- Good-looking design
- 1GHz processor
- Good video player
- Terrible app store
- Washed-out screen
- Review Price: £199.99
- 8GB internal memory
- 7in resistive touchscreen
- Android 2.1 OS
- miniHDMI output
- 1GHz A8 Cortex processor
The Creative Ziio 7 is a plastic-encased device with a very simple construction. There are two plastic body plates that clip into each-other, leaving a subtle seam running across the length of the tablet’s sides. There’s a slightly pearlescent finish to the white plastic used, but this is low-key enough to only be noticeable when it catches the light close-up.
Although not as immaculately constructed as the Apple iPad, this tablet is stylish and well-made – a cut above the many no-name Android tablets littering the market, and Archos’s low-end offerings. The battery is non user-replaceable, meaning there’s only a handful of side sockets to interrupt the Ziio 7’s lines.
On the left side is an exposed microSD slot – a potential dust magnet that we’d advise clogging-up with an inexpensive memory card before too long. On the other side of the tablet is a volume rocker.
A mini-HDMI slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, miniUSB slot, mic and power button sit on top while the bottom houses the power jack. The styling of the front is based on that of capacitive-screened mobile phones like the HTC Desire HD, with a touch-sensitive set of four soft keys below the screen – Android standards to direct you to the menu, search bar and home screen as well as the always-useful back button.
The other conspicuous addition to the Ziio 7’s front is a camera lens, sitting above the screen. It’s a basic VGA (640×480 pixel) sensor, designed for video chat over apps like Skype – although that app wasn’t available from the tablet’s own app store at the time of writing.
Unlike a top-end smartphone though, both the soft keys and main 7in touchscreen use resistive touchscreen technology. This type of touchscreen uses two screen layers, the top of which flexes onto the bottom under the pressure provided by your finger or a stylus, telling the tablet what part of the screen has been pressed. These screens tend to feel less responsive than a capacitive model in normal usage. Also unlike an Android smartphone, the Creative Ziio 7 doesn’t offer 3G connectivity. You have to make do with Wi-Fi.
The Creative Ziio 7 runs Android 2.1, an operating system not designed to run on tablets. As such, some magic had to be worked to fit it in into this tablet. The Ziio 7 uses a custom interface, and has its own ZiiStore app store rather than the standard Android Market.
This interface is thankfully very simple, and attractive. There’s a dock at the bottom of the home screen that holds icon links to the ZiiMusic, ZiiVideo and ZiiPhoto apps (and yes, we wish they’d drop the Zii tag here too), and the web browser. Tapping on the arrow at the top of this dock brings up the full apps menu. The rest of the screen is free for you to fill with widgets and shortcuts, and with multiple home screens to clutter-up as you see fit, it feels much like using an oversized Android phone, or indeed the similar Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet.
Very few custom widgets beyond the Android basics are included, but the couple added come in very handy. The Task Manager widget tells you how many apps are currently running in the background and the Pure Android Audio widget lets you control audio settings and connect with a pair of Bluetooth headphones from your home screen – not useful for all, but neat nevertheless. To accompany the Task Manager widget, there’s also a full app to let you close any, or all, running apps – a good way to keep system performance and battery life in check.
Things come grinding to a halt once you try to get more apps for your new Ziio 7 tablet though. Creative has produced the ZiiStore to supply apps for the Zii 7 and Zii 10 tablets, but in its present state it’s an awful replacement for the Android Market, and significantly worse than Archos’s longer-running AppsLib. The selection of apps available is very poor, and navigation is bafflingly slow – with a 1GHz A8 processor on-board general navigation is usually reasonably fast, but it’s painfully slow within the ZiiStore.
We rummaged around for an hour or two to see what extra functionality we could add to the Zii 7 and came up short. We couldn’t find a decent internet radio player, many apps there were inexplicably not at all optimised for use with the 480×800 pixel screen (when it’s a standard Android phone resolution) and few games. And no Angry Birds.
The Android OS isn’t that easy to tie down though, as non app store apps can also be installed if you enabled “unknown source” installations within the settings menu. Unshackled from the terrible ZiiStore, the Zii 7 becomes a far more attractive prospect. Using nothing more than the tablet’s browser, Wi-Fi access and a couple of helpful Android freeware sites, we soon had adventure game emulator ScummVM, TuneIn Radio, Twitter client AndTweet and Facebook installed. Yes, and Angry Birds too.
The official Twitter client and Spotify resolutely failed to install, but the majority of apps we tried worked fine, and displayed properly on the 7in screen. Finding apps on the web was more successful, and simpler, than using the ZiiStore – hopefully Creative will sort this out with an update before the Zii series is trampled by this year’s incoming stampede of tablets.
The 7in form factor has become a tablet standard, alongside the alternative ~10-inch size used by the iPad series and many upcoming Android 3.0 tablets. Tablets like the 7in Ziio 7 are much easier to use single-handed, but some argue that they’re simply too small to be of much use. Whether or not this is true often depends on the quality of experience, rather than sheer size.
