New Portable Player

My mobiBLU cube that has given me so much trouble over the last year and a half finally became too much trouble to keep using. When I mounted it and tried to move files to it from my iBook I’d get file errors. If I retried up to 10 times, eventually it would work. I tried resetting the device, newly formatting it and nothing made it difference. It’s always been a pain, so it is out.

To replace it, I bought a Creative Zen V Plus 4 GB Portable Media Player (Black/Blue). It was $109 at Best Buy. I was actually there to get the 2 GB at $79, but they were out of stock in that model so I said screw it and just got the 4 GB.

I had a moment early on where I thought maybe this was a bad decision. If you pause a track and then the device shuts itself off from the “idle timeout”, when you start it back up it will be on your track but at the beginning. If you had been 90 minutes into a 2 hour podcast, that tends to fry one’s ass a little. There is a bookmark function, but when you return to a bookmark you are going to a single track. I had setup a playlist of all the shows I wanted to listen to, and it was a little irksome first remembering to bookmark the track and then having to navigate off the single show back to the playlist every time I used a bookmark.

However, after some exploring on the Creative Zen forums I found out that although pausing and auto-shutdown loses your place, doing a hard power down with the switch does not. That’s almost exactly backwards from what you might expect, but that is what it is. I also found the setting to up the idle timeout from the default 5 minutes to 30 minutes. The combination of these two things makes it good again. If I really don’t want to lose my spot, shut it down before I walk away from it. Most times, I’m back to it in 30 minutes anyway during my workday. It has a setting to shut it off entirely, but I suspect that’s a fast track to a dead battery.

There are a lot of positives about this device. It has a nice screen, reasonable controls and a very good small form factor. With its rounded edges it feels a little like an overgrown Chiclet. It does play video, although not any format that anyone would actually be using. It only plays uncompressed AVI files, no codecs whatsoever. The Sync Manager program has the ability to transcode on the fly, and I’m testing it out for the first time this morning. A bunch of the vlogs I’m subscribed to are moving over as I type and I’ll try them out today. The downside of all this is that the Creative programs to manage the device are Windows XP only. There are workarounds that work on Mac and Linux via this XJNB program but they are bare bones compared to the official program. They will let you move files and create playlists but won’t transcode, for example. I bit the bullet and revived my brother-in-law’s dead XP box that has been sitting in my office since XMas and have made it my podcast-reciever and syncing box. The upside of that is that I won’t be filling the hard drive of my laptop most nights. If you already use Windows XP or Vista, this wouldn’t be much of an impediment but for me it was.

So the summary from the first few days is that it seems like a nice device with a fair number of hoops to jump through to use it. I probably wouldn’t suggest it for someone with only Macs in their house, but for Windows users I probably would. I’ll report back if my experience changes over the next few days and with the results of the video experiment. Overall though it seems like a nice little device and a very good value for the price.

It’s got to be better than the mobiBLU cube, which I bought from a recommendation of Dick Debartolo on the Daily Giz Wiz and almost immediately regretted. It was the last time I paid attention to Dick and not that long after I unsubscribed from the show. Dick doesn’t recommend these things because he integrates them with his life like I’m after, he fiddles for a day and then puts it on a shelf. I’m in it for the long haul in a way he is not, so I decided he’s not a good source of reviews for me.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

3 thoughts on “New Portable Player”

  1. Shannon says:

    Hey Dave – Tyler really likes his Zen. His only complaint has been the charging only from computer. He wanted to take it on his big summer trip, but had no way to keep the battery alive. He had tried someone’s USB wall plug with no luck. Maybe you’ll have better luck and can advise? I’ve been happy with a little 2 Gig Sansa, and (you’ll be proud of me) I’ve actually started subscribing and listening to podcasts. Sadly, you slowed way down about the time I got my subscriptions set up. You’ll have to change that. -sln

  2. Chris C. says:

    Besides the remember-my-position feature that you discussed, the other thing that really torques me is when the player won’t fast forward FAST. Meaning it accelerates more and more if you keep holding it; for example, a top speed of a real minute per FF second is barely fast enough. This is another one of those features critical to people who listen to really, really long tracks like podcasts or radio shows and find themselves having to jump deep into the track for whatever reason. My old Creative thingy doesn’t accelerate, but I’ve got it nicely mounted in my car so I ain’t replacing it until it breaks (more than it has) or I replace the car (in 2010) …

  3. dave says:

    Shannon, that’s cool. It ought to be able to charge from any of those things that presents a 5V via a USB connector, but this device is weird in a lot of ways. Not mounting like a flash drive like almost everything else, etc. Maybe it doesn’t charge when there is no USB handshake? Who knows? It charges on my work Linux box even thought it doesn’t mount there. I do like that you can operate it like normal while it charges, at least when it doesn’t mount.

    Chris, I do like that feature on this model. The first few seconds are something like 1 minute per s, but after that it picks up quickly. It gets going so fast that really to get 90 minutes into a two hour file takes two shots because by the time it is around where you want to be it is moving so fast you can’t be precise. The first pass is to get you within 10 minutes, the second to (probably) back up to the right spot. With even more flight time under my belt, I like this device more and more as I use it. Not having a reliable Win XP device is the only hurdle. I’m biting the bullet and upgrading my Win2K box to XP, even though I’d really rather keep it as it is. The other XP box is up for 3 days, down for 4.

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