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Do you remember the mirror universe from the original series of Star Trek? The one where, after a transporter glitch, some of the crew end up on an Enterprise from an alternate universe, where everything is similar but slightly skewed. Well, as a seasoned iPod user, that’s what it felt like to use the Creative Zen Sleek. Everything, felt familiar, but at the same time different. Touch strip instead of click wheel, WMA vs AAC, Napster support instead of iTunes… but which one is the evil empire?
One almost has to feel sorry for Creative. It’s been trying right from the outset of MP3 players to compete with Apple. In fact, if memory serves, it beat Apple to the punch by introducing the original hard disk jukebox, around a year before the iPod was launched. But ever since the small white monolith appeared, Creative’s been chasing the market. In an attempt to win the fight it has tried beat Apple players on a feature by feature basis without as much thought going into design. And while Apple focuses on around three players at any one time, Creative seems to have about 87, which just shows that the company is as confused as we are.
Having said all that though, if I wanted to buy a 20GB audio player right now this would be a contender. It’s lighter than an iPod, despite the fact that it integrates a microphone and FM tuner and can record from both. And unlike previous efforts it’s not a pig to use. Though it’s not as pretty as iPod, it’s more scratch resistant, so might retain such looks as it’s been gifted with for longer, which helps to average things out.
I haven’t had much contact with Creative’s players since it launched the original Zen, which was frankly, an awful brick of a player. Since then, it’s clearly decided to ape the iPod as much as it can. The Zen Sleek echoes the curves edges of the iPod mini (RIP), and meshes it with the touch strip that first appeared on the Zen Micro. The power plug, the sync cable and the headphones are also white. Hmm, I wonder where they got that idea from? The player itself is a two-tone silver and white. The metal wraps round the edges like an iPod mini but doesn’t go round the screen. Instead there’s a grey frame, which spoils things somewhat. Ok, it’s not as good looking as iPod but at least it’s not ugly, which is a bonus.