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Creative ZEN Stone -- Simply Music

The Apple iPod shuffle is the canonical tiny screen-less music player (0.55 oz., 1.07 x 1.62 x 0.41 in. with clip) holding some 240 songs in 1GB, for $79.

But if you're more of an Anything But iPod type, you might be interested in a similar device that does not require iTunes, and works with your collection of Windows Media Audio (WMA) music (including purchased music) -- and costs around half the price -- almost an impulse buy.

If so, check out the Creative ZEN Stone -- still tiny and light (0.65 oz., 2.1 x 1.4 x 0.5 in.), same capacity (some 250 songs in 1GB), and for only $39.

The Stone is available in six colors (white, red, pink, yellow, blue, black). Playtime is rated as up to 10 hours of continuous play, using a rechargeable (through USB) Li-ion polymer battery.

The design is nice and simple, with the typical play controls on the front to skip through tracks and adjust volume, plus a mode switch on the top to switch between normal and shuffle (random) playback. Plus, you can use the mode switch to jump between folders of music, from one album to the next.

For feedback, the ZEN Stone also has an LED that changes color: green steady or blinking for plaused / playing or connected to computer, orange to indicate battery level, and red for low battery or unknown music files.

The Stone plays MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Audible (audiobook) audio formats. It supports purchased WMA tracks (protected with WM DRM 9), but not PlaysForSure and subscription music (i.e., Napster files but not Napster to Go files). It supports up to 100 folders and 1000 tracks.

To load the player, Creative provides the Creative Media Lite application to rip CDs and transfer files to the player. The software is posted on the Creative site along with the User Manual for downloading; there's no CD included in the product.

The ZEN Stone has a standard mini-USB jack, so no special cable is required to connect to it. Although Creative does not discuss other alternatives, the Stone is a standard mass storage class (MSC) device, and therefore can be accessed directly from Windows Explorer or other applications like Windows Media Player.

You can sync files from Windows Media Player, but unfortunately they are all just dropped in the root directory, without any artist/album folder structure to organize them. And you can just use Windows Explorer to drag and drop folders of music to the Stone (and reorganize the folder structure). The Stone just plays through folders and files in alphabetical order, down to two levels of nested hierarchy. Windows Media Player also will transfer DRM-protected music so it can be played on the Stone.

While the ZEN Stone does not have a built-in clip, Creative offers ZEN Stone accessories including a keychain ($13) and armband ($15), as well as decorative skins ($10).

See more in the Portable Media Players Gallery:
Compare the Creative Zen Nano -- a bit bigger, but it uses a removable AAA battery that works great for long trips, and has a small display plus features like an FM tuner and voice recording (1 GB for $69).

    Look up the Creative ZEN Stone on Amazon.com.

Manifest Tech Site


This entry posted on June 27, 2007.

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