Like its Zen Stone Plus sibling, the Creative Zen Stone 2GB With Built-In Speaker is treading on Apple's toes: specifically, it's gunning for the iPod shuffle. And we think it should fancy its chances.

See also:

iPod shuffle review

The iPod shuffle's huge appeal is based on three things: size (tiny); price (low); and ease of use (strong). The Creative Zen Stone 2GB comes extremely close on the first and third categories, soundly beats the iPod shuffle on price and chucks in a couple of trump cards.

Trump card number one: this new version of the Creative Zen Stone 2GB comes with a built-in speaker (hence the long-winded name). Don't expect miracles from this small unit – the bass won't blow you away – but it's a nice addition.

Trump card number two: battery life is marvellous. At a claimed 20 hours, the Creative Zen Stone 2GB is a good eight hours ahead of the iPod shuffle.

In other respects honours are pretty much even. The Creative Zen Stone 2GB has a cute, rounded body and comes in a range of attractive colours.

The Creative Zen Stone 2GB is very small (if 2g heavier than the shuffle) and comes with a detachable clip that will appeal to the exercise-prone.

Navigation isn't the easiest because of the simplistic folder structure – as with the shuffle, with the Creative Zen Stone 2GB you're pretty much limited to playing songs in order, album by album or randomly.

NEXT PAGE: audio quality, uploading songs, down sides and our expert verdict > >

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Like its Zen Stone Plus sibling, the Creative Zen Stone 2GB With Built-In Speaker is treading on Apple's toes: specifically, it's gunning for the iPod shuffle. And we think it should fancy its chances.

Audio quality

Using the bundled headphones, we felt audio quality was decent. Bass was respectable and there was a fairly rich sound, although it tended to be a bit hollow-sounding at lower frequencies. When lined up against the iPod shuffle, the Zen Stone Plus was also slightly (but noticeably) less clear-sounding. The difference was less apparent when we tried the Stone Plus with the iPod's headphones, however, so we'd suggest getting a high-quality pair instead of relying on the bundled set.

The Stone Plus impressed with its audio power. For such a small unit, it can churn out an impressive volume through the headphones. Enough to hurt your ears, in fact, so watch out.

In the negative column, uploading songs isn't as simple as with the iPod shuffle (but then, what is?). You can use iTunes, impressively, although the Creative Zen Stone never seems completely happy synching with the software. It appears in iTunes' left-hand menu and accepts songs when dragged-and-dropped on to it, but there's no option to sync automatically.

You can also open up the Creative Zen Stone 2GB on your desktop and simply drag-and-drop songs into the appropriate folders – but these can become slightly confusing. It's not a big problem, by any means, but the iPods have set an exceptionally high bar in this department.

Another concern is that the Creative Zen Stone 2GB plays a only a smallish range of file formats - you can play MP3 and WMA, and that's about it. It even loses the iTunes Plus unprotected format that the Zen Stone Plus can deal with. But this isn't a major headache.

Finally, the Creative is officially a PC-only device. We found that it was generally fine working with a Mac: loading up songs wasn't a problem, but on a single occasion the Zen Stone refused to delete files when instructed to do so - the unit said it had no space left and would accept no further data, but neither iTunes nor Mac OS X's Finder application could see any remaining files to delete. The only solution we could find was to hook it up to a PC. Windows Explorer discovered a folder labelled Trash - emptying this freed up the space.

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Creative Zen Stone 2GB: Specs

  • Portable audio player
  • 2GB capacity
  • MP3/WMA
  • speaker
  • USB 2.0
  • claimed battery life 20 hours
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • 54x16x36mm
  • 18g
  • Portable audio player
  • 2GB capacity
  • MP3/WMA
  • speaker
  • USB 2.0
  • claimed battery life 20 hours
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • 54x16x36mm
  • 18g

OUR VERDICT

Another marvellous offering from Creative, the nice-looking Creative Zen Stone 2GB With Built-In Speaker takes the iPod shuffle's winning formula, boosts the battery life, lowers the price (the 2GB shuffle costs £45) and adds a small speaker. It's not quite as user-friendly as Apple's market-leading gadget, but this is an excellent purchase.

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