Thursday, March 30, 2006

Product Review: Creative MuVo Micro N200 1GB

Last week I wrote about how we ordered a 512MB Zen Nano Plus from Creative for £31 (not £33 - that was a mistake). Well, remember when Creative called and told us that they do not have enough 512MB in stock, so they were going to upgrade one of the 512MB player to a 1GB one. Well, when the players finally arrived we found that we received the following upgrades:

256MB Zen Nano Plus -> 512MB MuVo N200
512MB Zen Nano Plus -> No upgrade
512MB Zen Nano Plus -> 1GB MuVo N200

The MuVo N200 is the exact same thing as the Zen Nano Plus. The only difference are the packaging and inclusion of accessories.

Total spent = £85
Total spent if bought from a high street store = £180 ~ £220
Total savings = £95 ~ £135

I got the 1GB upgrade while Jennifer retained the 512MB. She saved money on an armband as I gave mine to her. Her sister will scoop the upgraded 512MB.

The only problem with mine was instead of any other colours, it came in white! Probably the single most overused colour for portable electronics this side millennia. I wouldn't even mind yellow or green. There is nothing I can do about it though and I shouldn't even be complaining seeing how lucky I was for Creative to upgrade the capacity.

1GB is ideal for me (for now). I have a huge collection of music (300 albums) but some I have grown out of it (Death Metal, Black Metal). I do not need to pack in two thousand and one tracks simply because I won't listen to all of them anyway. I do admit that it would have been nice to have everything with you at all time but seriously it doesn't concern me much. Besides this player is cheap and is the perfect jogging companion in Gunnersbury Park, where a mobile phone player (and a more expensive player) would probably get me mugged. Harddrive players are a no-no when it comes to jogging.

While the player is cheap in price, it isn't cheap when it comes to built quality. Applying Julie Strietelmeier's patented gadgeteer test, the player did not crack under pressure. There were no creaking to be felt. The bloody thing is solid as a rock. Even the battery door is tough. I can honestly say that the MuVo and Zen Nano will definitely survive a couple of drop on a concrete floor (not that I will be testing that!).

The screen is a two line LCD display with blue backlight, similar in size to those tiny MiniDisc remotes. It displays the track name, the EQ setting, time and battery. It is clear and works well in both indoor and outdoor environments. The problem with the backlight is whenever it is turned on you can hear a faint (not audible when playing loud music) static sound through the speakers. Fortunately the backlight will automatically turn off after a preset (adjustable) time. The other problem with the screen is the orientation. Most of the time I would prefer to hold the player like a lighter and the screen is just too difficult to read due to the vertical angel.

The controls are small and similar in size to those found on Walkman remote controls. iPod users (and to some extent Zen Micro, Sleek and Vision:M users) may scoof at the small buttons but I love them. I have always been a favour of players with buttons and jog-dial as you do not have to look at the player to see what buttons you are pressing. With tactile feedback all I can keep the player in my pocket while controlling the volume or skipping the track. I won't be like one of those idiots on the Tube who keeps removing his or her iPod from his or her bag in order to change the volume or skip the track (or more likely - to show off!). The only problem is the jog dial is quite 'spongy' unlike those smooth ones found on Sony PDAs. Transferring music is a breeze and you won't have to do so without any software because it is MSC compliant. Windows XP and Linux recognises the player as an external drive. I can easily drag and drop my files into the player. No proprietary softwares like iTunes or Sony Sonic.Stage craps to worry about. As I have already encoded most of CD collection into WMA files all I did when I got the player was fill them up. 500 songs to be precise on that dinky little 1GB chip. You can also record through the in-line analog audio input which is a nifty feature even if I do not use it. But it is there for people who wants to ripped off music from infected Sony DRM-ed CDs. All my tracks are encoded on the WMA 9.1 VBR 2-pass setting which translates into files with bitrates of between 80kbps - 140kbps. dBPowerAMP takes care of which tracks that require higher bitrates and which one that doesn't. (note: from time to time Creative will release firmware upgrades that requires you to format the memory)

You can't create playlist on the device itself, but this isn't a problem to me as I prefer the folder method (eg. Album -> Track) method that Creative created. There is also a shuffle mode but I almost never use shuffle in any of my players (including on PDAs). Quite why people like to shuffle their music is beyond me as some artists like to 'divide' a 'track' into two or more tracks, but to each his own.

