This is by far the cutest MP3 player Creative has come up with so far. It's small, smooth, colourful and charming -- traits not commonly associated with the MP3 world, but which have found a home in the Zen V Plus. Pundits have long been waiting for a iPod nano-sized version of the successful Creative Zen Vision:M, and the Zen V Plus looks to be a plausible challenger to the flash-based MP3 player throne.
Editor's note: The ZEN V Plus is available in three sizes, which are colour-coded by capacity. The 4GB model is black with blue accents and $329.95; the 2GB model is black or white with green accents for $269.95; and the 1GB model is black or white with orange accents and costs $189.95.
Look at it. Sweet is what comes to mind. That's an adjective we rarely use in consumer tech. But the Zen V Plus deserves the tag. Our review unit was all smooth and glossy with rotund curves that reminded us of the Zen Micro, with the only difference being that the Zen V Plus is a lot smaller. At 67.5 x 43.5 x 15.9mm and a miniscule 43.5g, we thought it could have been named the Zen Miniature as well.
What makes the Zen V Plus different from the rest of the flash-based MP3 crowd is Creative's refreshing use of colours. The Singapore firm's previous insistence on featuring 10 different colours for each of its MP3 players seems to have livened its brush strokes. The Zen V Plus is an all-glossy affair with green accents on the joystick and the volume rocker, adding a touch of life to its clinical white. The white shade, incidentally, is rather susceptible to dirt and smudges.
The two tactile buttons borrow design cues from the Zen Vision:M's single-piece faceplate, and we are glad the loan ends right there; unlike the Vision:M, the V Plus uses a mini-USB port for connectivity rather than a proprietary jack. We noted, however, that the volume rocker as well as the two tactile buttons can get a tad squeaky. The Zen V Plus simply doesn't possess the same solid tactile quality as the Zen Vision:M.
Despite the resemblance to both its award-winning predecessors, the Zen V Plus is still a lost cousin -- it lacks the trademark touch strip. The touch-sensitive control has long been the domain of Creative's flagship MP3 players and a key differentiator between the Singapore firm's wares and its competitors'.
The replacement here is a quad-directional joystick that's designed just a little differently from the ones employed in the MuVo S200 and the MuVo Vidz, but which bears no significant functional improvements. The joystick, despite decent tactile feedback, feels plasticky, at least to us, and to some people even... flimsy. But surprisingly, it's very responsive. Fat fingers, thin noggins, all no problems. The joystick recess and the shortness of the control nub probably help in increasing sensitivity, but we noted that the exposed innards of the nub will probably become a dust trap with constant usage.
The user interface (UI) is very organic and logical. First-time users should have no trouble picking it up. Creative has retained pretty much the same UI used in the Zen Vision:M. Nudging right on the joystick will bring the user one layer deeper into the menu. It's the reverse when we shift right. But this didn't always work. We could not use the joystick to return us to the main menu from the photo gallery, and had to resort to the Back button instead.
Holding down the Return button brings up the contextual menu relevant to the current feature. Again, as we had noted during music playback in the Zen Vision:M, Creative appears to have neglected including an equaliser option in the menu.
The Zen V Plus uses a 1.5-inch OLED screen, and frankly, this is pretty sharp when it comes down to videos.
The difference between the Zen V and the Zen V Plus is simply that the latter has a video playback feature and FM radio. But the Zen V Plus remains an audio player at heart, so video format support is still limited natively to AVI, and any other formats will require a video conversion via the bundled Creative Media Explorer software.
Features on the Zen V Plus run much the same as Creative's other players. There're FM radio, voice/line-in recording and photo viewing (JPEG). We liked the fact that pictures are represented as thumbnails as opposed to file names, and unlike some other MP3 players we tested out, there was no lag when we skipped from picture to picture. Even a fast-forward through 20 JPEGs produced no noticeable slowdown in performance. However, when we tried zooming in, we experienced a slight lag before we could view the full picture.
We're surprised the Zen V Plus has retained the keyword search feature of the Zen Vision:M. That's a big plus factor when it comes down to searching for a specific song. Given the 1.5-inch screen size, Creative has wisely omitted the virtual keyboard and replaced it with a scroll-down column of letters. Inputting letters is a tad slower than the Zen Vision:M, though. And like the Zen Vision:M, keyword search is limited to the confines of the specific menu that the user is in, not player-wide. So typing in the band name Jet will not yield any results in the song title field, but it will bear fruit if the search is attempted in the Artist name field.
The Zen V Plus plays nice with Outlook as well. Calendar, task and contact data can be imported into the player though it's a view-only feature; input via the device is not possible.
For audio tweakers, there's a five-band user-defined equaliser and eight presets. More ardent dabblers will love the menu configuration option: It enables the customisation of the main menu. Users can add or remove features according to usage frequency.
The Zen Vision and Zen Vision:M were both notorious for their driver installation requirements before a computer would recognise them. The Zen V Plus bears the same temperament. Even using the V Plus as an external storage device requires presetting a storage capacity (128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, 1.5GB) before the player is recognisable as an external drive.
A video playback feature imposes a requirement on screen size, making it too small, and videophiles are bound to complain. The 1.5-inch OLED was certainly sharp when it came to our test animation flick, but subtitles were uncompromisingly difficult to make out, while in certain fast scenes, we experienced mild pixelation.
With 32 station presets, it's safe to say the Zen V Plus has all its bases covered. The player scored tops in our FM autoscan tests by hardly missing a single station and delivering relatively clear reception on all the major stations.
Using 240MB worth of MP3 files, the transfer rate for the Zen V Plus hit a middling 1.21MB per second which was subpar when compared with other models. Battery longevity for the Zen V Plus was an above-average 17 hours 36 minutes, taking into consideration its inevitable small battery size.
Testing the audio side of things, the Zen V Plus was not as articulate as the iPod when it came to the highs and the mids. But as is customary with Creative, the low end was solid and tight.