Creative Zen Micro vs iPod

For the past few months I used the Rio Carbon. While it fared well, there were a couple of things I didn't like about the device. There was no hardware hold button, and the audio menu was not sticky and always dropped you back to the audio list, rather than your last selection. So, I decided to give the Creative Zen Micro a shot. I happen to love the device, and in many ways I find it's feature set to be better than the iPod. The build quality and fit and finish aren't as good as the iPod, but this device comes closer to anything else I've tried. I suspect that it will be a matter of months, or a year before Creative and iRiver have matched Apple in every way while providing some features the iPod still doesn't have.

Make sure you read my post iPod Replacement Criteria before reading this review. Remember, I have only one goal, to review this compared to an iPod. I don't care about anything the device offers that does not meet my core criteria.

Lets see how it stacks up.

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Size: The size is much smaller than the iPod and comparable to the mini

  Zen Micro iPod Mini iPod 3G
Height 3.3 inches 3.6 inches 4.1 inches
Width 2.0 inches 2.0 inches 2.4 inches
Depth 0.7 inches 0.5 inches 0.57 inches
Weight 3.8 ounces 3.6 ounces 5.6 ounces

Pretty comparable.

User Interface: The User Interface is very similar to the iPod and it works how you would expect. However, it has some nice new feature like a DJ mode where you can pick a random album, or play all random music (I use this the most). You can also customize the menu to add you own top level items. The device builds the catalog after a sync, and boots quickly. It's got all the usual suspects to select music like album, artist etc. The device has this notion of contextual menu, when you can add items to playlist etc. One of my favorite features that the iPod lacks is that if you are currently playing a song, and you decide you want to break out of your current playlist you can use the contextual menu to jump into the current artist album. I like this feature as I have a lot of music and am really lazy. So I play everything on shuffle, and occasionally hear something that I want to hear more of.

The device has an unusual way of navigating, via this vertical touch sensitive slider. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it works fairly well. The device only has one power/lock switch and I love how it works. However, the toggle switch is a bit to close to the headphone jack which can make it hard to get to easily.

Connectivity:  The Creative Zen was designed properly from a connectivity standpoint. It has a single USB 2.0 port that supports charging and synching. When you plug the device into Windows it detects it as an MTP device allowing Windows Media Player 10 to AutoSync with it. Beautiful. My sync experience was nothing short of perfect.

Charging: Creative didn't quite do as good a job as Rio here, but they ship a charger with a hard wired USB 2.0 cable to charge it. The RIO allows you to use your computer USB cable plus a USB wall charger to charge.

Additionally, it's great that the device charges during sync (unlike the iRiver H320).

Sync: This device support PlaysForSure fully. This is wonderful, and their implementation is flawless. Creative just shipped a beta firmware that support subscription audio for services such as Napster-To-Go. It's a bummer that you need to install a firmware update to get this functionality and I suspect that a lot of users probably won't know they can do this.

Another bonus feature is that synchronization of playlists is supported, which is a nice bonus.

Accessories: The device comes with the following accessories:

  • Charger
  • USB cable
  • Plastic Case with Stand/Belt clip
  • Headphones
  • Pouch

The device has a remote control, but it does not ship in the box. Available for $19.99.

Battery Life: I get about 7-8 hours of battery life. It could be better, but with a removable battery, you can always carry a spare. This is great as I've had limited success with the iPod batteries not lasting very long (on the order of 12 months) before they start to lose their charge very quickly. In fact, my iPod always lost it's charge when it wasn't doing anything, while the Zen Micro always maintains its charge over long periods of time.

Software: The device comes with a CD that I didn't even need to use. Sweet.

Price: I purchased the device for $234 which is great.

Storage: 5 GB. Now offered in 4 and 6 GB. Not sure why no one makes a decent 20 GB device. However, I'm getting kind of used to having a small 5 GB device, I just sync up every few days and grab some new music.

PlaysForSure: The device supports the following PlaysForSure logos.

  • Full PlaysForSure support including synchronization of your playlists.
  • Purchased/Subscription Audio.

Support: Creative has been shipping new firmware for this device, and adding more PlaysForSure functionality. They are also shipping new updated devices with different size hard drives and are soon going to release a Photo version. They have a pretty decent forum as well.

Web Site: The Creative Zen Micro web site is pretty usable and doesn't promise features that the device can't deliver. They have their own forum. Unfortunatley, every time you use their site they ask you what country you are in. Hey guys, have you heard of IP to Country Check? Or maybe cookies? You could at least save my selection across sessions.

Optional Features:

  • Device supports Audio Recording
  • FM Radio

I LOVE that the device has an FM radio. I use it to listen to NPR every morning.

