zen, but ironically this works a bit to its advantage if you use the leather flip case that Creative sold with for the Zen. Even though the power switch is in the wrong spot for the case, the added thickness fits the case far better than the Zen ever did.
I go back and forth on whether the X-Fi is my best-sounding PMP, but in the end I tend to tip in the favor for my Zune 80. But it's so close that it really IS a hard choice. None of my iPods really compare in terms of audio quality, and my sweet little Sony tends to add a bit of tone to its audio that puts it down onto the second-tier, though only just (the best of my iPods, on the other hand, can only make it to the third-tier, continuing with this sort of rating system). The drawback with the Zune 80 of course is its reliance on a hard drive for data storage, which a flash-based device does not need worry about. Of course, with a flash-based device there's only so many times data can be written to it before the NAND chip won't work anymore, but for now that's a day that's still a long way off, which in the meantime affords me piece of mind in not having to worry about damaging the moving parts of a hard drive.
But quality and durability is still in the back of my mind. As I mentioned earlier, I literally 'burned' through two 32GB Zens. Though the blame was ultimately determined to be caused by the AC charger, I still wonder if the miniature design of the Zen had something to do with it. Certainly there's less room to put 'stuff' into the Zen/Zen X-Fi; does that mean that Creative had to cut corners on circuitry protection as well? I really don't know for sure if the AC charger was truly faulty, or just a bit out of spec that the Zens couldn't handle the current coming from it (it WAS supposed to be the authorized charger for the Zen). Both were charged using the AC adapter on a solid power regulated protection bar--I have several tens of thousands of dollars of audio equipment hooked up to that strip, which is also line regulated by a power conditioner. Yet the Zens bricked anyways after AC charging. As a result, I tossed the AC adapter (actually I returned it for a partial refund--I got a whole refund for the Zen) and only juice up the X-Fi via USB2 on my main media computer. A bit inconvenient as I have to leave my computer on, but it works.
Battery life on the X-Fi (Wi-Fi turned off) with audio use is about the same as with the Zen: not impressive. Since the LCD is on all of the time (it doesn't blank out like it does on my other devices), it's not really surprising, especially with all that text scrolling it does with the song metadata. The Crystalizer and Expander do seem to increase the rate of drainage from the battery, but it's still not all that impressive even with the signal processing turned off. I typically don't use the equalizer, but even when I toy around with it I've noticed that the amount of gain when the EQ is turned off is higher than when it's being used, either with one of the preset choices or with the custom EQ. I haven't gone all the way down to "WARNING: CHARGE ME OR DIE" mode yet, but the X-Fi does seem to get down to an indicated 50% bar pretty fast, far quicker than its supposedly rated 30 hrs of charge for audio would seem to infer (4 hrs vs. 15, if the 30 hr benchmark is to be believed).
In the end, I'd have to rate the X-Fi a weak 4 out of 5 stars. It's a great player that has a middling battery charge and a horrid piece of software managing it. After all these years, Creative, I would've thought that you would've been able to come with a decent client app by now. It was bad with my original 20GB Nomad Zen, and it hasn't gotten much better a half a decade or so later.
(I will say that I AM surprised at how CNET downgraded the Zen X-Fi's final grade from that of the previous Zen's, since they are pretty close to being one in the same. Considering the improvements mades, I would've thought that the scoring would've been closer; I guess that delaminating front panel DOES count for something and leave an impression, after all.)
Pros Sound, Size, Functions.
Cons Software .
Summary I got the 32gb version, but the player has all the same functions as the 16gb. The player is durable, no weak spots. The screen is unchanged from the Vision M player, but it is still shap. If its sunny outside the screen is still visible. I put a screen protector on, but it still attracts fingerprints. The button are not too close to each other and pressing them is easy. Also adjusting to the button is quick. The speaker is louder than was expected from the reviews. Does the job, not meant to be a entertainment system for a party. The buttons could be backlit, but can get used to it. The memory card slot is pretty sweet extra, if you need to clear up your camera card and load it in the mp3 player. The on/off and hold button on the back is kind of awkward, tough the get to if you got the player strapped to your arm, or driving and want to unlock the player and change tracks. The one thing I don't like is when you pull out the headphone jack the speaker automatically turns on, even if u have have it set up to be turned off. Creative says it is so the consumer doesn't miss any music playing.
This is one of the biggest (holding capacity) flash drive mp3 player out there. The other is Ipod Touch, but its $110 more expensive. Plus the size player is on the smaller size, so it easily fits into a pocket. The flash drive doesn't freeze, like my Vision M (hard drive) did. The charging is pretty fast through the USB port, and supposed to be even faster throught a AC charger. The life of the battery is better than the Vision M, over 20 hours if you have it locked the whole time.
