Creative ZEN X-fi Style full review

The Creative ZEN X-fi Style is a compact MP3 player to rival players such as the iPod nano or Cowon iAudio 9.

Creative ZEN X-fi Style: Features

In terms of features, the Creative ZEN X-fi Style does not bring anything groundbreaking, but offers a very complete package if you are looking for an affordable, compact MP3 player. It has a 2.4-inch TFT LCD display with QVGA resolution, X-fi sound enhancements, a built-in speaker and TV-out function. One notable feature is its file format support; apart from playing MP3, WMA, AAC and WAV, the Creative ZEN X-fi Style features FLAC playback which, on our book is a must-have for a portable audio/media player to get noticed.

For video, MPEG-4, WMV, XviD and DivX (up to 640x480 pixels) are supported which is impressive for a compact player. The Creative ZEN X-fi Style's screen size though, is more suited for audio than using it as a portable video player.  

The Creative ZEN X-fi Style player has Stereo FM tuner with slots to store 32 preset stations and there is no recording option, but voice recording via its built-in mic is possible. Audio enhancements include 8 presets and 5-band custom Equalizer.  

One substantial feature that the Creative ZEN X-fi Stylelacks is memory card support and the X-fi Style is available in three storage options (8/16/32GB). The rated battery life of 25 hours for audio and 5 hours for video is impressive. The package includes earplug, short miniUSB cable and manual.

The Creative X-fi Style offers extra features such as offline RSS reader, Photo viewer ( JPEG and BMP), Clock, Alarm, Calendar, Task and Contacts. To manage the media conversion and transfer, Creative included Creative Centrale in the player as the setup.exe and can be installed in the PC.

Creative ZEN X-fi Style: Design, Usability And Interface

Creative ZEN X-fi Style may not be the catchiest name you can think of, but this new compact player from Creative looks good with the front and back dual-colour design. There are three colour variants (black, red and white) and we received the black colour version which has a dotted-pattern black finish at the front while its back is painted white.  The front of the body including the screen has a glossy finish and it attracts finger prints and smudges.

The Creative ZEN X-fi Style is lightweight at 56g and it measures 83.6x48.7x11.7mm which is smaller than a Credit Card and just a few millimeters thicker than the iPod nano 6G. The build quality  of the player is good enough for daily normal usage. Control buttons are laid out well right next to the screen at the front.  The biggest circular button is a 4-way direction pad with the centre select button; the top button-strip is for back and menu and the other strip at the bottom is for activating the onboard speaker and play/pause function. Headphones out and miniUSB port are located on the right while the top has a built-in mic hole and power/hold switch. The back has a speaker grille and there is a tiny reset hole at the bottom.

The Creative ZEN X-fi Style player fits well in a palm and the controls offered enough tactile feedback. The button placement is convenient and the player operated at manageable speed during our test. However, the fact that the player does not offer dedicated volume controls or playback controls would force you to take the player out of your pocket whenever you want to fiddle with those settings. Further, browsing a long list of files on the player using the D-pad can be tedious as against the touchscreen or clickwheel based MP3 players.

The Creative ZEN X-fi Style player has the regular ZEN interface which is simple and functional but could have been better. For  instance, getting to the audio settings (for EQ or X-fi) required getting out of the music player to the main menu and get to settings which is tedious and annoying at times.  The UI offers different themes and a customisable menu which is a bonus. Drag and drop support made transferring media into the player a painless procedure but for the music player, we wished that it also included the convenient folder-based browsing for the music files. Apart from all these niggles, the X-fi Style offers a good but not great user-experience.

Creative ZEN X-fi Style: Performance

Tested in the Labs

Booting happened within 7 seconds and it took a little long to update the 2GB of files I loaded on first boot. Transferring 2.28GB of files from PC to the player via USB 2.0 took 11minutes and 30 seconds which is way too long. However, drag and drop support is present. Creative also included Creative Centrale software to transfer media and other info, however, we didn’t find that really necessary unless you want to sync Calendars, Tasks etc.

The music player showed album art and tags without any issues and we started the test by turning off all the audio enhancements. First thing I noticed with the music playback was the loudness level of the headphones-out which is quite high for a compact player. Later, we noticed this was due to the boost in the upper bass and lower mid-range.  The X-fi Style could drive most of our full-size headphones quite loudly and for our In-Ears, we definitely reached ear-drum damage level around at 85% of its volume. The bundled earplugs are of poor quality and did not do justice to the potential of the player.

On our Beyer Dynamic and Sennheiser In-Ears, the X-fi Style delivered a warm- and- deep bass with mids which at times sounded a bit overpowering . The highs made their presence felt but they could have done with more extension and brightness. Tweaking with the EQ or X-Fi did not really help us get the natural, uncoloured sound we were looking for. If you are holding on to your ageing MP3 player with standard format playback though, the X-fi Style will surprise you with its sonic ability. The overall sound quality is clearly above average and its FLAC support makes it a worthy upgrade.

Compared to the Cowon iAudio 9 and iPod nano 5G though, the Creative ZEN X-fi Style delivered more focused mids and lower bass with bit of colouration which made the overall aggressive with a few hints of distortion at loud volume. Due to this, vocals and guitars were quite prominent but slightly unnatural than what I heard from the iAudio 9. Purists would find the bass a bit unrefined too despite the sufficient amount of depth it delivered. This is noticeable when we compared it against the iAudio 9 which reproduced tighter and more defined bass with good accuracy. The higher frequencies also had less sparkle than what we heard on the iAudio 9 and was even more noticeable when compared with the iPod nano 5G. Tweaking its X-fi or EQ settings sure helped in producing brighter and richer sound, but at the cost of naturality.

The QVGA screen showed well saturated colours and sufficient amount of brightness, but a 2.4-inch screen is best suited only for viewing album art and short video clips. We did not face any issue viewing small size images and videos with VGA resolution but once the images size crossed beyond 3 mega pixel, the player started to display images with noticeable delay. Videos were displayed with good frame rates and vivid colours on its 2.4-inch screen which we recommend using only for watching short video clips. True, the X-fi Style supports TV-out but we are not so excited about displaying VGA videos on our TV and Creative did not include a cable in the package.

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Creative ZEN X-fi Style: Specs

  • Flash based digital player/radio
  • Radio, voice recorder, photo playback, video playback
  • Hi-Speed USB
  • 8GB FLash memory
  • Digital Video Playback, Digital Photo Playback
  • Built-in clock
  • Volume control, calendar, voice recording, USB 2.0 compatibility, X-Fi Crystalizer technology, TV output, RSS feeds support
  • 262,000 colour 2.4in TFT 320x240
  • built-in speaker
  • WAV, WMA, AAC, Audible, MP3, ADPCM, FLAC
  • XviD, MPEG-4, WMV, DivX
  • FM digital radio tuner
  • 32 preset stations
  • in-ear ear-bud
  • Sound Output Mode: Stereo
  • Built-in mono microphone
  • headphones, Hi-Speed USB (mini-USB Type B)
  • USB cable
  • Lithium Ion battery
  • 84x12x49mm
  • 56g