On the positive side, the various screens and menus are attractive, clear and well laid out, and there are some really nice features. It’s easy to create and save ad-hoc playlists on the move, and there’s also a feature to save and locate bookmarks within longer pieces or Audible book files. Creative’s usual letter-by-letter index feature makes it easy to navigate long lists with a quick right-click of the D-pad, when scrolling through, and my only major complaint would be that you can’t change EQ and Bass Boost functions from within the Now Playing screen; you have to navigate out to the Settings menu and do it there instead.
In terms of functions, the Zen MX is slightly ahead of the most basic players, adding a time/date function with alarm and an organiser with calendar, contacts and task list to the usual FM radio and voice recorder functions, though I suspect most people these days would rather use a mobile phone or smartphone instead of an MP3 player for that sort of thing. The FM radio seems to have decent reception and a working auto-tune feature, while the voice recorder manages to get acceptable audio quality from what is, after all, a tiny built-in microphone.
Unfortunately, problems start to creep in when we get to the player’s core functions, most particularly video playback. While the earlier Zen was happy dealing with native WMV and DivX/XviD files, providing the resolution was already set to 320 x 240, the Zen MX will only play files converted to Creative’s proprietary .cmv format. The only way to get it there is through the bundled Creative Centrale software, and to make matters worse this refused to operate on my main machine, though it would on a notebook I keep handy. This is a little irritating, and may put off those who have a sizable library of video files they want to make portable, and no wish to convert them into a proprietary format. I suppose, however, that it’s nothing iPod users won’t be used to. More seriously, it also means that the Zen MX is one of the few PMPs I’ve tried in recent months that won’t playback files downloaded from the BBC’s iPlayer, and that’s becoming a must-have feature these days. Still, once files are converted they play back smoothly, and don’t look bad at all on the Zen MX’s little screen.