In this review we will take a look at two of Creative’s high capacity flash-based MP3 players, the Zen V and the Zen V Plus. The Zen V Plus adds an FM radio, video playback, and capacities up to 8GB. Both versions of the Zen V also come in 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB capacities.
The Zen V players are priced to compete with other high capacity players like the Samsung Z5, SanDisk Sansa e200, iPod Nano, and Meizu miniPlayer, to name a few in this fast growing category. Fans of the Zen line will be pleased with this entrant for the familiar, easy-to-use interface and design found on the entire Creative Zen line of MP3 players with a few extras. Simply put, the Zen V and V Plus are smaller and slightly improved versions of the Zen Micro Photo.
Inside the box you will find a typical set of accessories in addition to the player, including earbuds, line-in cable, standard USB cable, cloth lanyard, and a carrying pouch that will hold all of the accessories.
Currently, there are quite a few standard accessories from Creative and third party manufactures such as leather and silicon cases, armbands and chargers. The player will also fit in some of the upcoming TravelDock speaker docking stations.
The Zen V Plus feels good in your hand – like a lightweight, polished river rock. It is one of those things you’d like to hold even if you were not using it. The player feels light and plastic-y, but it does have a sense of durability. The best way to describe the Zen V’s build quality is that it is like that of a very well-made toy.
One of the more frequent complaints Creative got about the Zen Vision:M was
how easy it was to scratch. Even under normal and careful use, the Zen Vision:M develops scratches on its surface due to the soft plastic used for the entire face of the player.
The Zen V, however, has a very durable scratch-resistant coating covering the player. While I would not call it scratch proof, it does hold up very well under real world use. Over the month of using this player, I would purposely and carelessly toss it face down or face up on a desk or counter, put it in a bag for transport with other items without a case, and basically use it without care for its shiny finish. Also on multiple occasions I would try to scratch the player by rubbing it face down on my desk or lightly rubbing it with metal keys. Today, after a month of light abuse, the player only shows light scratches on the face that are difficult to see and are only noticeable when you look for them.
The bottom line is you can use the Zen V outside of a case without fear of scratching it if you are not abusive with your gadgets. To fully enjoy the design and size of this player, sans case is the best way to go.
The screen on the Zen V measures in at 1.5” sporting 128×128 OLED pixels. Creative decided to use an OLED screen instead of an LCD for two reasons: cost and battery life, the latter probably being more significant. OLED provides those benefits but usually falls a little bit short in the areas of color and clarity when compared to most LCD screens. OLED generally has a slower screen refresh rate than an LCD, so the screen has a flicker to it that can wear on your eyes if you are viewing it for extended periods of time. This is not to say that the screen is bad; it far exceeds the needs for browsing music, tweaking your settings, or displaying tiny album art. What I am pointing out is that the screen is not the best for displaying photos or watching video but will be sufficient for the average user.
I have complained about players’ interfaces being too small for my larger than average hands, but the Zen V is surprisingly comfortable. I find it no more difficult to hold and use than players in the same class such as the Samsung Z5 or the SanDisk Sansa e200. Even though the Zen V is shorter than these players, the thickness provides more comfort when holding and operating the controls.
Creative has ditched the touch interface for this player and has gone with all tactile controls. I really appreciate this because I find that tactile controls are much more accurate than touch interfaces. The player does exactly what you want it to do when you press the buttons. Some early reviews have reported that the joystick felt cheap, but I don’t find this to be the case. Like the overall build quality of the player, it does feel like a toy and it does feel plastic-y, but the joystick does not feel like it would break under normal to heavy use.
The one thing I would change about the navigation controls is the location of the back and play/pause buttons. It would seem to favor left handers because it’s easier to extend your thumb to reach the buttons than it is to bring your thumb in to press these buttons. If you have larger hands and you reach in for these buttons, you lose some of your overall grip on the player when using it in your right hand. If you were to move these buttons to the left side of the player it would be more comfortable for right handers, but lefties would find it more cumbersome. Putting both buttons at the top, one on the left one on the right, would make it more comfortable for both parties.
Graphical User Interface
Across the board Creative has a very easy and intuitive interface, and this also holds true for the Zen V. If you have used any of the recent Zen models you are already familiar with the Zen V. Here is a quick video of the player in use. If you’ve not seen the Zen interface, it will give you a great over view. Please note that the quality of the actual video playback is much better in person. Refresh rates of the OLED screen and the frame rate of the camera do not match, causing an exaggerated flicker in the video.
There are many different media players that will allow you to transfer your tunes to your Zen V, including Windows Media Player, Winamp, and Media Monkey to name a few. The player comes bundled with Creative MediaSource 5, which is Creative’s answer to a media player slash organizer. While it is just like any other media player, it is less bloated than Windows Media Player so it runs quite a bit faster. This version of Creative MediaSource is a nice improvement over recent versions, but could still be improved on consistency and user interface.
