The Creative Zen Nano Plus MP3 player (1 gigabyte, £43.20) comes in 10 colours and is available in 512MB of flash memory to store up to 250 tracks and 1GB of flash memory to store up to 500 tracks.
The sound quality for MP3 is excellent and even better for WMA encoded tracks, the frequency response is 20Hz to 20,000Hz, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB.
Although plastic, the build quality is of a high standard with a durable scratch resistant casing. The device is controlled by 3 responsive and sensibly sized buttons: power on/off (which also acts as the play/pause); volume up; and volume down. The remaining functions are delivered via a scroll wheel which also has a rocker function and acts as the skip and the fast forward/back controls. All controls can be operated one handed by use of the thumb only.
The black on green backlit 3cm x 1 cm LCD (18 characters) interface is a very intuitive and user-friendly display using 2 lines of text where each of the main12 functions is identified by an icon. The display orientation can be configured to allow reading whichever way up it is held (in any one of 16 languages!).
There are 6 graphic equaliser settings - 5 preset ( Rock, Jazz; Classical, Pop, and Normal) and Custom. The Custom setting allows manual configuration of a 5-band filter circuit for tonal characteristics of the mid-frequencies.
Tracks can be placed in memory singularly or in folders as whole albums. There are 12 play modes - play all tracks / single track / single folder / all folders; either in order or randomly; and even play once, repeat once, repeat continually..
The device is powered by one AAA battery which routinely provides approximately 18-hours of playback time, microphone 15 hours and 9 hours of direct encoding. The supplied Energizer battery, however, lasted just over 24 hours. I prefer to use a pair of rechargeable batteries in tandem.
The device is connected to the computer using a USB cable (series "A" plug to Mini-B receptacle on the device) and is recognised as a standard mass storage drive, powered by the computer when connected. There's a rubber cover over the USB port on the device.
The computer drivers provide an extremely user friendly Drag-and-Drop style interface with USB 2.0 support, including DRM copy-protected music, allowing you to easily transfer music, even via a lowly USB 1.1 Windows 98 PC.
The driver software is unnecessary for simple storage operations as it can be used a like any other flash device; however unlike some devices this does not have a type A connection so you need to have the interface cable with you.
For 'CD quality'* playback a bit rate of 128Kbps is required which equates to 1 minute of music per megabyte, therefore the 1 gigabyte gives 8 hours worth of CD quality music which is about 200 songs. Encoding at 64Kbps allows 500 track advertised capacity.
* In answer to any criticism I know this is not a true comparison, by 'CD quality' in the context of an MP3 player, I
mean better than cassette, but not studio quality, of course.....