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Creative Zen Nano Plus 512MB

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Until just recently Apple’s competition had the ultra-portable end of the MP3 player market all to themselves. Steve Jobs’ idea of producing a ‘Mini’ player was to shrink the iPod slightly, or take away so much usable functionality as to limit the appeal of his company’s smallest player – the ‘shuffle’ – to a very small audience.

That’s until the arrival of the nano, of course, when in one fell swoop Apple greedily snatched the last remaining enclave of the market for itself by producing a player that was not only beautifully designed and easy to use, but also (unusually for Apple) amazingly good value for money.

It must have seemed like manna from heaven when those well-publicised problems with the nano’s screen emerged. And though this development won’t slow sales for long, it will have given some pause for thought. For this reason there will at least still be some out there interested in buying a flash player that isn’t a iPod nano and for these folk Creative’s version may well be on the short list.

Now we’ve never been fans of the way Creative has designed its MP3 players – they’ve always looked more sweet shop than sleek and sophisticated – and the new Zen Nano (with a capital ‘N’)) is not about to change our minds. Yes, you can get it in eight different colours, but that’s about the limit of its appeal. The Zen Nano looks cheap, feels plasticky and seems designed to fit in more with a child’s toy collection than your expensive executive phone, PDA and laptop. Good design is no longer a nice to have, especially when it comes to personal audio devices – it’s essential, and the Zen Nano is a big disappointment.

Fortunately, the Zen Nano does have redeeming features. It feels like it would be difficult to break, is very small and extremely light. Hang it around your neck on the supplied strap and you’ll hardly know it’s there. It weighs around 34-35g with the battery in, is just over a centimetre thick and measures 6.55cm long by 3.55cm wide.

It’s easy to use, too, something that you can’t say of iriver’s T20 with its fiddly buttons and counter-intuitive menu system. All of the buttons can be pressed without having to contort your hands unnaturally and the scroll wheel on the side of the device works well as a navigational control once you’ve got used to it. Even the orientation of the screen can be changed so the device can be used comfortably in one hand by both right and left-handers.

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