Final Rating (see my post on my review criteria to understand what this means).

Kick Ass - better than iPod. (this is the first device I have reviewed that has received this rating)

If you are looking for a device to replace your iPod or looking for a new device I would highly recommend this device. My only real complaint with the device is that the backlighting for the silk-screened keys is poorly implemented. It makes the device feel cheap.

Comments (31)

  1. Ellis says:

    Why go through all this effort to find something "like an iPod" when you can just get an iPod?

    Is the goal to save money? Or simply to avoid Apple products?

  2. Jeff Parker says:

    You forgot a few things. There is also a built in calendar that sincs up with outlook. Voice recording with a built in mic, and you can partition some of the drive space to be a usb drive as well. All of these features I have used and am using quite well. I really do love the Zen Micro

  3. shilen patel says:

    does the device allow you to shuffle all tracks by an artist, like the ipod? alot of players seem to be restricted to shuffling single albums or the entire library, and i’ve always appreciated being able to shuffle all over my david bowie,eminem, led zepplin, etc. catalog when it suits me….

    any word from creative on when a 20 gig edition will be out?

  4. Greg says:

    I have a question re: the WMP 10 syncing. I believe that WMP counts the number of times you listen to a song, and I believe that the Zen Micro does this as well. The question is, when you sync the two, do the play counts synchronize as well? I know this is a feature available with the iPod/iTunes system, and it’s certainly something I’d like in a WMP/Zen system.

  5. Omar Shahine says:

    Yes, the device does allow this. You just navigate to the artist, select the play button, and make sure Shuffle is enabled.

  6. Omar Shahine says:

    Sadly, the playcount is not synchronized.

  7. Keith says:

    If I want to use WMP10 with Zen Micro, is it the MTP firmware a must? Or if the device will work with WMP10 as it is shipped….

    If I flash in the MTP firmware, what are the added features to use the Creative software?


  8. Omar Shahine says:

    i HIGHLY recommend using the MTP firmware.

  9. Dion G says:

    What about the Creative Zen Touch? I want to get myself a MP3 player, since you seem to be in the business of reviewing certain MP3 players. I want something with a radio in it. That’s why i don’t to get an iPod.(none come with built in radio’s) what else is out there that offers MP3 player/Radio/small size, tough to use in the gym, and every day use. I use the underground in london and want to replace my MD with a MP3 player.


  10. Sman says:

    I’ve heard that the Zen causes the Comp to hang at times. Is this true and how much of a problem is this exactly ???

  11. dan says:

    i love the zen micro and have now realised that the ipod is crap. zen micro……. opens up a whole new world.

  12. dOOka says:

    i read a lot about zen micro, a lot of ppl sed it duznt work well and it froze after one day and some sed it stopped working at all.

    i love the features but i’m really just "scared" to pay the money and get a piece of junk.

  13. Isaac says:

    Do the bad things people are saying happen to you and what kind of problems are there?

  14. Jinsta says:

    all those people who say theres freeze up are either morons or dont wait for the player to finish rebuilding its library or something like that.

  15. unknown says:

    my zen keeps freezing on me. i dont know y its doing this. is it the software or is it what im doing

  16. NC says:

    I have just sold my zen to purchase an ipod mini 6GB nd its the best things I have ever done. They both have their pros and cons but overall in my opinion the ipod kicks it. FM radio on the zen is not always that great….buy the ipod in the LONG run you will be happy.

  17. Jolie says:

    A 3G iPod doesn’t exist… the specs you’re using for that is the 20G version, and in that case, you can’t fairly compare them by size. the 20G iPod has four times the memory as a Zen micro, and clearly, it isn’t four times the size of one either. you should correct your page and not continue to mislead people

  18. Omar Shahine says:

    3G = Third Generation.

  19. Pete says:

    Hi guys, i’m wondering if I should go for the iPod mini or the Creative Zen micro they both look pretty cool to me and i really am having a hard decision making my mind up please help me make up my mind.

  20. baz says:

    well the zen is more compalcted to ud=se but i think i wpuld get the zen because of the look and all the exra thing d it come wih like fm and recordin and it can hlod more songs than a ipod so ipods suck ha GET A ZEN NOW U BETER GET IN WO GO ZEN

  21. Roy says:

    Thanks for the review….

    I’m getting a Zen this week and I’ll post what I think

  22. SunMan says:

    Is the Zen Micro better than the Zen Touch. I really like the review of the micro but I would really like the size of the Touch. Any input Omar?

  23. For the past few months I used the Rio Carbon . While it fared well, there were a couple of things I didn’t like about the device. There was no hardware hold button, and the audio menu was not sticky and always dropped you back to the audio list, rathe

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