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Creative Zen X-Fi 3 - Interface, Features, Sound Quality and Verdict

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

The interface that the capacitive buttons direct you around in the Creative X-Fi 3 MP3 player isn't white hot, either. The main menu makes poor use of the 2in screen, filling half the screen with a giant icon when it'd be beneficial to see more of the other menu options. Creaky, questionable design choices like this affect the player in a way that's common among music devices not made by manufacturers like Sony and Apple - including some of our favourites like the Cowon J3.

For example, while music library navigation looks entirely standard and iPod-like, the arrangement of the touch buttons means you skip forward and back through tracks by pressing "up" and "down", where people tend to think of this as a left/right move. Creative Zen X-Fi 3 2

When flicking through a library, it feels as though the X-Fi 3 should have a full touchscreen too, with your thumb positioned perfectly above that entirely inert plastic surface. Using the capacitive buttons is a little slow, and this sense of clumsiness is reinforced by the lack of interface gloss. There are no transition animations, scrolling is pretty slow and the screen isn't high-res enough to make text look sharp and clean.

Given the Creative X-Fi 3 sells for just under a hundred pounds, display performance is a little disappointing. It's clear enough, but there is clear contrast shift when tilted the wrong way. Screens this small often manage to avoid such display problems.

There are a handful of quibbles to make about the hardware and interface of the Creative X-Fi 3, but its features list is much less problematic. Aside from basic music playback, it offers an FM radio, voice recording using the inbuilt microphone, and Bluetooth with support for the aptX codec.

This offers much better-quality Bluetooth streaming than standard SBC codec, all-but removing the quality loss of wireless streaming. Bluetooth headphones and speakers like the Sennheiser MM 550 Travel and Creative ZiiSound D5 make great use of this feature, which is missing from almost all budget players.

Other non-standard features include lossless FLAC and Audible audiobook support. As useless a feature as video playback is without the optional video out cable, the Creative X-Fi 3 also plays Xvid and DivX videos, among others. Our test samples showed significant image and colour distortion on the tiny 2in screen, but SD DivX and Xvid files did play. MKVs did not, however.

Video is a tertiary feature at best, though. What about sound? Output is clean, clear, and very loud at maximum volume. There's significantly more power on tap than an iPod Classic - roughly on-par with a Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip with the volume limit safely wheels removed. Creative Zen X-Fi 3

For sound customisation, the X-Fi 3 offers very basic equalisation, with four genre settings only, and the X-Fi engine. This is Creative's alternative to Cowon's BBE and Sony's DSEE - all are designed to tweak digital music files to make them sound better. It features just two bits, the Crystalizer and Expand modes.

Crystalizer is intended to make music in compromised formats like MP3 sound as intended by the music-makers. What is it really? It's an aural exciter that fiddles primarily with the top and bottom extremes of the frequency spectrum to add presence and punch to your music. Slight adjustments don't do too much harm, but it causes flat-out distortion when maxed-out - and with a good pair of earphones you're better off without it.

Expand messes with how the stereo channels are rendered in order to make content sound wider - more surround system-like. As lukewarm as we are about Crystalizer, we're positively unconvinced by Expand. It definitely changes how music sounds, but not generally for the better. Expand robs sound of subtlely and makes the central channel in particular - where vocals tend to sit - sound quite unnatural as the information it holds is stretched across the stereo image. Creative Zen X-Fi 3 3

The X-Fi is not a good reason to buy the Creative X-Fi 3, being thoroughly outclassed by the Cowon J3's BBE system. Basic audio quality is good though, and the supplied earphones are well above average. It comes with Creative EP-630 IEMs, which are a good alternative to top entry-level IEMs like the Sennheiser CX300 and Jays a-JAYS One.

Available for around £17.99, and often much less, they don't boast true high-end sound but are good fun, with pleasantly over-emphasised bass and generally warm sound. However, with Bluetooth AptX and FLAC support the two features likely to lure in well-informed buyers, most will have their own earphones or headphones already. Creative EP-630

At £90, the Creative X-Fi 3 is hard to recommend. If you don't need the Bluetooth function, the Sony NWZ-E464 offers better design, UI and battery life for around £20 less - if you shop around. And at half the price, but with a similar level of slickness, the Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip is also a good, lower-cost alternative.

Verdict

The Creative Zen X-Fi 3 MP3 player sounds good, goes very loud and comes with an unusually good set of earphones. However, problems with the design and interface hold it back. The touch-sensitive buttons are annoying, screen quality is unimpressive and it's surprisingly thick for a device of its size.

Overall Score

6

Scores In Detail

  • Design 5
  • Features 8
  • Sound Quality 7
  • Value 6

newleafdecor

September 22, 2012, 3:16 pm

I purchased one of these on 17/09/2012. Mine proved to be nothing short of terrible, screen freezes, won't conect to my bluetooth earphones, speaker might as well not be there, tried to add countless videos and got 5 that it actually played. As for Creative customer service, worst ever! only option is to send an email to there customer support asking for a RMA number for returning device, NO number sent, just solutions to make the device work properly which I'd already tried and they didn't work. Still waiting as yet, this is the last purchase I'll ever buy from Creative. Putting my trust in Paypal to get me my money back. DON'T BUY THIS PRODUCT OR USE THE COMPANY.

Neville

January 8, 2013, 11:07 pm

I got a 32G replacement for my old X-Fi2 because it
developed a cracked screen that creative wouldn't sell a replacement for. I got
the X-Fi3 because I really liked the sound quality of the X-Fi2. I purchased it
as a package with the M300 wireless headphones. So far I have been disappointed
in its performance. Initially it took so long to bring up a menu that I ended
up resetting it. It is very very slow (as in a couple of minutes)to bring up
its menu after charging or connecting to the computer. The sound quality
doesn't seem to be as good comparing it to the X-Fi2. The M300's are the most
uncomfortable things I have worn and don't stay in place when walking, let
alone using them for running as I had planned. The SD card isn't integrated and
you can't make playlists that link to
the SD card. The alarm sounds once for about 15 sec and then stops although it
is very loud. Progressing through the menus is tedious as you have to scroll
through every item to get to the album you want. I liked the X-Fi2's alphabetical buttons, they made it
easier to find what you want. The touch buttons on the edge of the player are
accidentally activated at times if your fingers get near them when holding the
player. At other times touching them gives no response which can be very
frustrating (like the X-Fi2). When I need to get a replacement player it won't
be a Creative model!

mahyar

May 3, 2013, 5:04 pm

1000000000000% agree

alan

August 14, 2013, 12:20 pm

I agree - I have volume problem with Latest model Zen XF!-13. At full volume can only hear about half of my classical music. Creative not at all helpful. I have asked for a return authorisation but they constantly ignore me. I think that this is a case for the EU consumer advice !!

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