Review: Very Good MP3 Player - but is it right for you?
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I rated the unit 4 stars. I would have given Creative Zen Nano Plus (abbreviated "CZNP") 5 stars, except for two small deficiences: it does not have gapless playback (see #4 below), and the build quality and controls are kind of cheap (see #9 below). Assuming it lasts, it seems a very good unit for the money. Here's why I bought mine.
0. Do I want to make a fashion statement with my choice of MP3 player?
Some people will only buy a trendy iPod. Buying a lesser-known unit like CZNP makes a different fashion statement, especially since you can choose from 10 colors. I prefer function over form, but CZNP offers some of each.
1. Do I want more than just sound?
The CZNP is a basic MP3 player, FM Radio, and recorder. It has a simple monochrome display and controls that make it a good choice for playing music, podcasts, and ebooks, and listening to local radio stations. It can record from the built-in mike or radio, or from a line input, which may be handy at times.
Some players can play videos, show pictures, etc, and cost a lot more because of the required color screen and larger memory. I don't need these things and prefer not to spend the money needed to get them.
2. Will I be listening to mostly music or mostly spoken content?
When you switch off a unit while it is playing, or pause it and it turns off automatically after awhile, some units will resume at the beginning of the current track, and others (e.g. CZNP) resume exactly where you left off. If you are playing music, you usually prefer to start the song over again. For ebooks or long podcasts, I need to resume where it was turned off (like CZNP does), because it is hard to fast-advance back to where you were.
3. What kind of accessories can I get?
Creative has a set of speakers tailored to the CZNP, and there are many generic accessories that will work with it. By comparison, there are entire catalogs of accessories tailored for optimal use with an iPod (and may not work with others). I have what I need, but pine for some things available for iPod only.
4. How convenient is it to use?
MP3 players vary considerably on how easy they are to use. The iPod is famous for ease of use, though it does not do everything I want to do. The CZNP has relatively cheap controls that work well enough, and does what I want. You don't have to be a computer whiz to use it or its software.
5. How long will it last?
On Amazon, click the link "See all 109 customer reviews", then look for the dropdown "Show:" and choose "Lowest review first" and click the Go button. There are a number of reports from people who had problems with their CZNP, some bad enough to throw it away. Some are real problems, others might be a lack of understanding how to use the player.
Despite these complaints, the average review is high. You'll find about the same mix of reviews for most players.
I decided to take a chance. My unit will be well-cared for. If I have a problem, I'll update this review.
6. Can the battery be replaced?
CZNP uses an AAA battery which is said to last for 15 hours and can be changed easily.
The iPod Nano has a rechargeable battery that is not designed to be replaced, which means the iPod Nano becomes landfill when the battery no longer takes a charge in a couple of years. There will be millions of iPods being thrown away simply because the owner cannot make them continue to work, which has an impact on the environment. There are now battery replacement kits for iPod, with tools and instructions, so this concern is lessened for DIY people, but most won't bother.
7. How does it sound?
The CZNP sounds very good to when when I use good earphones like Koss "The Plug", or when plugged into a stereo.
The free headphones you get with it won't give you the best sound, and you should not judge the player on how it sounds with them. Go buy quality earphones for any new player, as this will make a huge improvement in your enjoyment at relatively low cost.
8. Does the player use flash memory or hard-disk for storage?
CZNP uses flash-memory. Flash memory is more expensive per MB/GB than hard disk memory, and flash memory players are smaller than hard disk players. I would not want a hard disk, which I think is too heavy and too fragile for a portable player. Get a hard disk player if you want to carry a lot of content, but make sure you have a backup. Get a flash memory player if you want to hold the content you will listen to today or this week.
9. Does the player have enough memory?
I think I can have 12-16 hours of MP3 music at highest quality on the CZNP 1GB player, or podcasts (lower quality) up to 32 hours. With that much space I can have some new or favorite albums left on the player, and have plenty of room for content that changes (like podcasts). If you don't use a computer regularly, you might want more memory, maybe even a hard disk.
10. Does the player support gapless playback between tracks?
Some albums have music that flows continously from one track to the next. Examples: Radiohead "OK Computer", Dandy Warhols, Moody Blues. The listening experience is disrupted if the tracks have a gap as the player switches from one track to another.
I don't know of any portable MP3 player that offers gapless playback (without Rockbox), though it's bound to come. The CZNP has a brief gap with no clicks, but it is still somewhat disruptive. One solution is to rip the album as one continuous track. The Rockbox open-source technology essentially replaces the firmware on your player, and it features gapless playback. It is supported on a few players, including some iPods, but not CZNP.
11. Does the player require proprietary software or hardware?
CZNP includes software, but it can work like a USB drive, so you can manage content with Explorer / Finder if you want to. All connectors are industry standard (though the 3/32" stero line input is less common).
As I understand it, iPod can only load music using iTunes, and other players require software supplied with the unit, or with Windows. The iPod and others also use proprietary connectors, replacing a lost cable is more expensive. I would not be happy with such restrictions. Open standards promote flexibility and interoperability.
For me, at a minimum, the player needs to look like a USB drive when I connect it to the computer, so that I can load it by dragging files to the player's file system, and the CZNP does that. I want to have a program automatically create a custom listening program of various short podcasts that play in a particular order to support Radio on Demand, and I want that to happen by simply connecting the device to the computer, with no keyboard or mouse interaction involved. I have not found such a program, and may have to write it, but I can do that if I want to. With an iPod I have no choice but to use iTunes (or replace the firmware with Rockbox).
12. Is the player file-based or tag-based?
The CZNP is file-based: it can play songs in alphabetical order for a given folder. (It also has shuttle, etc.) I tried the SanDisk Sansa, but returned it because all content is organized and played on the basis of tags, exclusively. While my music has tags correctly set to play the way I wanted, podcasts don't use tags consistently enough to play them in a particular order that I chose. With the CZNP you can at least control the order by putting a sequence number at the beginning of each filename.
Tag-based probably have some advantages over file-based, but only if all of the content you want to play is properly tagged.
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