With its checkered, multihued design, Creative Zen's Mozaic looks pretty slick.

Regrettably, this flash-based media player (which is available in black, gray, or pink) is stronger on style than on substance. We found the Creative Zen Mozaic's buttons unintuitive and its menus needlessly complicated.

We tested a 2GB Creative Zen Mozaic (£49); Creative also offers 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB versions that cost £60, £79, and £119, respectively.

The Creative Zen Mozaic connects to your PC via an included USB cord, which doubles as the charger; the unit doesn't provide a dedicated charger.

We found setting up the Creative Zen Mozaic to be fairly easy, though the Creative Centrale software (which the company's Zen X-Fi MP3 player uses, too) slowed our PC down noticeably - and it automatically and unnecessarily uploaded every item from our Windows Media Player library. Centrale's interface is easy to adapt to, though, and it includes a couple of nice settings; we especially liked the 'One Hour of Random Music' option on the DJ panel and the icon to access Amazon.com downloads.

The Creative Zen Mozaic plays back MP3, WMA, and WAV audio files. Features include an FM radio, an audio recorder, an external speaker, and support for Audible 4 audio book files.

Still, none of these features made as big an impression as we had expected. For example, the external speaker is located on the back of the Creative Zen Mozaic, which makes it difficult to hear when you're looking at the screen.

When we cranked the sound up to its top volume, it was impressively loud, but vocals exhibited a tinny quality. Altering the audio settings helped tremendously; but even so, the Creative Zen Mozaic's sound remained a bit fuzzy.

In our tests, the Creative Zen Mozaic's audio quality was rated very good. In particular, the sound had very low distortion and an excellent signal-to-noise ratio, meaning that the player introduced very little hiss or hum into its audio. Its frequency response - the deviation between a player's lowest- and highest-level tones across the audible frequency range - was uneven, however.

The Creative Zen Mozaic isn't always as easy to use as it should be. In our tests the Mozaic's buttons were occasionally unresponsive, requiring us to push them multiple times, and a slight lag in the response time made searching through the menus aggravating.

The music menu includes an alphabet along the right side of the screen so you can jump to a particular letter. But we often had to flip through several menu screens simply to get a song to play.

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With its checkered, multihued design, Creative Zen's Mozaic looks pretty slick.

The Creative Zen Mozaic can display images in JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG and TIFF formats. All of the pictures that we looked at were crisp and clear, and the Creative Zen Mozaic includes some fun slide-show options.

Using the Mozaic's video features wasn't as enjoyable, though. All videos must be transcoded with the bundled Creative Centrale software before they can be played on the Mozaic, which isn't difficult so much as it is be time-consuming. The videos we played were sharp and crisp, but they only play horizontally - which means you have to turn the player on its side to view a video (even though the buttons remain in the vertical setting, which feels awkward).

The Creative Zen Mozaic's support for Audible audio books is a strength - if you're already a fan and user of Audible. If you're not, you may not appreciate the software (and the advertisement for a free audiobook) being added to your PC when you install the Creative Centrale software. In addition, we couldn't get the FM radio to play any of the stations we tried to set it to, and we had to figure out the audio recorder through trial-and-error because no instructions were provided. (We also searched Creative's website for the user's manual, but came up empty-handed there as well.)

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Creative Zen Mozaic: Specs

  • 2GB, 4GB, 8GB or 16GB capacity
  • Battery life: 32 hours based on 128kbps in MP3
  • 1.8in TFT colour screen
  • Supported audio formats: MP3, WMA (DRM9 & 10), WAV (8kHz), Audible formats 2,3,4
  • supported photo formats: JPEG (BMP, TIFF, GIF, and PNG transcoded to JPEG)
  • supported video formats: transcoded AVI (Motion JPEG)
  • FM radio function with 32 preset stations
  • built-in microphone for voice recording
  • built-in speaker
  • alarm, Clock, Calendar, PIM (Personal Information Management) tasks and contacts display
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • 2GB, 4GB, 8GB or 16GB capacity
  • Battery life: 32 hours based on 128kbps in MP3
  • 1.8in TFT colour screen
  • Supported audio formats: MP3, WMA (DRM9 & 10), WAV (8kHz), Audible formats 2,3,4
  • supported photo formats: JPEG (BMP, TIFF, GIF, and PNG transcoded to JPEG)
  • supported video formats: transcoded AVI (Motion JPEG)
  • FM radio function with 32 preset stations
  • built-in microphone for voice recording
  • built-in speaker
  • alarm, Clock, Calendar, PIM (Personal Information Management) tasks and contacts display
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the Creative Zen Mozaic is a solid offering at a good price, but you may have to do some fiddling to get its features to operate smoothly.

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