The Zen Vision:M has the features, ease-of-use, and power to become your constant media companion. See the Vison:M interactive demo.
Let's get things out in the open. The Apple iPod is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to the digital media player business and, unavoidably, every other device is measured against it. In most respects, the Vision:M matches up pretty well, and there are few things you may even like better. Length and width dimensions are exactly the same at 4.1 and 2.4 inches respectively. When it comes to girth, though, the iPod has the Vision:M beat; the Vision:M is .7 inches thick, while the iPod measures .4 inches. The Vision:M is slightly heavier, too. These details aside, the Vision:M feels comfortable, yet sturdy, in the hand, with curved surfaces in all the right places.
Creative takes a somewhat different approach with the Vision:M's controls, answering the iPod's Click Wheel with a vertical touch pad--which allows you to scroll up and down menus and control volume--plus four buttons that offer navigation through the user interface. The contextual menu button on the bottom right is a welcome addition, allowing you to make quick settings changes and view information about media files on the fly--functions that are more cumbersome on an iPod. Creative could have made the buttons a bit more sensitive--they require a firm press that gives an overall feeling of clunkiness to an otherwise well-designed user interface. Another annoyance is the touch pad's over-sensitivity; it's easy to make selections unintentionally, sending you on a wild ride through the user interface.
The Vision:M's screen, which measures 2.5 inches diagonally, offers sharp details, vibrant color, and excellent response with little or no video ghosting during high-action sequences. The 320 x 240 resolution is to be expected from a device this size, and although it's small, you'll likely have no trouble enjoying video while you're sitting on the subway or a flight, or in the back-seat of a car. Our only nitpick was the screen's less than stellar viewing angle, especially when compared side-by-side with a video iPod. While this can be good for maintaining privacy, the narrow viewing angle also means that friends beside you will struggle to see anything other than a black screen.
The Vision:M's music organization scheme is standard fare; you can browse playlists, artists, tracks, albums, and genres. Equalizer settings are robust, with a nice range of automatic settings, plus a custom equalizer that's easy to control. The music library's "DJ" function is a nice touch, allowing you to listen to your most popular tracks. It can also pull up the tunes you listen to least frequently--in case you've got some forgotten tunes lying around on the Vision:M's 60 GB hard drive. Sound quality is everything you'd expect from a top shelf digital audio player, and DRM'd Windows Media files played without a hitch. The device fully supports a whole range of "PlaysForSure" download and subscription services, such as Napster and Yahoo Music. Creative also ships a CD-ripping and music transfer application called MediaSource with the Vision:M.
Playback of Windows Media DRM'd video files (WMV9) was also hassle-free. Purchased videos delivered crisp colors and detail, with no frame drops. Video playback consumes a lot of power, bringing Creative's claim of four hours of video playback into serious doubt. Expect under three hours when watching videos continuously. Thankfully, if you need to come back to your video later the Vision:M's software remembers the timecode of where you left off--unless you power the device down between viewing sessions. In addition to protected and unprotected WMV files, the Vision:M can play MPEG 1/2/4, Motion-JPEG, DivX 4 and 5, and XviD formats, making it a very flexible device with respect to encoding options.
The Vision:M can also store thousands of photos, letting you browse through them or set up a slideshow. The device's TV-out option comes in handy here, as you can present slideshows on a TV or projector. Videos can be displayed this way, too. An FM radio with easy preset tuning functions and great signal reception, plus a voice recorder feature, round out the extra media features. There's also a handy application on the Vision:M that formats a portion of the drive for use as USB 2.0 mass storage, letting you set aside up to 16 GB for data storage.
Connectivity and Synchronization
A Creative Sync Adapter ships in the box with the Vision:M, making it a snap to connect the device to a USB 2.0-capable PC. With the connection made, Windows XP recognized the device right off the bat and Windows Media Player immediately asked us if we wanted to load the PC's music onto the Vision:M. Music management and synchronization has come a long way on the PC, and the experience of organizing and transferring music to and from the Vision:M was, barring a few curious click-through boxes, pretty seamless. The Vision:M also supports synchronization of your Outlook contacts, calendar, and tasks, in case you want to use it as a personal organizer of sorts.
Amazon Unbox Integration
To be truly successful, the Vision:M has to be more than a great media device, it has to integrate with Amazon Unbox and make the process feel like second nature. Although the Vision:M was tested using a beta version of Amazon Unbox, things are looking good already. Amazon Unbox and the Vision:M go together like peas in a pod, making the process of purchasing, downloading, and enjoying content on the go a real cinch. The Amazon Unbox Video Player, which queues, downloads, organizes, and plays your purchased movies and TV shows, recognized the Vision:M right off the bat. An icon for the Vision:M appears in the devices panel of the application, and you can immediately begin transferring downloaded content to the device. Once you're all loaded up, the Vision:M offers a great way to bring Amazon Unbox entertainment along for the ride.
- Crisp, vibrant color screen is great for video
- Generous video format compatibility
- Excellent sound quality and music management functions
- Narrow screen viewing angle may be a problem for some
- Finicky controls for some functions
- Slightly more bulky than other competitors
Creative ZEN Vision:M, earphones, Sync Adapter, USB 2.0 cable, pouch, user's guide, and installation CD that includes Creative MediaSource and Creative Media Explorer software. Note: As of July 2006 Creative no longer ships the Zen M with the AC power adapter.