SCREEN

The screen was very comfortable to look at. Whether directly under the sun or in the dark, the screen was clear and the brightness did not pierce the eye. The blue backlight is very good-looking.

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Contrast and Backlight time can be adjusted through the Settings option on the unit itself.

BUTTONS

The buttons were not loose and were easy to depress. When depressed, they produce a ‘thck’ sound like good buttons should. I personally love buttons that give out the ‘thck’ sound.

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(Front panel of unit – buttons are neatly arranged by the side,
with the vertical Touch Pad down the middle)

The layout of the buttons is very convenient as well. Unlikely some mp3 players which come with oddly-placed buttons, the Zen Touch has a very sensible and pleasing layout.

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(Top panel of unit, from left to right: lock switch, USB port,
and remote control / earphone jack)

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(Left panel of unit, from left to right: power button, ‘increase’ volume button,
‘decrease’ volume button, and reset hole)

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(Right panel of unit: DC IN 5V charging ‘port’)

In short, the Zen Touch has some of the best buttons I’ve come across.

On a side note (nothing to do with the manufacture of the buttons), strangely, the Zen Touch does not have a ‘stop’ button! The only way, I know of, to stop a song is to change the play mode to “Track Once” and let the current song play till the end.

TOUCH PAD

Marketed by Creative as a selling point of the Zen Touch, the Touch Pad is definitely a novelty. However, after the novelty wears off, one realises that it isn’t easy to use, especially for first-time users. It definitely beats mere ‘up’ or ‘down’ buttons when dealing with scrolling down long lists of names, but many a time, I was left frustrated about having such a difficult time scrolling down by just 1 name. An ideal alternative would have been to have both the Touch Pad and the traditional ‘up’ and ‘down’ buttons.

Settings can be changed to allow tapping of the Touch Pad to indicate choice. This function can replace the round ‘OK’ button just above the Touch Pad.

Touch Pad sensitivity can also be adjusted through the Settings option on the unit.

HARD DRIVE

While each unit has a 20GB hard-drive, the operating system and firmware takes up almost 1GB of it. The unit I have has an available space of 19.05GB. Reported capacity may vary.

Creative’s claim of 10,000 songs is based on 64kbps wma encoding of a 4 minutes song. For 128kbps mp3 encoding of a 4 minutes song, Creative says that the Zen Touch can store 5,000 songs.

To simulate an actual usage situation, I prepared a good mix of mp3s encoded at 128kbps, 160kbps and 192kbps with varied lengths (from 2 to 7 minutes), and 65 wmas encoded at 64kbps (length about 3 to 4 minutes). After storing 2247 songs (both mp3s and wmas), there was still 9.87GB left. Mathematically, this works out to approximately 4688 songs to fully use all space in the Zen Touch, an impressive figure.

Because the Zen Touch is a hard-drive based player, one cannot shake it rigorously. The hard drive turns on once a while to fill up a flash memory buffer. If a shake occurs exactly at the moment when the hard drive is filling up the buffer, the player may skip. In order to minimize potential damage to your Zen Touch, it is not advisable to jog with it, no matter how much you love it.

BATTERY LIFE

In the same way that the iPod reinvigorated the mp3 player market, Creative’s Zen Touch is sure to pressure its competitors into producing mp3 players with better battery life. Before the Zen Touch, mp3 players were notorious for having short battery lives, and the best performer in the market was the Dell DJ with a user-reported 17 hours of battery life. Ironically, the Dell DJ was designed by Creative themselves.

Battery life is dependent on the encoding of the song being played. A 64kbps wma will drain less battery power than a 128kbps mp3, which in turn will drain less battery power than a 160kbps mp3. Also, using “shuffle” (or “random”) play mode will cause the hard drive to spin more, thus draining more battery power.

According to promotional materials, the Zen Touch can give 32 hours of enjoyment if 48kbps mp3s are being played. Surely though, very few people are going to encode mp3s at 48kbps! At 128kbps, the Zen Touch will go up to 24 hours.

Using the mix of mp3s and wmas stated under SPACE, I managed to get just a little under 20 hours on the Zen Touch, a figure which will surely satisfy even the most demanding customer!

Creative’s Nomad series was loved by its fans for its replaceable batteries. Unfortunately with the Zen Touch, Creative does not appear to have plans to continue this excellent tradition. Such a feature could just tip the scales in its favour. Nobody wants their expensive player to die out. Creative would do well to learn from the huge backlash the iPods faced a while back when consumers realised that the batteries could die out in just 8 months.

AUDIO

Creative has always been known for producing great audio quality, and this time, it’s no different. Boasting a 97dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), Creative is hoping that audiophiles will fall in love with the Zen Touch. What this means is that (as stated proudly on the packaging) the SNR on your portable Zen Touch is as good as some hi-fi systems!

It is only right to be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true statistics. Unlike the battery life and hard-drive space claims, Creative has unfortunately decided not to release the load conditions in which 97dB SNR was obtained.

As they say though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – charge down to your nearest Creative retailer and ask if you can test the sound quality. You will probably be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

The Zen Touch has a 4 band custom equalizer which will allow you to determine your own settings.

Volume is very satisfactory. In a noisy MRT, a volume of 13 or 14 (upon 20) was more than sufficient.

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It also has 8 preset EQ settings – Acoustic, Classical, Disco, Jazz, New Age, Pop, Rock and Vocal.

CONNECTIVITY

The Zen Touch transfers files to and fro a computer through a USB 2.0 interface. It is even backward compatible with USB 1.1 which means that one will still be able to transfer files even from a relatively-old computer, as long as it has a USB port.

The speed of transfer is excellent – transferring a 4.2 MB mp3 through Creative MediaSource (more on the software later) took only 2.5s through USB 2.0, and 4.5s through USB 1.1! This translates into a transfer time of less than 1 minute for an average album!

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ON-THE-FLY PLAYLIST GENERATOR

You may never have to use the playlist creator in Creative MediaSource. This is because the Zen Touch O/S has an awesome feature which allows you to create your playlist quickly and easily! You can play songs by artists, albums and genre (songs are categorised using ID3 tags), add songs to your current playlist and even save your playlist when you’ve edited it to perfection!

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Apple has announced that its new generation of iPods would have this feature, but not many realise that Creative has been using this technology since the early days of its Nomad series. The iPod has a lot to catch up on.

The only disadvantage of this feature is that all transferred files have to have correct ID3 tags for one to fully exploit the option of playing songs by artists, albums and genre. While VR-Zone does not condone the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, it must be conceded that such a practice does exist. To transfer such copyrighted materials and yet still categorise the songs accurately, one would have to edit the song’s details either before (using an ID3 tag editor) or after (using Creative MediaSource or Nomad Explorer) the transfer.