If you have Windows XP and the latest updates, you can drag and drop your music on to the V. It works just fine but it is not as seamless as a drag and drop UMS drive. I really would like to see Creative add UMS support for their players so transferring music is more transparent and can be used with operating systems other than Windows XP.
The battery is rated by Creative at 15 hours. I did a few drain tests and they actually went beyond the rated 15 hours, closer to 17 hours. However, under typical use I was getting closer to, and slightly less than, the rated 15 hours. This is probably more accurate and closer to what a typical user will get out of this player.
FM Radio (Zen V Plus Only)
The radio reception is on par with any standard FM radio. Reception can vary, however, depending on the headphones, because the Zen V uses the headphone jack as an antennae. I found very slight variation among various headphones and earbuds, but it was inconsistent – meaning that there were no apparent characteristics that made one better than the other. Something missing from this model that has been on previous Zen products was FM recording. It may be for legal or licensing reasons since users have been reporting that new versions of firmwares for other Zen models have removed the FM recording feature.
Creative has added a line-in feature for direct encoding from any audio source in either 128 or 160kbps MP3. The line-in feature has a sync track option that will automatically break up tracks into individual files if you are recording directly from a CD. These track separations are cued by a few seconds of silence in between tracks. You could also plug a microphone directly into the line-in but, depending on the microphone, you may need a mic amp.
Voice recording is very straightforward and the recordings sound as good as any other voice recording MP3 player. The recording screen shows the levels before and during recording. Recordings can be paused and resumed and still keep one continuous file. It would, however, have been nice to be able to choose the recording format rather than have only one option, the IMA ADPCM 16kHz mono WAV format.
The Zen V has a built-in, read-only organizer that will display your contacts, calendar, and task list. You can edit this with the supplied software, or you can automatically sync the player with Outlook.
Aside from media files, data files can be transferred to and from the Zen V in two different ways. The first way will only work if you have Windows XP with the latest version of Windows Media Player installed or Creative’s software that is bundled with the player. This works fine, but you are out of luck if you wish to take your data to a different operating system or a Windows XP machine without the above mentioned software installed.
The second option is to use the removable disk
feature on this player. Under the menu item “extras” there is an option to partition the player’s memory to work for more or less any modern computer you may encounter. But the drawback to using this feature is the partitioned space. Even when empty, it takes away from the amount of music and media you can store.
As I discussed earlier, the OLED may not be the best for viewing photos but will be sufficient for the average user. Browsing photos on the Zen V is very easy and straightforward. Slideshows can be played at the same time music is played.
Video (Zen V Plus Only)
Video on the Zen V Plus is more of a bonus feature than a main feature. Video is very watchable even with a small screen and only 15 frames per second. But the converted files are very large, most of the time larger than the original file size. How can that be on a 128×128 pixel screen? The Zen V Plus uses a Motion JPEG Video Codec because it does not have the processing power to play back highly compressed video files such as DivX or XviD. Every hour of video will take up 1.2GB of space, so don’t expect to get too many movies on the smaller capacity Vs.
The audio quality playback is what you would expect from any Creative Zen player. While it may not be audiophile quality, it will not disappoint the casual-to-selective listener.
Playlists & Bookmarks
Creative does a really good job with bookmarking and playlist features on this player. Playlists are easily created by adding to and saving your “now playing” lists. Additionally, you can name these playlists, which is different from previous Zen players. For audio books, podcasts, and other long length files, you are able to add up to 10 bookmarks so that you do not have to scan through an hour or two of audio. But, if you do need to scan through long files, unlike with other MP3 players, it is not difficult to do since the scanning gets progressively faster as you hold down the button.
Album art is displayed on the “now playing” screen and can be made full screen by pushing the center of the 5-way joystick. This player handles album art better than most other MP3 players by reading it directly from ID3 tags. Some other players require an actual JPEG file under a specific size and dimension in the album folder residing on the player. It works, but it can get messy and may take extra steps to get it to work properly. This problem does not exist with the Zen V. The Zen V will read the embedded album art and display it correctly without problems or additional steps. When you are not adding album art to your ripped CDs, the Zen V handles album art from pay downloads and subscriptions just as well.
The Zen V is not a leap in innovation; it is very similar to the rest of Creative’s Zen line of MP3 players with subtle and incremental improvements. Overall I am really happy with the Zen V / Zen V Plus. It will keep up with other flash players in its class like the Z5, Nano, e200, and many others entering this category. Comparatively, the Zen V has more of a “fun” feel to it. It may not be the most feature-filled player, but it’s straightforward, no nonsense, and feels great in your hand.
Be sure to check out our Creative Zen V Plus forum
- Easy Interface
- Dedicated Volume Buttons
- Scratch Resistant Design
- Great Form Factor
- No UMS Music Transfer
- Windows XP Only
- Impractical Video File Sizes
- Low Refresh Rate OLED