Small MP3 players tend to get typecast as sporty gadgets - things to pin to clothing while you strut those pounds off. However, the Creative Zen X-Fi 3 isn't really geared toward sport. It doesn't have the clip of the SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip or Apple iPod Nano, or any sport features like a stopwatch or pedometer. What does the Zen X-Fi 3 have? Plenty of non sport-related features, but the small-but-thick body and simple-but-dated UI make us favour the Sonys, Apples and Cowons of this world.
The Creative X-Fi 3 is a curious bundle of contradictions. The first one to strike is that while this is a palm-sized MP3 player, it's pretty chunky. 14mm thick by our measurements, it's as chunky as the Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip - and much of that player's thickness is down to a robust belt clip.
The impression the Creative X-Fi 3 leaves is one of a small brick. Some may find it cute, but now that players like the iPod Nano are well-established, it seems archaic. Forget about the chub factor and the look isn't too bad. The back and front are glossy black plastic, and its sides metallic grey plastic. One issue we encountered with the plastic-fronted screen was that it is quite scratch-happy, unlike the glass front of players like the iPod touch. After a few weeks rummaging around in your pocket with a pair of keys, it won't look so great.
However, as with many non-Apple MP3 players, the X-Fi 3 comes with its own share of hardware benefits. On its left edge is a rubber flap that covers the microSD slot. The £89 version of the player includes 8GB internal memory, but having the slot to use makes upping this to 40GB fairly cost-effective.
Another neat feature of the player is the internal speaker, which sits on its bottom. Nowadays, it's rare to see one in MP3 players, let alone small ones. It is something of a throwaway feature, though, producing sound quality and volume beaten by most smartphones.
To either side of this speaker sit the 3.5mm headphone jack and the miniUSB socket. Using this socket rather than the now much more common microUSB is another element that signposts the Creative X-Fi 3 isn't exactly cutting-edge.
To try and seem like it's in with the cool kids, the X-Fi 3 uses touch controls rather than clicky buttons, for the most part. There's a power/lock slider up top and volume control buttons on the right edge, but all menu navigation is handled using the five touch buttons in the front layer.
It's a classic worst of both worlds situation - you can't feel around the player with a finger to change tracks while it's in your pocket and yet as each button is clearly labelled with a white icon, they don't even provide that seamless a look. We're glad Creative didn't use the resistive screen tech seen in the previous-gen X-Fi 2 player, but these touch buttons represent the most problematic part of the player.