With the introduction of the MicroDrive IBM started a revolution in personal entertainment, but I don’t think that it ever realised the effect that its tiny hard drive was going to have on the world. The MicroDrive concept has been taken onboard by other hard drive manufacturers and 1in hard drives are moving into areas that I doubt even IBM foresaw.
The latest device to feature a 1in hard drive (although manufactured by Seagate instead of IBM), is the Zen Micro MP3 player from Creative Labs. Seagate is the first company to produce a 5GB 1in drive and it seems to be appearing in all kinds of MP3 players from a wide range of manufacturers. Creative however, claims that it has the lion’s share of the drives that Seagate makes.
Although the Zen Micro isn’t the first and undoubtedly not the last music device to feature a hard drive as it storage medium, it is the first pocket friendly unit with touch sensitive controls that hasn’t been manufactured by Apple. It doesn’t have a wheel though, instead it Creative has implemented a far simpler up/down scroll pad, similar to that seen on some laptops. It works pretty much like a laptop touchpad and you tap it just like a touchpad to make selections.
Apart from the scroll part of the controls there are five more sections to the touch pad, a play/pause button, a skip forward/fast forward button and the same for reverse, a button labelled back and one that looks like that button on your Windows keyboard that you hardly ever use. This button brings up a small menu, just like the one on a Windows keyboard, but in this case it is much more useful since it gives you access to a wide range of settings, but more on that latter.
There are a few more features worth pointing out and all of these bar one are located at the top of the Zen Micro - the power button, which acts as a key lock switch if you move it to the right instead of the left, the headphone socket and the mini USB 2.0 port. Also hidden away here, next to the USB port is a mono microphone that you’d completely miss if it wasn’t for the small microphone logo next to it.
Around the back is a removable Li-ion battery, which means that you can have a second battery at hand if the stated 12 hour battery life isn’t enough for you. The first 40,000 Zen Micros to hit the shores in the UK should ship with a second battery as a special Christmas gift from Creative to anyone that buys a Zen Micro.
The screen looks tiny, but with a resolution of 160 x 104 pixels it’s actually a joy to use. The light blue backlight also helps to enhance the screen’s appearance and I’d say that this is one of the best monochrome LCD displays I have seen on an MP3 player. The display is very easy to read and the characters as well defined -something that you don’t tend to get with some of the cheaper players around.