Shortly after Creative released its screenless Shuffle competitor, the Zen Stone, they upped the ante and released the Zen Stone Plus. For around thirty dollars more, the Stone Plus added a screen and a few fairly standard MP3 player features such as an FM radio, voice recording, and a stopwatch.
The Plus has some good things going for it such as a nice build quality, decent sound quality, and a nice set of features for the price. When comes down to it however, the Stone Plus is a bit of a disappointment—due mainly to its awkward interface and basic music browsing techniques.
- Quick Look
- Capacity: 2GB
- Battery Life/ Playtime: Up to 9.5 hours
- Display: 64×64 pixel Blue OLED Display
- Size: 55.6 x 35.4 x 12.8 mm
- Weight: 21g
- File Support: MP3, WMA, Audible, WAV (IMA-ADPCM 8kHz, 4-bit mono)
- Transfer Protocol: MSC
- Other Features: FM Radio, Stopwatch, Voice Recording
Inside the box you will find the absolute basics: the player, earbuds, USB cable, and quick start guide (which pretty much tells you to go to Creative’s site and download the Media Lite and manual). There are a few official accessories for the Stone Plus from Creative such as an armband, wrist band, key chain, and skin. They also make portable speakers especially for the Stone/Stone Plus, appropriately called the TravelSound Zen Stone.
Like most of
Creative’s players, the design is well built. I always like to describe the build quality as a “well built toy” — plastic all around but still very sturdy. The surface is similar to others in the Zen line up, such as Zen V, whereas it is an ultra glossy hard plastic finish. It is more scratch resistant than most players but still will mar when in constant contact with hard surfaces or objects.
The button tolerances are what would be expected from Creative. They depress nicely with a firm soft click and feel as though they will last for quite some time.
The screen is nice and bright and very readable in normal lighting condition. Once you step outside into a bright sunny day, the screen becomes difficult to read.
The Zen Stone Plus is a Mass Storage Class (MSC) device, meaning that it will work just a USB flash drive in any modern OS (Windows XP/Vista, Linux, Mac). Loading music onto the player is a simple drag and drop operation. Furthermore, since it is an MSC device, data can be stored on it as well. Music can be thrown on there in folders or just in the root. Later, in the Audio section, I’ll address how they play back. Compared to other devices in its class, it’s very slow with regards to the transfer rate — around 1MB/s.
The Zen Stone Plus works with Creative Media Lite which is a basic transfer and device management piece of software. The software lets you transfer music though a very basic interface. It’s basic to the point where it is easier to open up the Stone as a storage drive and drag and drop. I would recommend avoiding the software to transfer music to the Stone.
The software will also allow you to format the device as well as rip CDs directly to the Stone, but, you cannot change the bitrate or file format. Media Lite will only rip to 128kbps MP3s.
There are a few features that require the Creative Media Lite software. There is a volume limiting feature that can be set and locked only with the software. To update your firmware you will need to use the software; you’ll also need it in order to transfer over WMDRM 9 content.
Additionally, if you’d like to use Audible files on your Zen Stone Plus you’ll have to download the Audible Manager from Creative’s website.
The interface on the Zen Stone Plus is not like Creative’s easy-to-use Zen interfaces found on its other players; it’s awkward, unintuitive and may take some time getting used to. Even after a few days of use I still find myself struggling with the navigation of features and music. To add insult to injury, the interface lags when music is playing.
The directional pad along with the center button handles almost all of the work. Pressing the center button in most of the modes will get you to the horizontal menu screen. Pressing and holding the center button will bring up the option screen for whatever mode you are in. One of the frustrating aspect of the interface is there is no back button. To escape out of a menu you have to scroll to the bottom of the list to press Cancel. You can’t even press up to go to the last menu item which is always Cancel.
There are also two other buttons on the top: the pause/play/power and a shortcut button. The pause/play/power button does just that but works other features like radio mode toggle and stopwatch start and stop. The shortcut button can be programmed to toggle between music and FM, activate microphone, activate stopwatch, and show date and time.
There are a few modes in which you can determine the order music is played: Normal (plays all music on the player starting with the root and going though each folder alphabetically), Repeat All (like Normal, but will start over when all are played), Repeat Track (keeps playing the same track), Repeat Folder (keeps playing the tracks in one folder), Track Once (plays track once and stops), Shuffle Repeat (shuffles all music and will not stop), Shuffle Once (shuffles all song, but will only play them one time then stop), Shuffle Folder (shuffles songs in a folder).
Browsing music is a very basic file folder method. You cannot browse by hierarchical file folder structures. When music is placed on the Stone it will show up in the browser as “Root” and then as the names of the folders you put on the player, even if it is a folder within a folder. In other words, it just creates a master list of all folders on the player containing music regardless as to how they are nested within each other. If a folder contains no music but houses other folders that do, only those folders holding tracts will be listed in the music browser. If I lost you, take a look at this diagram..
I really don’t know why Creative made it this way, but I really think this ruined the overall functionality of the player. They should have taken the time to do a full file folder AND track browser.
Sound quality is good, clear, and on the warm side, but on the other hand it lacks a bit of power. It will work just fine for the majority of earbuds, IEMs, and lower end headphones; it won’t, however, drive more demanding headphones as can be expected due to its small size.
I did an A/B comparison to another player in its class, the Sansa Express. I found the express to be brighter whereas the Stone Plus sounded warmer, as I had previously mentioned. I don’t think it’s fair to call one better than the other, rather it’s just a matter of personal preference.
The Stone has a custom 5-Band EQ which is always a welcome feature, but I found it to be a little less responsive than usual. It still works well — I’m just being picky. Other than the 5-Band, there is also a bass boost setting that will give you a little more lower end.
The FM tuner allows you to store up to 32 presets and also has an autoscan function that will fill those presets with the strongest stations. The FM radio can be switched between step tuning, where you can manually find a station with the forward and back button, or setting it so the forward and back button flips through the preset station.
The performance of the radio was pretty weak even using the supplied earbuds. It could only find a few of the strongest local stations.
Voice recording is a nice little feature to have to take quick voice notes. It may or may not fare well in a lecture recording environment. It will really depend on the room and position of the speaker. Even though I have not tested this environment I would lean toward its not working as well, based on a few tests around the house and its low quality WAV recording. You may struggle to decipher the speaker’s words during playback.
There is a very basic stop watch that will record a single time in hours, minutes, seconds, and hundredths of a second. Starting and stopping is handled by the pause/play button. Resetting the clock is handled by going into the options and selecting reset.
First I would like to say I am a fan of Creative’s Zen line of MP3 players. Although they have their issues and deficiencies like any
MP3 player, overall they are a solid product line. The Zen Stone Plus has some good things going for it such as MSC data transfer, solid build quality, a nice design, and a decent set of features in a small package. However, personally, the Stone Plus disappointed me.
There are two main reasons why the Zen Stone Plus was a disappointment. The interface is awkward and music browsing is not full featured like other players in its class. These displeasures are further complicated by a lagging interface and slow data transfer rates.
While I wouldn’t call this an absolute “Don’t Buy”, it is one of the more inexpensive players with 2GB of memory. You can find comparable players around its price range with better interfaces and more of a feature set.
If you are looking for a full fledged Zen player at $10-$20 more you should really check out the Zen V Plus.
- Solid Build
- Small form factor
- Nice selection of optional accessories
- MSC (any OS)
- Awkward interface
- Cannot browse individual songs
- Lagging interface when music is playing
- Poor FM reception