This week Creative unveiled the Zen Stone MP3 player inaugurating the era of big name commodity players. There have been fairly generic MP3 players from a variety of little known manufacturers, but now Creative has decided to join the party and compete directly on price with the 1GB Zen Stone retailing for $39.99 while the comparable iPod Shuffle goes for $79.00.
So what do you give up with the Zen Stone compared to the iPod Shuffle? Nothing unless you are wedded to iTunes. As far as other formats, the Zen Stone will play MP3, WAV, Audible, and WMA (unprotected or protected), but there is no support for portable subscription WMA files:
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.
And that’s clearly the focus – rip your CDs to MP3 and put the songs on the Zen Stone and you are good to go without any extra expenditure for music stores or subscriptions. Since the bulk of content on iPods is believed to be MP3s, it seems like a good bet by Creative if they can overcome the iPod brand cachet.
Finally, reviews of the Zen Stone are in short supply, but Tom Gideon has one at PC Magazine and it’s exactly what one would expect:
The ZEN Stone is intentionally simple. There are no sound enhancement features, there’s no screen, and no FM tuner. It is almost an exact replica of the Shuffle in terms of functionality, except for minor differences in play modes and the two players’ compatibilities with different software. If you’re not tied to iTunes and all you want is a cheap player to take jogging or even lend to a friend so they can borrow your music, the ZEN Stone is one of the cheapest quality players out there…and its emergence certainly makes it hard for Apple to justify $80 for their nearly identical player.
Bottom Line: Unless you need iTunes or a subscription service, you can’t beat the Zen Stone on value in a Shuffle-like form factor.