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Creative Zen Stone Plus with Speaker - 2GB
I know it's unreasonable, but when I hear someone playing music through the tinny little speaker on their mobile phone - whether on the bus or walking down the street - I experience violent urges. I dream of tearing the offending implement from their grasp and grinding it to bits on the tarmac. I dream of pulling out the Ghetto blaster from hell out from under my capacious jacket and drowning out their insubstantial 50 Cent with some music of substance: Mozart's Requiem or a bombastic blast of Old Blue Eyes himself.
In milder moments, I think maybe I'd engage them in witty repartee, convince them of the error of their ways and that, actually, a pair of Sennheisers would allow them to enjoy their music more (and save us the trouble of listening to it). Instead, like the grumpy old men, I button it … and rant at people less likely to turn around and plant one on my delicate, well-manicured chin.
Clearly, the latest pocket MP3 players from Creative Labs are not aimed at me. For the main 'improvement' over the Zen Stone and Zen Stone Plus players is not better sound quality, more capacity or a better interface - it is, wait for it, a built-in speaker.
Personal preferences aside, this is quite a feat of engineering. The original Stone players were and still are among the smallest and lightest portable media players you can buy. The new versions with the speaker are bigger, but not by much - a few millimetres thicker at 17.5mm, a few grams heavier at 21g and roughly the same profile in width and depth.
And that speaker sounds remarkably good for its size too. Sure, it's not going to win any awards for sound quality, and it is pretty tinny, but if you want to listen to some quiet tunes (or the radio via the FM tuner built into the Plus) as you work into the night in your hotel room on a business trip, it's a nice alternative to headphones. Playing it out in public is obviously a heinous thing to do, but if you were to besmirch your good character in such a way, the Zen Stone Plus wouldn't let you down. It goes pretty loud, though if you push it to the limit of its range it is prone to distortion.