The Sansa Clip recently proved that it’s a better player than the iPod Shuffle in a faceoff here on abi>>. We won’t let it rest however, as it’s time for it to take on a stronger opponent, feature wise – the Creative Zen Stone Plus.
With both players being available up to 4GB (once the silver clip is released), and both of them featuring pretty much the same features from a technical point of view, this is set to be a much closer competition. Read on to see the face-off.
For those of you who like spec sheets, abi>> Compare can help you out.
Design is always in the eye of the beholder, but the Clip generally comes off as having a more practical design than the Stone Plus. First of all the screen is bigger; to stay with the round style, Creative decided to make a round looking screen which actually is a square screen with a round window. The result is a much smaller screen than that on the Clip. There is a decent amount of space around the screen, and Creative could easier fit a bigger screen.
Button comfort and placement is another side where these two players differ a lot. The Clip has raised buttons which have a nice clicky feeling to them when pressed, while the Stone Plus’ smooth pebble-like design make the buttons harder to press. The Stone Plus also only have 7 buttons, while the Clip has 8 plus a dedicated on/off/hold switch. The hold button is something I really miss on the Stone Plus, even if you can put on key lock from within the player.
The most noticeable difference between the players is of course directly related to the player names. The clip has a clip for attaching to clothes etc, while the pebble shaped Stone Plus require additional accessories to be attached in any way (armband, key chain). If you don’t want to spend extra money on accessories, the Clip’s clip is a very nice addition, and since it’s removable it won’t bug you if you don’t use it.
The button mappings on the Stone Plus are somewhat of a mystery to me. One thing that particularly annoyed me was the random use of the shortcut button located on the top, next to the play button. On a device that lacks a dedicated hold button, Creative somehow thought it would be a good idea to make a button with no other purpose than to be a shortcut to a feature of your choice. A much better idea would have been to use it as a back button, since you have to scroll to “cancel” every time you want to get out of a menu. The middle button brings up the menu if pressed quickly, and the option menu if held down for a second. This is fair enough, but I find myself pressing it to try to pause rather often, as the play/pause button is inconveniently located on the top.
The Zen Stone’s interface just leaves a giant question mark above my head. Getting to the right menu is a real hassle, for several reasons. First off, the menus respond slowly and sometimes the player does not seem to respond at all- this leaves you pushing the button again and again. Slowdowns up to 2-3 seconds occur pretty often, especially with music playing. Speaking of the menu, there is both an “option” and a “settings” icon on the main menu, which could easily confuse people. Options are for the mode currently in use (music, radio etc) while settings are the actual settings. The most horrible aspect of the menu is however the lack of file browsing. You can browse folders, but not files, making it impossible to scroll through to find songs you want.
The Clip’s buttons are luckily more usable than those of the Stone Plus. You have a dedicated home button that switches between the menu and the mode in use, which is way more useful than a shortcut button. The volume buttons are placed on the sides, but unfortunately the headphone jack is just above them, so using angled plugs with the Clip is somewhat of a hassle when you want to adjust the volume. Switching the placement of the USB and the headphone jack would be a much better solution in my opinion. Since the volume buttons are on the side, that means the round click wheel has room for both a menu button and a play/pause button.
The interface is luckily not as slow on the Clip as it is on the Stone Plus, in fact it is pretty fast and responsive. Music navigation is by means of ID3 tags like artist, album etc- scrolling through the list is very fast. Disappointingly, the Clip does not have file folder browsing.
Both players have radio, and both radio receivers are pretty poor. Testing indoors, they more or less preformed just as poorly. The Clip has radio recording which the Stone Plus lacks, otherwise they are both equally uninteresting in this area.
Voice recording is another gimmick that most likely won’t be used much. Both players record to low quality wav, and neither will be even a half decent replacement for a dictaphone.
Stopwatch and clock
The Stone Plus has two nice little features that the Clip is lacking, a clock and a stopwatch. The clock can be set as a screensaver or linked to the shortcut button, and works well. The stopwatch however, is not that useful. When music is not playing, it works just fine, but as with everything on the Stone Plus, playing music means it will lagg so bad I doubt it’s even accurate. We’re talking laggs for a second at a time, and it doesn’t even stop right away when your press stop.
There are some other differences between the features of these two that should be noted. The Clip is MSC/MTP selectable, the Stone Plus is only MSC. Both use a mini USB connector, and since both can do MSC that means OS compatibility is great on both players, and you won’t need any proprietary cables. A bigger more significant difference is battery life. The Clip is rated at 15 hours versus the Stone Plus with 9,5, and those 5,5 extra hours is something I think many people will welcome.
You won’t be disappointed by the sound quality of the Stone Plus, as it will make most common users very happy, but competing against the Clip on flat EQ is something not many players can do. The most noticeable difference is the soundstage, the Clip has an amazing channel separation and switching from the Stone Plus to the Clip is like positioning the various instruments more correctly.
That being said, the EQ of the Stone plus is noticeably better than that of the Clip, and it also has a bass boost option. Neither of the players will disappoint you, but sound quality wise it’s flat EQ vs EQ for these two.
I really don’t want to sound like a Clip fanboy, but in this matchup there is only one winner. The Stone Plus is extremely slow, clumsy, has a rather bad battery life, a
nd with basic things like hold button and file browsing missing, the Clip is it’s master in almost every aspect. Since both players are priced about the same, there is not much to be said to make you want to choose the Stone Plus over the Clip. The speaker version which is coming out any day now might be a selling point if you like audio books or sharing music with your friends, and it will also have a better battery life. If that’s not a priority – stay with the Clip.