Here, the Ziio sits in a middle ground. The 800×480-pixel display, when stretched across seven inches, isn’t detailed enough to make small text look sharp and colours appear washed-out thanks to the average-quality panel. However, the touchscreen is very responsive for a resistive model, making browsing and day-to-day navigation quick and largely frustration-free.
Compared to a long-running UI like HTC Sense, the Ziio’s custom UI does have a negative effect on the tablet’s performance, slowing it down more than we’d expect from a 1GHz processor-powered device. However, you’re free to change the UI should you wish – we installed the LauncherPro home screen app and found it improved this slow-down effect. It’s still not as snappy as a smartphone powered by the same processor though.
Fresh out of the box, the Creative Ziio 7 is a tablet that’s packed full of compromises and niggles, but many can be solved or ameliorated with an hour or two of searching and tweaking. It’s not the way we’d ideally like to approach a shiny new tablet, but at this stage there are precious few worthwhile alternatives available for less than Â£200.
There are problems that aren’t so easily solved though. Thanks to the core Android 2.1 OS running underneath, the Ziio 7 doesn’t include Flash 10.1 support, even though it’s listed as a tentpole capability of the ZiiLABS ZMS-08 processor within Creative’s own blurb. Creative has promised an Android 2.2 update for the tablet, which will both add Flash and give the tablet a welcome speed boost, but we can only judge this tablet as it is now – we’ve spent too many months waiting on tenterhooks for Android updates in the past.
The resistive screen also means that multi-touch gestures are not possible, so there’s no pinch-zooming when browsing the net or looking at photos. No amount of software optimisation will be able to tack-on this feature, so if it’s a must-have for you, walk away now. Creative has thoughtfully included a pen-like stylus to make using the resistive touchscreen more accurate, but there’s unfortunately nowhere to keep it within the Ziio 7’s body. Either bung it in a pocket or – more likely – leave it stashed in a cupboard somewhere at home, forgotten. With five hours of battery life when playing video, the Ziio 7 has enough juice for a couple of movies, but it falls well below the stamina of the 10-hour iPad – and also below the 6-7 hours offered by the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Archos 101.
As a highly portable tablet, the Creative Ziio 7 is perfect for watching the odd TV episode on the train or bus, and its hardware is up to the task too. The 1GHz A8 Cortex CPU at the heart of the ZiiLABS ZMS-08 processor can handle 720p video, and so has no problem with any regular codec video files encoded within the limits of the Ziio 7’s non-HD 800×480 pixel screen.
Video codec support isn’t world-beating, missing out rmvb and FLV, but the now-popular MKV container format is included. We tried the built-in media player out with an assortment of MKV files and only struggled with high-end 1080p files, which refused to play altogether because of their high resolutions.
Picture quality is much better than Archos Internet Tablet rivals. Where Archos’s models show-up all digital artefacting, and often seem to pixellate parts of an image not all-that low-res in the source file, the Ziio’s picture was nicely smoothed-out. The quality of the LCD screen limits video-viewing pleasure though.
Viewing angles are, again, better than Archos’s models but the washed-out look of the screen robs images of their vibrancy. Even the over-saturated animated of the Shrek films looks a little too muted on the Ziio 7. It wins back some points with its brightness, which can be blasted up – at the expense of battery life – to make viewing vids in less-than-optimum light conditions possible. And if you’re going to take the tablet on your work commute, these conditions will be the norm come the summer months, hopefully.
Creative also puts an emphasis on the audio quality of the Ziio 7 in its marketing, and it has some reason to shout about it, having forged a deal with Wolfson to include its WM8352 chip in the tablet. Wolfson is the company behind many of the audio chips used in higher-end quality-centric MP3 players over the past decade.
Music quality is decent, but when using headphones there’s still a slight electrical interference noise created when the touchscreen’s used. At the head of Creative’s audio claims for the Ziio though are its Crystalizer and Expand X-Fi settings. These are audio processing add-ons that can switched-on when playing media, claiming to “intelligently restore lost detail” and supply the “most acoustically natural sound staging”.
In practice, these settings had very little effect on the sound produced – and if a buyer is so obsessed with restoring “lost detail”, why wouldn’t they encode their music files at a higher bit-rate to avoid losing detail in the first place? We do like the extra effort Creative put in to make linking to Bluetooth headphones easy though, with integration within the media player itself, as when walking about a tablet’s much more likely to be left in a bag than a phone or MP3 player. Bluetooth headphones are not included as part of the package, mind – Creative kindly suggests its own WP-300 earphones as a good match.
At present, the Creative Ziio 7 is one of the best sub-Â£200 tablet solutions available. In several respects it is superior to Archos’s 7in 70 Internet Tablet, and it’s significantly cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Viewsonic ViewPad 7. If you need an affordable tablet right now, it’s a good buy. But the tablet market about to change completely, so if you can grab hold of the reins and tame that urge to buy for a few months, we recommend doing so.
The Creative Ziio’s screen’s colours look washed-out, its built-in app store is horrible and it uses an outmoded resistive touchscreen, but it’s still one of the best sub-Â£200 tablets money can buy. Video playback is decent, it’s a good-looking device and with a bit of know-how and an hour or two’s tinkering you can seriously boost its functionality.
Score in detail