Creative Zen X-Fi: an alternative to touch

It uses Creative’s patented Xi-Fi sound technology to bring MP3s and other compressed audio tracks up to near-CD audio quality and the built-in Wi-Fi on the 16GB and 32GB models allows for streaming content from your PC and media servers. It’s also got an SDHC card slot for adding up to 32GB more storage and a built-in speaker.

Exceptional sound quality is the Zen X-Fi’s speciality and thanks to the premium earbuds included in the sales package you don’t need to invest in new ones to appreciate it. Audiophiles have lots of settings to tinker with including eight equaliser presets 5-band custom EQ and the X-Fi Crystalizer and Expand options.

The X-Fi also holds its own when it comes to video playback. The screen is a bit small at 2.5 inches but it’s crisp and bright with an extensive palette of up to 16 million colours. The list of supported codecs is impressive including WMV MPEG4-SP DivX and XviD but it’s fussy with bitrates and resolution so most videos have to be converted through the supplied Creative Centrale software before they’ll play on the X-Fi.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to test any of the wireless features as our review unit was the 8GB model which doesn’t have Wi-Fi built in. Plumping an extra $70 gets you the 16GB version with Wi-Fi and this adds the ability to stream and download content wirelessly from your PC and other media servers as well as chat on Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger.
Other features include an FM radio calendar and contacts synchronisation with Outlook and a voice recorder. Creative advertises the X-Fi’s battery life as 36 hours of audio and five hours for video – the video run-time is on the mark but we got less than half the rated run-time for audio at a measly 12 hours of continuous playback.