Targeting the iPod shuffle on its own ground, the Creative Zen Stone Plus brings a petite chassis, 2GB capacity and bargain price tag to the party – and trumps its Apple rival with a built-in speaker and screen.

With its cute, rounded body and range of attractive colours, the Creative Zen Stone Plus is obviously designed to appeal to the fashion-conscious gadgeteer. But it's also a practical item, fitting neatly into a pocket or clipping to clothing with a supplied detachable clip. A touch bigger than the also new Creative Zen Stone, the Stone Plus has a screen and an FM radio where its sister product has neither.

The Creative Zen Stone Plus is slightly bigger than the iPod shuffle, too, but there's a good reason for this, as you shall see.

See also:

iPod shuffle review

Firstly, the Creative Zen Stone Plus, unlike its lower-spec Stone sibling, incorporates a small monochrome screen. This makes navigation easier (although, as is generally the case with this market segment, it's still not a dream, thanks to the simplistic folder structure) and adds something to the look of the thing, which is important in a gadget.

More intriguingly, there's a speaker built into the back of the Creative Zen Stone Plus. Which is rather exciting. Admittedly, this isn't the most powerful speaker in the world – a block party is probably out of the question, what with the shortage of bass oomph – but it's still nice to have for light picnic accompaniment. (Or annoying grown-ups on the bus, more likely.)

The rest of the Creative Zen Stone Plus package is thoroughly respectable: 2GB capacity (a decent complement, and possibly too large a volume of music to be relying on such a basic navigational structure); USB 2.0 connectivity; FM radio; voice recording; dedicated volume buttons. The claimed battery life is an excellent 20 hours, comparing favourably with the iPod shuffle's 12 hours.

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

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Targeting the iPod shuffle on its own ground, the Creative Zen Stone Plus brings a petite chassis, 2GB capacity and bargain price tag to the party – and trumps its Apple rival with a built-in speaker and screen.

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.

Uploading issues

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 Plus 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 Plus 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.

The other concern is that the Creative Zen Stone Plus can play only a narrow range of file formats, so you may need to convert some of your favourite songs into MP3s. Again: not a major headache.

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Creative Zen Stone Plus 2GB With Built-In Speaker: Specs

  • Portable audio player
  • 2GB capacity
  • MP3/WMA/AAC (unprotected only)
  • speaker
  • FM radio
  • microphone
  • USB 2.0
  • claimed battery life 20 hours
  • 64x64-pixel display
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • 55x18x36mm
  • 21g
  • Portable audio player
  • 2GB capacity
  • MP3/WMA/AAC (unprotected only)
  • speaker
  • FM radio
  • microphone
  • USB 2.0
  • claimed battery life 20 hours
  • 64x64-pixel display
  • 1-year limited hardware warranty
  • 55x18x36mm
  • 21g

OUR VERDICT

A superb package that has 'value for money' written all over it, Creative's Zen Stone Plus With Built-In Speaker is pretty much an iPod shuffle plus a screen – and the bonus of a small speaker. It looks great, does everything you ask and costs just £42. Highly recommended – just don't expect too much from that speaker.

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