"No need to guess what Creative is targeting with this one…"
The not quite immortal words of our very own News Editor, Gordon Kelly, upon discovering the Zen Stone, Creative’s none too subtle take on Apple’s own iPod Shuffle. To summarise, it’s a small, light and screen-less MP3 player that features 1GB of flash memory. Whereas the Shuffle is a small, light and screen-less MP3 player that features 1GB of flash memory.
Thus, with these being more or less identical products, Creative has gone down the only path available: making it cheap. Currently the Zen Stone retails at around £30, making it more than £20 cheaper than the iPod Shuffle which can be bought for in the region of £55. For two products that share identical features this is a significant saving, and Creative’s effort doesn’t lack any style either.
Measuring 53.7 x 35.3 x 12.8mm, and weighing a mere 18.5g, Creative has certainly hit the nail on the head design wise. Dare I say it looks better than the Shuffle? I do dare, it does look better. Shiny coloured plastic is always a good look, and though Creative sent us the dourer black version the Zen Stone is available in a variety of bright and uplifting colours. Crucially, the shiny plastic is also pleasingly scratch resistant so your Stone won't look like an actual stone after a few days in your pocket.
Aside from the colour, the basic design of the Zen Stone is both attractive and nicely laid out. It has curves in all the right places while the awkward joystick as found on the Zen V Plus is banished in favour of a intuitive circular arrangement which features an inner Play/Pause button with Next/Previous and Volume buttons surrounding it.
On the top edge you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, a play mode slider and a recessed Reset button, while on the bottom edge is the mini-USB port, which is used for charging and PC connection. This is all pretty standard stuff, though, if there's one grumble, it's that the headphone jack isn't positioned centrally for easy use with neckstrap earphones. This doesn't mean you can't use them, just that the player will hang at a slightly odd angle – and not a jaunty one either.