Technology

iPod vs. Creative Zen

Precisely one year ago, I wrote a post called iMadness, in which I celebrated the marketing and design coup of Apple in the portable music arena. At the time, I was certain that I would never buy an iPod, a certainty that hasn’t mellowed a jot with age. I still think they’re overpriced, overrated, and a little too precious and trendy for my tastes.

Recently, I decided that it would be great to listen to my favorite tunes while working out at the gym. While my phone has full mp3 capability, its player is rather pedestrian, playing music at only 128KB, nothing at all like the 190KB you get from AAC or mp3 encoding through iTunes.

Since I’m retiring my fabulous phone in a few months, and will replace it with something that has a richer music application, I decided to explore low-cost alternatives to get me through my music jones for the next several weeks. I looked at everything from iRiver, Creative, Samsung, Apple, and SanDisk. My criterion was simple and straightforward: I refuse to pay more than $100 for a piece of common technology that does really only one thing: serve sound. Market demand, thanks in no small part to those elitists in Cupertino, has brought prices to disproportionately high levels. Creative’s Zen Micro, at only 8GB, is roughly $250, which is undeniably absurd when you get the same thing, with much greater capacity, from Apple. iRiver and Samsung’s products bored me, or their industrial design left (too) much to the user’s imagination.

Ah, but Creative has a junior flash device, the Zen Nano, with only 512MB, that fit my bill completely. You see, I’m not the kind of music consumer who has to have decades of music packed onto one device. I love music, but I don’t obsess about its portability that way. I need only to carry seven or eight albums of music, or the equivalent thereof, to get me through my [insert task here]. iPod purists will no doubt blanch at the prospect of such a miniscule storage medium, with their vast drives. Make Steve Jobs rich. What do I care?

Creative’s Zen Nano is a coup of simplicity. It’s the size of a Matchbox car, with a bright, readable LED, a very simple and user-friendly navigation system, and options that don’t try to be fancy. Using iTunes, I generate 190KB mp3 files to my hard drive, and then copy them to folders on the Zen. Ecco la. I get audio richness and depth that reproduces splendidly on desktop speakers, and sound damned good through my teeny weeny Sony headphones. $89, don’t you know.

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