It's that time of year again for Apple and Creative to butt heads.
It’s a difficult task trying to stay competitive if you make MP3 players. You need to constantly slash prices, up capacities, shrink sizes and even then it’s still inevitable that the white fetishist will give you a thorough spanking. That said, Creative is probably the company that has done better than anyone at avoiding a particularly red posterior and products like the Zen Sleek are a good indication of why.
Announced today, the Sleek is the latest evolution in the company’s long running Zen product line. It features a new interface and, at 20GB, is no doubt the final nail in the coffin of the ageing Zen Touch, while simultaneously offering an alternative to the recently introduced 20GB Zen (yes, just “Zen”).
Now, as almost everyone on this planet knows by now, you’ll get about 5,000 128Kbps encoded tracks on a 20GB player (or 100,000 when recorded at 6.4kbps or whatever daft compression rate many companies promote) and this seems to be the sweet spot for most of us. In aiming to give Apple the good kicking it pretty much deserves these days, the new “Sleek” manages to be both smaller (10.1 x 5.9 x 1.7cm to 10.4 x 6.1 x 1.6cm) and lighter (157g to 167g) than the recently consolidated iPod range.
In terms of audio support, the Sleek will play MP3, WAV and WMA (we’d still like to see more wide-ranging acceptance for Ogg) and has a built-in voice recorder and FM Radio (two features we’ve been crying out to see on an iPod). On the downside, the revamped iPods/re-branded iPod Photos have colour screens and display image files, while the Sleek hasn’t made the jump.
Countering this, you’ll get an extra hour’s battery life from the Sleek over the iPod (16 to 15 hours) and it’s cheaper too: £199 including VAT verses £209. The Sleek is out this month. I never said choosing a new MP3 player would be easy…