The X-FI function works great. The sound improves significantly. The headphones are good too, but little tough to keep in ears if u move too much, so not for working out or running. But should have a cheaper headphones for those activities anyway.
Have a little problem with my player. The songs keep repeating one time after they're done or I skipped it. Contacted Creative. Their response is fast, but unfortunatly each time you reply to them different person writes back, so they keep telling you same things. Gotta let them know what you already been told before. So far no luck fixing the problem. Might just have to get used to it or reload all the songs on a new one.
The wi-fi is a pain, but works. It is easier to just connect the devices through USB. Creative Centrale is pretty fast at importing files on the player, but sometimes has trouble finding info for music. Have to restart it. I also use Windows media player, but you have to remember, that if u use WMP, if u delete any songs from your PC, the next time you connect your player, those songs are also gonna be removed from your player. Also WMP downloads all the songs that you have on computer to your player automatically.
If you want a smaller player, that still holds about 10,000 songs, this one is it. Few minor problems, but which one doesn't have any? Overall good player. Better one out there.
Pros 1: Great capacity for price
2: Built in speaker?! Sweet...
3: Repositioned power switch
4: Stow-N-Go Memory slot
5: Great sound
6: Easier access to reset button
7: Best 2.5" screen yet on ANYTHING
8: MUCH larger album art can be viewed
Cons 1: Repositioned power switch
2: Annoying software
3: Can't drag and drop AVI videos
4: Wired song transfer takes a while with Windows Media Player (Vista) when you have 3000+ songs but updating shouldn't be a bother
5: Shortest USB cord packaged EVER
Summary Creative Labs has always put out great sounding products and the company WROTE the iPod interface, which Jobs stole like the rat bastard he is; but I digress. The Creative ZEN X-Fi lives up to all the hype that it touts with its Crystalizer and interesting Wi-Fi uses.
To begin with, when you get the 32GB model, you're greeted with the most beautiful packaging possible on the planet. Apple and Microsoft's Zune are good packages with their simplicity, but the plastic/acrylic casing the ZEN X-Fi comes in made me gasp when I took it out of its shipping 'bag' (Buy.com). The player is held gently and the pre-packaged EP-80 Headphones are there for all eyes to see and it was too much to tear apart, but I quickly got a pair of scissors and it went to hell.
Inside the 'really hard to steal' packaging, the remainder of the package was well preserved and can easily be displayed as a piece of art; albeit void of the ZEN X-Fi once it's removed.
The contents consist of: plenty of reading material, a resource mini-CD, the ZEN X-Fi, the Creative EP-80 headphones, and the shortest USB 2.0 cable you'll ever find. It's so short, I'd rather call it a stub than a cord. Thankfully, I have plenty of USB 2.0 cable lying around my home.
When taken out of the box, the ZEN X-Fi has all the preloaded songs and videos we've all grown to love from Creative, though their ads within the player are annoying since they're beautiful enough to be a commercial either preceding or following an iPod or Zune commercial. The videos show off the screen's abilities nicely if you're just comfortable with knowing you can do video since it's there, and do it well. Only gripe: conversion through ANNOYING, packaged software.
Since I was used to using some cheap Philips earbuds, the pre-packaged headphones were too tinny for my taste, but I'm sure it just takes getting used to in-ear headphones once more. I listen to rock, pop, and electronica, and the player fairs very well, if not excellently, with those three genres I prefer. Even without the Crystalizer on, my money is on the player delivering, once more from Creative, the best sound in the business for any, ANY, mid- to high-mid-range user who knows their way around a computer and MP3 players that doesn't notice the difference with lossless vs. compressed audio. My tracks are all 192kbps or higher in MP3, so I make sure I only have the best.
The user-interface is well managed and flows well with what makes sense and it'll be like a fish diving back into water if you're familiar with Creative products or those insidious iPods. Though my only gripe is the button layout. The buttons are far too small for my taste since I have large hands, but like anything, it requires getting used to and for $279.99, I'll be needing to get used to it quickly. The power switch is of the pull-and-hold variety employed on most ZEN players, but this one's position is a double-edged sword. It's great that you won't be hitting it by accident to hold, but when you want to take it out of hold, it can be a pain for someone without fingernails. They should've raised the switch about a millimeter or two for better access if they needed it to stay on the back side.
