Creative Introduces Teeny Tiny Zen Stone


Over the weekend, we teased you with a rumor that had been floating around, that Creative would introduce a tiny, flash-based audio player for under $50. Well, it happened, and it's actually under $40. (I mean "under" in the TV-announcer sense of the word.)

Creative's $39.99 1GB Zen Stone will be out this month, in six colors: black, white, red, blue, pink and green. Follow the jump for details, plus some very sweet photos you may not see anywhere else.

For $40 you get the 1GB player itself, about half the price of that other screen-less multicolored baby flash player you may have heard about. Creative says it will get 10 hours of playback from a fully charged internal battery. It's a basic USB-drive drag-and-drop interface.

The clip will cost you $9.99 extra. "What clip?" you ask. You know what clip.

Other accessories, shown below, include a keychain ($12.99) and an armband ($15.99) In July, Creative will introduce TravelSound Zen Stone, the tiny docking speaker system shown below, for $39.99. Powered by two AAA batteries, it will run for 20 hours.

The Stone supports MP3, WMA and WAV files plus Audible formats 2 and 3. It supports for-purchase WMA DRM files, but doesn't support portable subscription WMAs. On that subject, Creative told us:

Subscription support would have required much more processing power, which would have increased the cost and price of the player. We felt that the vast majority of folks would have 1GB of non-protected content and so it would be best to go with the great price of $39.99 instead of trying to support everything and offer a more expensive player.

If you store music in folders (by artist or genre), you can use the "skip folder" button to jump from folder to folder. On the side, there's also a shuffle random button. The play/pause button is one of those cute little touches Creative often integrates into designs: because the button is shielded by a clear rubber droplet, it has a weird distortion/magnification effect.

The Stone is obviously a marketshare move against Apple (there, I said it) and SanDisk. But it's also a statement about the flash-memory business. Creative told me that because they are buyers of flash memory, they can get all Mortimer & Randolph Duke and stockpile it when the price is low, like so many pork bellies. The gist is that makers of flash, such as SanDisk and Samsung, suffer more at the mercy of the market. It's an interesting point, and at least a plausible explanation of the $39.99 Stone price point.

I think this is a good place for Creative, playing hardball at the "value" end of the flash-player business. Creative products have always been stylish, but this whole DRM thing has really thrown the company for a loop. In this segment, style counts almost as much as price—just think of the SanDisk revolution of 2006. Whether or not you can sync to iTunes doesn't matter nearly as much in this part of the playground.

A few weeks ago, I held one in my hand, and I liked the feel. The Stone is smooth and little, a skipping stone maybe, but certainly not something you could use to slay Goliath. More of a PEBL pebble, some have said. Still, I like the name. After all, it's the condition most of my favorite musicians were in when they recorded their finest work.

Creative Labs Corporate Information [Creative]



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