Creative Zen Style M300 review

Can Creative's entry Zen Style M300 take on the iPod Shuffle?

Image 1 of 2 Creative Zen Style M300
Creative Zen Style M300
Image 2 of 2 Creative Aurvana In Ear3 review
Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 review

For

  • Pocket-size
  • Abundant features
  • Value for money

Against

  • Visual display a let down

Creative's entry-level Zen Style M300 player isn't quite an iPod beater but has brilliant features and audio in a tiny form factor that will attract many in spite of the competition

Creative’s background in audio kit for PCs fanbois has built the company a big fanbase and the company spread its market further with its Zen players. The company made shrinky-dink Zens, personal media player Zens and digital audio Zens – even maa-hoo-sive hard drive-based Zens way back when. Then Apple turned up uninvited and spoilt the party. Since then, MP3 player hardware vendors have concentrated on making iThingie looking kit because nothing else was selling. Enter the Zen Style M300 stage left.

The Zen Style M300 is Creative’s entry-level MP3 player but it is feature-packed and tipped somewhere between the iPod Shuffle and the iPod Nano. It offers a decent array of audio codecs and supports Bluetooth 2.1 out of the box so can stream audio to Bluetooth enabled devices. Despite paying too much homage to Apple iPods, the Zen Style M300 is a superb little audio player in its own right. Starting at only £39.99 for the 4GB version, it is brilliant value for money and our only bone of contention was the video playback on the muddy-looking 128x128 resolution screen.

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Creative Zen Style M300: Ease of Use

At a mere 33g and with super-slim dimensions, the Zen Style M300 is truly a pocket-size device. It is tiny and light yet solid to hold – even though it’s made of plastic. Putting a touchscreen on something so small would be too hard to navigate so Creative put the touch keys around the outside of the frame. Along with a simple but effective interface, this made navigating the player extremely intuitive and it flips quickly between screens and features. Using only context sensitive up, down, return, enter and a touch menu option key, the player is a joy to use. Creative also added a volume rocker on the right and an on/off and lock switch.

Transferring media is a simple drag and drop affair once we plugged the short micro USB2.0 cable in. There’s no useless bloatware either – it just plugs in as an external drive. We did have a couple of issues transferring some music but this was isolated a firmware problem on the review model we tested. Creative assured us this wouldn’t be the case when final UK samples hit the shelves in a couple of weeks.

Creative Zen Style M300: Features

The feature list is immense. For only a few of your English pounds, Creative has bundled the ability to record audio, play music, pics, movies and audio books thanks to support for most audiobook codecs. If you do max out on your storage there’s a slot for a 32GB Micro SD card and the rechargeable lithium battery is set to last for 20 hours on music playback.

We were surprised to see that the tiny 1.45-inch 128x128 resolution screen is capable of video playback but, in practice, it ain’t worth diddly. The player only supports SMV video files, which are ultra compressed formats to squish DVD sized movies down to a mere 250MB for mobile players like this. There’s no bundled transcoder for the job but Creative’s site helpfully showed us where to download one. We tried a couple of movies that clipped at weird aspect ratios and the pixel count on the screen is so low, it’s not worth watching.

Creative Zen Style M300: Music quality

Thankfully the audio playback on the Zen Style M300 is much better than its lack of visual flair and it’s further enhanced by the stunning Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 headphones we tested. The bundled buds are serviceable for a budget model but hold the quality back so it is always worth upgrading. In fact, the £129.99 Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 are over three times more expensive than the 4GB Zen Style M300 but the maths do add up if you want the best audio experience you can get.

The Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 headphones are noise-isolating rather than noise-cancelling, and they do a fantastic job of blocking out external noise. Sound quality is head and shoulders above most bundled earphones, and obviously a lot better than ones that cost a bit less. Each unit packs two drivers, one a woofer and the other a tweeter. Bass, midrange and highs are all recreated smoothly without any imbalance.

Even the audio on the bundled headphones is better than most. Shame there’s a lack of onboard EQ controls on the player to tweak that even further.

Creative Zen Style M300: Verdict

One of the most comprehensive budget players through the T3 labs, enhanced no end by Creative’s stunning headphones. Still not quite an iPod beater and the video playback is pointless but a great Zen addition by Creative.

Creative Zen Style M300:4GB costs £39.99, 8GB costs £59.99 and 16GB costs £79.99

Creative Aurvana In-Ear3 headphones: £129.99

Link: Creative