The included earphone isn't the typical cheapo earbuds that you throw away. It isn't as good as £30 earphones but it does the job well and is much better than Sony freebies of yore (remember those crappy fontopias that were included with your walkmans that hurt your ear?). As I have a superior earphone (the Shure e2c which costed more than this little player) I only use the included freebie when I am jogging so as not to get those salty sweat on my nice e2c. Creative also included an armband for joggers. Very nice of them considering that Apple sells armbands for £20 (you read that right - twenty bloody quid - for an armband!).

There are a couple of other value added inclusions such as FM radio, microphone and as mentioned earlier a built in encoder. The built in encoder is useful for people with no access to a PC or want to record from an analog source (eg. vinyl player). Songs recorded via the line-up are encoded in MP3 format (96, 128 and 160kbps). I do not use these features but there are available if you find yourself needing one. The microphone may come in handy whenever I need to jot something down and didn't have a pen.

A positive (and negative) point on the player is the fact that it runs of a triple-A. I am in the middle of this one. I hate the fact that I need to remove my NiMH battery in order to insert a freshly charged battery when it is needed. I estimate that I may need to change twice weekly. But I do like the idea that when the battery is dying on a holiday and you are not near a charger, a simple trip to the local chemist will produce a pack of AAA for a few quid. Disappointed that it doesn't have built-in USB like those two piece MuVos. Instead the player has a type B mini-USB port that requires a cable to connect to the PC's USB port. Now this isn't a problem as the last time I counted I had like twenty of these cables lying around my room, but because the device also acts as a mass storage device this may pose a problem for people who intents on using this device as an external thumbdrive.

Now the sound quality is pretty good for a cheap player as this. Coming from Creative, this isn't surprising as the company is known for creating amazing soundcards. Ever since we first installed a a Creative SoundBlaster PCI card on our 486 15 years ago, I have faith in this company's ability to reproduce amazing sound. The four preset EQ setting was quite a stingy inclusion and muddles the music quite a bit (I find all preset EQ settings tend do that). Fortunately there is a 5-band customisable equaliser.

I am happy with the purchase considering that the player costs less than half my weekly rent. If you want a player, this is a no brainer investment. Creative sells the standard 1GB for around £50 on eBay, and even at that price it would still have been a good purchase.

Cheap price
Good built quality
High quality sound output
Support for WMA files (as well as evil DRM if you want them)
Alright quality earphones
Intuitive control system (has a jog dial - yay!)
Mass Storage Class compliant (drag n' drop - no proprietary softwares)
Industry standard triple-A battery slot (no need for proprietary batteries)
Ability to record from almost any source (including the built-in FM radio)

USB cable required to transfer music
No OggVorbis file format support
Low buzzing noise when backlight is on
Slow start-up from cold boot
GUI could use some updating
Limited ID3 support
Average battery life, better than an iPod, but not even close to the dizzy heights of Sony Walkmans (DAPs, MD)

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howsy said...

Fan of The Interpol, eh? said...

Wah so good,get free upgrade.
I personally dont like creative after using Micro Zen

Jon said...

@Howsy, you got that right. Any recommendations?

@yothemans, don't know about the Zen Micro. I find it quit though.

howsy said...

I just Google. I don't listen. :P

I'd rather stick with The Streets and Keane this coming April and June.

Jon said...


Anonymous said...

i just ordered one of these seems sweet for that price.does it really hold 500 songs? cause the 1GB on a shuffle holds 140 songs or so.this blog really excited for my new MuVo micro.

Jon said...

It's capable of holding up to 500 songs if you encode them in 64kbps. Quality would suffer of course but in my experience 64kbps WMA-9 is similar in quality as a 128kbps MP3.

I am guessing Apple quoted the iPod shuffle based on 160kbps AAC, the format that songs sold through iTunes are delivered.

Enjoy your purchase. I had, until it got stolen...!

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