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At the bottom of the player is a slot for connecting up to the PC. However, instead of plugging a proprietary cable straight into the player, Creative has gone with a dongle into which you plug a standard USB to mini-USB cable. This does mean that you don’t necessarily have to lug a cable round with you to connect to multiple PCs but you do have to have the dongle, which is just asking to be mislaid.
It’s also been well publicised that when it comes to video playback, Creative wins on battery life compared to the iPod, offering up to four hours, whereas the 30GB iPod pays for its svelteness with a measly two hours battery life and three hours for the 60GB. It seems confusing then that the Zen offers the same 14 hours battery life for audio as the 30GB iPod and six hours less than the 60GB iPod. This would imply that it’s only because Apple has chosen to go with the processor intensive H.264 that it suffers on video battery life. The Zen takes only 2.5 hours to fully charge, half the time of the iPod and also comes with a wall charger in the box, so you don’t need a computer around to keep going. Unfortunately, the battery isn’t user interchangeable, but then again neither is the iPod’s.
Creative’s player doesn’t support H.264 but takes the same video tech used in its video focussed Zen Vision. As such, it supports Divx 4 and 5 files. Xvid, WMV and MPEG in 1, 2 an 4. This means that users don’t have to go convert files to play them on the Zen. However, it’s not a Divx certified product so earlier versions of Divx. This could be a problem as there’s a lot of Divx 3 content out on the Internet. Additionally it only supports ‘Simple Profile’ encodings, which means that not even all files of the correct format will play. However, Creative does supply a converter application on the CD. I can report that it works but it’s not quick by any means. It all means that the drag and drop advantage over the iPod is not as clear cut as it seems.
Even if you can play your file without conversion the one disadvantage is that you don’t get the benefit of smaller video file sizes that’s encoding to native resolution of the screen brings. This is ironic when you consider than Apple, with a 60GB drive has less need of the higher compression that H.264 brings.
As for getting content onto the device you’re not spoiled for choice. You can choose to use Windows Explorer, Windows Media Player, Creative MediaSource or the Zen Vision: M Media Explorer. After much faffing around with each of them I discovered that you can use the latter is best for pretty much everything including adding album art and creating photo slideshows and creating playlists.