When the $39.99 Zen Stone was first unearthed, there was some discussion as to whether it was larger or smaller than a $79 iPod shuffle. As you'll be able to see in the gallery after the jump, it's noticeably larger than the shuffle, and that's without the $9.99 add-on clip. However, you should also be able to tell that it's a non-issue. The Zen Stone rests tiny and almost weightless in the palm of my hand, and I'm far from NBA material. Until the flash memory and processor are in the earbuds and you wear the whole thing like some freaky necklace, the size/weight concern is pretty much moot.
Follow the jump for some hands-on reviewy nuggets and 12 red-hot pictures.
Performance-wise the Stone does what it should. However, like most of the competition, Creative's earbuds are one-size-fits-some. I for one can't keep them in my ear. But I pretty much toss the earbuds that come with music players anyway. In addition to the headphones, the package comes with a USB cable as well.
There's essentially zero setup hereâ€”it's a USB disk with a standard folder structure. The manual suggests that "for the full experience" I should download Creative Media Lite software at creative.com/zenstone. I skipped that, because I like unfettered access. It takes a little over a minute to dump each album (I was using 192Kbps MP3s). In addition to MP3s, the Stone takes unprotected WMAs and purchase-only WMAs. The manual says charging takes about two to three hours, and since its just mini USB, you can probably charge it with a RAZR or BlackBerry charger instead of on your computer.
When we introduced the Stone, we mentioned a folder-skip switch. If there's anything that differentiates the Stone from Apple's shuffle, it's the ability to store multiple albums and jump from one to the next. As you can see in the gallery, on top of the Stone there's a switch with icons for shuffle and repeat plus a green Play button. When you thumb the switch to that green button it snaps back, having jumped to the next folder. I put three folders within a larger folder entitled MUSIC. It basically treats the loose contents of the master folder as a fourth folder.
Is the Zen Stone better than the shuffle? I suppose that depends primarily on how many DRM songs you have purchased from iTunes. I will say this, though: the $39.99 Zen Stone currently offers the better cost-benefit ratio, and not a lot of room for disappointment.