Launched last month with precious little fanfare from Creative, the Zen MX is a new entry-level version of what was once the company's flagship player. I guess you could see it one of two ways: either as a rival to mid-range players like the Samsung YP-Q1 and Sony NWZ-E436F, or as an attempt to eke a little more out of the existing Zen range before Creative launches products based on its much-anticipated Zii processor. The Zen MX pretty much supports both interpretations.
For a start, Creative hasn't done much - if any - work redesigning the Zen bodywork. As far as I'm able to gather, the two look identical bar two small details. First, there's no longer an on/lock/unlock switch on the right edge between the mini-USB connector and the headphone socket. These functions have now shifted over to the lower rocker button on the face. Secondly, we get a change of logo on the back of the unit. Otherwise the dimensions (83 x 55 x 12mm) and the weight (66g) are the same, as is the gloss black plastic front, matt black rear and 2.5in screen. Luckily for Creative, the Zen design hasn't dated at all badly. It might not be as instantly desirable as the Samsung YP-P3, Cowon iAudio S9 or 4G iPod nano, but the Zen MX still looks good.
What's more, the Zen MX remains, in most key respects, a surprisingly well-equipped little player. There are still very few players out there with any sort of expansion capabilities, yet the MX has a full-sized SD memory card slot that will accommodate SD or SDHC cards, allowing you to easily double the 8GB or 16GB of storage already included in a moment. The screen is also very solid, the 320 x 240 resolution is perfectly ample for the size, and the support for a full 16.7 million colours is still quite impressive nearly two years on from the first Zen's launch. Viewing angles aren't great and colours aren't as bright or vibrant as those on, say, the Samsung YP-Q1, but clarity is up to scratch and you'll find the display perfectly adequate for short clips, the odd TV programme or viewing photos and slideshows.
The control layout user interface seems unchanged from the earlier Zen, which means it has its upsides and its downs in terms of usability. The D-Pad isn't particularly nice to use and the two-way buttons above and below are labelled rather ambiguously, though it doesn't take long to work out that the top one is back and menu while the bottom one works as the lock/unlock control, a play/pause button and an on/off switch. I actually expected the button in the middle of the D-Pad to do play/pause as well as select tracks or choose menu options, but curiously it doesn't. Nor does it start and pause recording when you use the voice recorder function, which takes a bit of getting used to.