The rest of the functions are sort of a 'use as necessary' area since I have no need, in most cases, to use them. The FM Radio(not tested) should work fine as with all Creative players and the pin-hole microphone(not tested) should provide great voice pickup, but should pick up background noises as well, but not with OVERWHELMING sensitivity. The memory card slot (tested with an AVI video) should work fine with music, wmv or mpg video in a plug-n-play manner, but I don't believe I'll be needing it. The 'Wi-Fi' is interesting to listen to Australia internet radio (yeah, Australia) with some stand-up short bits, but I haven't tried to sync via Wi-Fi just yet--WMP 11 works fine for me.
For aesthetics, it catches the eye and will garner the attention of most any onlookers, especially when you're playing music from the built-in speaker (sound quality for the size is wonderful, though it won't be filling a concert hall any time soon). The front is a fingerprint magnet with its glossy, black finish, but a good cotton shirt should fix that problem easily, when marked. The weight is far too light to me, but I'm used to the ZEN Vision:M and again, it'll take adapting to such a light flash player. The size is perfect as I thought the ZEN was just a tad thin (Mom's Mother's Day present).
The Creative ZEN X-Fi, no matter the size, is great for first time MP3 player buyers who can't afford the 'iconic' iPod. For avid music listeners who can't exactly determine the difference between lossless vs MP3 vs CD/vinyl it's worth a buy, and even for the power-user, the Crystalizer will make up what an audiophile wants and as long as you have a good pair of headphones, most 'good' players can sound wonderful, especially this one.
Pros Great features
Small and light
EASY to use
Just friggin awesome
Cons Very minor, but lock switch is in strange place.
Cannot play while charging
Summary I had been looking for a small player with high capacity and lots of features for a while. This one has everything I have looked for. I can easily create and load playlists. I can actually altar, create, delete and change playlists on the player. I can listen to radio and it always comes in clear. I can manage pictures and video easily. It shows album art, and ratings, has great shuffle features. The battery life is great (although in order to get best performance, you HAVE to lock the player so the screen turns off...lots of reviews talk about how they cannot turn off the screen and it drains juice) I think the pictures make it look like a big hand held universal remote, but it is really tiny...I was amazed when i got it. I set this thing up with pictures, music videos, playlists etc in no time and was enjoying it within a few hours of opening the box. I absolutely love this player and have found few others that provide all these functions that I like.
Pros The X-Fi technology gives this player a nearly incomparable clarity and warmth. Plus, it has a wonderful set of features at a great price. The incredible EP-830 earphones (a $50 value) also extend the player's functionality.
Cons The software is a little quirky, but you can get around that by using Windows Media Player. Also, the SD card content isn't integrated into the content of the player.
Summary This player has soul. The X-Fi technology enhances your MP3s and makes them sound the way they were originally intended. Plus, the Creative Zen X-Fi has all of the functions of the original Zen -- radio, radio and voice recorder, beautiful video and photo playback -- and then some. Its WiFi function allows you to download music wirelessly, plus connect with friends via IM or get WiFi content. And you get all of this in a 61 GB player that beats the iTouch's price by at least $50.
But the best reason to buy the Creative Zen WiFi is the sound quality. With the EP-830 earphones, a $50 value, that come with the 16 and 30 GB Zen X-Fi models, you'll hear a richness and depth to your music that's comparable to the Cowon D2 and iRive Clix. The X-Fi, in addition to giving you several EQ options, including bass boost, allows you to listen to your music with the X-Fi high-fidelity "Crystalizer" or surround sound modes turned on or off. With the "Crystalize," the Creative Zen X-Fi takes MP3 listening to a whole new level. It restores those high and low frequencies that are lost during MP3 compression, which makes for a much richer and warmer sound than you get with most other players. My music really pops with thie player. Even though the music quality of the iTouch 2G has improve, it just doesn't sound as vibrant and full-bodied as with the Creative Zen X-Fi. It's almost like Creative is making up for the mediocre sound quality of the original Zen by going all out and beating much of the competition.
If you just happen to misplace or step on your earphones, rendering them unusable, the Creative Zen X-Fi still sounds great with other high-quality earphones like the Creative Aurvana or the Sennheiser CX500. But, you'll lose the surround sound capability with replacement headphones.
While others have pointed out that the body of the X-Fi is plastic, I would not have suspected it by looking at it. This player gets major style points because it has a classy, high-end look, with its black front, gray back and silver chrome trim. The buttons are easy to operate (even if there are more on the face than you really need right now). There's nothing about this player that says cheap.
The 16 GB is a good buy, particularly since you can expand the capacity with an SD card. It's a shame that Creative still hasn't programmed the player so that the SD card content is integrated into the content of the player, but maybe one day they'll get to that. In the meantime, there's not much else not to like about the the Creative Zen X-fi.