Other features include decent 16GB or 32GB capacities (there’s an 8GB version but this doesn’t have Wi-Fi); an FM tuner; a built-in speaker – for people who like annoying others on public transport – basic synchronisation of contacts tasks and calendar appointments with Microsoft Outlook; an integrated microphone so you can turn the X-Fi into a dictaphone if you want; and memory expansion via an SDHC memory card slot. That’s quite a list.
In terms of its design, it’s a little bit of a disappointment. It’s not particularly slim at 12.8mm or small at 83mm x 55mm and though the flat gloss front, chrome-effect trim and matte silver rear look smart enough, the all plastic construction is nowhere near as luxurious as you get with any of the iPod products.
But that strange control system does work well once you get used to it, and in conjunction with Creative’s excellent user interface, it makes the X-Fi a pleasure to use. The raised buttons make it easy to skip tracks, pause and change volume without having to take it out of your pocket. The menus are customisable with different graphical themes and colours, and items on it can even be re-ordered if you so wish. There are search and artist look-up functions, on-the-fly playlist creation, and you can also place bookmarks using the context-sensitive menu system – useful when listening to long podcasts.
Music format-wise, it’s pretty impressive too. Not only are MP3, WMA and WMA protected formats supported, but also AAC (non-protected) and Audible for fans of audiobooks. Video support is less arresting. Though video footage looks great on the 2.5in screen, the X-Fi won’t play anything back that isn’t at or below its native resolution of 320 x 240, so you’ll almost certainly have to re-encode or transcode material you’ve downloaded from the Internet using the bundled software. The X-Fi supports DivX, XviD, MPEG4 and WMV9 file types.
One of the most impressive aspects of the X-Fi, however, is its bundled headphones. Even with more expensive players, such as the iPod Classic or Archos range of media players, the supplied headphones are usually so unutterably awful that I can barely bring myself to put them in my ears. Not so, with the EP-830’s included with X-Fi. If you bought them separately they’d set you back £30, and sound quality is very respectable. I prefer Sennheiser’s CX400 headphones for this sort of money – they offer more punch, focus and power than the EP-830’s – but if you don’t already own a pair of decent noise isolation phones I guarantee you’ll be impressed with how these sound.