Creative Zen Vision W

The Zen Vision W quickly brings Creative up to speed in the blossoming world of portable video. And how could it not, with its splendid 4.3-inch wide-screen display, intuitive control set, removable battery, and CompactFlash slot? Bulkier than the aging Zen Vision, this aggressively-priced 30GB ($479.95) or 60GB ($599.95) portable video player definitely marches to its own beat, forgoing the DVR functionality that makes the Archos 04 series and Cowon A2 so special. But with more sources of compatible video content becoming available via online stores and set top boxes, should we care?

The silver and black Zen Vision:W makes the Vision look and feel wimpy. At 134 by 75 by 22 mm and 276 grams, the 30GB version is much heftier than its predecessor (74.4 by 124.2 by 20.1 mm and 232 grams). The 60GB W is a tad thicker and heavier. It’s substantial in the hand, and while pocketable for sure, it’s more of a backpack device. In other words, you don’t want to be jogging with this thing, though it’s extremely durable, thanks in part to the magnesium skin. Of course the payoff is the gorgeous 4.3-inch TFT screen, which boasts a resolution of 480×272 pixels with 262K colors. Photos and video pop off the screen, and unlike the Vision’s 3.7-inch 4/3 screen, it has an exceptionally wide viewing angle (however, when viewed head on, the Vision’s 640×480-pixel screen is impressive). The antireflective screen is vivid and sharp, and you can adjust its brightness and choose any background image you like. Personally, I think the Archos 604’s screen edges out the W’s, but both are great in my book. I was also impressed with the W’s ability to output video and photos to an external display at a maximum of 720×480. The W’s blue backlit controllers, exactly the same as the Vision’s, are quite intuitive, and the GUI is classic Creative, simple and to the point with conveniences such as the context-driven options and a customisable main menu. A five-way controller plus Back, context menu, and playback buttons lie to the left of the screen — designed for right-handed use all the way. The buttons are tactile and actually offer resistance. Some users may not like the popping sound and sensation of the buttons.

Below these buttons is a built-in mono speaker — some fidelity with very little oomph. The right spine includes the headphone jack and a rubber cover, which hides the DC input, as well as the A/V-out jack. You’ll find a Type
II CompactFlash (CF) slot on the right spine. This is handy for many digital camera users, particularly those with Microdrives. In addition to photos, you can import videos via the CF slot (and you get the option to transfer the latest 10, 20, or 50 of the latest files). Transfers are quick and photos look great onscreen. Though you can zoom, create slide shows, and rotate, I prefer the Archos 604 as a photo viewer, though you won’t get a CF slot.

A standard mini USB and a dock connection port (no dockable accessories yet) reside on the bottom, while up top, you’ll find the power/hold switch, pinhole microphone, and dedicated volume buttons. I love dedicated volume, but I often instinctively use the main up/down controls, which of course don’t work (though Creative could implement this if it wanted).

On the back, you’ll find the thin and easily removable lithium-ion battery pack — a useful and rare design feature (the Archos 604 also has a removable battery). An integrated kickstand for hands-free viewing would have been useful. The bundled accessories include passable earbuds, a wall-wart power adapter, a USB cable, a software disc (with Creative Media Explorer, Yahoo Music Engine, and other utilities), A/V-out cables, and a felt case.

 

The W can handle MP3, WAV, and WMA (including subscription music) audio files. This time around, the Vision supports album art, albeit as tiny thumbnails. The W is decent as an MP3 player and holds it own in sound quality, and it includes handy features such as playlist creation and the Creative DJ (that is, Album of the Day and Rarely Heard). However, you should justify the unit’s size and weight by using it for video. The Zen Vision:W supports a large number of video formats, including WMV, MPEG-4 SP, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DivX 4/5, and XviD. In most cases, Windows Media Player will do the converting for you, if necessary, though the bundled Creative Media Explorer will do the job (as well as help you create slide shows). The handy bookmarking feature allows you to mark an exact point in a song for up to 10 bookmarks. Videos get bookmarked automatically when you exit the video. You’ll also get a decent FM radio with up to 32 autoscannable and namable presets, but no radio recording. Reception is good. The Microphone feature is decent sounding (16kHz mono ADPCMWAV). I like that you get a visual volume level meter. Finally, the Vision:W continues the Zen support for read-only Outlook syncing, and the MTP device can be used as a hard drive on Windows and Mac machines, though you need to first partition the drive within the menu.
Battery life is rated for 13 hours for audio (mediocre) and 4.5 for video (decent). CNET Labs was able to muster nearly 17 hours of MP3 audio on a single charge; video fared well, too, with a solid 7.6 hours of playback per charge. You can recharge via USB, but it will take twice as long (6 hours vs. 3 hours) to fully recharge. Our sister site in
Asia posts battery results in its review. Overall processor performance is above average (start-up is quick), though you’ll hit occasional one-second delays, especially when scrubbing through video tracks. The Archos 604 feels more precise with video scrubbing. The way a new screen slides into view when navigating on the W seems sluggish to me. Sound quality is very good (though not as good as the Creative Zen Vision:M’s) and the numerous preset (and five-band custom) EQs are effective (as is Bass Boost). I just don’t like having to navigate to audio settings to apply EQs; this should have been included in the context menu. Overall, I think the Zen Vision:W is well suited for those who already have large collections of videos (and those who use TiVo To Go) and for those who take lots of photos. It’s a bulky beast, but an impressive display, good video format support, a sweet price, and nice sound quality make the W a solid playback-only choice.
 

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