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Zen Nano Plus MP3 player/recorder

Creative Zen Nano Plus

The first thing that hits you about the Creative Zen Nano Plus is its size - the Nano Plus cramming a wealth of features into a tiny unit, yet leaving enough room for a small backlit screen.

Play and volume controls are responsive and sensibly sized; the rocker switch to the side of the Zen Nano Plus is a little fiddly; it's used to flick between functions and confirm selections, though it takes some getting used to.

There's a rubber cover over the USB port that allows you to hook it up to your PC to transfer music files and, adjacent to this, a line input. This latter feature, arguably the most useful for DAB digital radio owners, lets you record your favourite shows onto the Nano Plus thanks to its real-time MP3 encoding at 96, 128 or 160Kbps, more of which later.

Transferring files is a cinch as the Zen Nano Plus is recognised as a removeable drive; Creative also supply software that handles DRM copy-protected music, allowing you to easily transfer music, even via a lowly USB 1.1 Windows 98 PC.
Creative Zen Nano Plus 1GB
Creative Zen Nano Plus 1GB version with Sennheiser PMX100 'phones, hooked up to a Pure Evoke 1XT DAB radio

Abundant features mean you can tweak a custom 5-band graphic equaliser (this writer's preference) or opt for preset rock, classical, pop or jazz settings.

An in-built microphone makes okay voice recordings, but there's also an FM tuner built-in with 32 presets and Autoscan function to commit stations to memory automatically. Reception is excellent and it's also possible to record from FM, though the Nano Plus is limited to a PCM 16 kHz, 4-bit, wave format - which is fine for talk stations, less so for music channels. Voice recordings are in PCM 8 kHz, 4-bit, Mono wave format.

A variety of shuffle, repeat and A>B replay options are on offer; browsing folders is a little messy as the Nano Plus starts playing the first song in the folder as you skip through them, rather than offering a chance to browse without playing. If the play mode is set to random then you'll find yourself skipping through folders in a random order, too.

But the biggest attraction of the Zen Nano Plus is its direct line-in recording facility; the unit also sports synchronised recording, enabling you, for example, to hook up your DAB radio to make timed recordings.

Provided your DAB radio has a line-level output (most Pure radios do) and alarm setting, you can make recordings for as long as the alarm function allows (typically one hour). Okay, the MP3 recording feature's not meant specifically for this purpose, but it works. The synch feature starts recording when it senses an output from the DAB radio and stops when the radio reverts to standby, great if you have a radio like the Evoke 1XT.

The supplied in-ear 'phones are fine, but budget for a pair of Sennheiser PMX100s and the Nano Plus provides an incredible listen; tweak the custom equaliser for more low-down presence on the train or keep things flat at home and the Nano Plus doesn't disappoint. Another bonus is that the Nano Plus takes a single, standard AAA battery - for up to 16 hours' use. However, I prefer to use rechargeables.

The Zen Nano Plus, whilst not being the most intuitive player around, wins on its connectivity and recording facilities. The 160Kbps recording facility allows to you review your favourite shows at a high enough sound quality to make them enjoyable (bearing in mind many stations broadcast at 128Kbps MP2, 160Kbps MP3 is actually quite an improvement), then seek out songs on the many music download sites. The 1GB version is a must; with this you can store around 200 songs in high quality WMA/MP3 format, though Creative's SmartFit software will aim to reduce bitrates to 64Kbps WMA format if you particularly want to aim for 500 songs. A downside is the lack of playlist support, though this is easy to get around if you organise tracks into different folders and is just about forgivable given the number of other features on offer.

The supplied PC software will also let you move tracks up and down inside a folder, if you need to specify the exact order. For this writer, the Creative Zen Nano Plus works best as a "shuffle" player and with new content placed in separate folders, it's easy to select music you've recently downloaded. I prefer to cherry pick one or two songs rather than store whole albums, so the Zen Nano Plus suits me fine.

For: Tiny, with great little display. FM radio and useful MP3 line-in recording facility
Against: Controls can be a little fiddly; no "back" key
Verdict: A fantastic, compact MP3 player with good connectivity options
Price: GBP79.99 or less for 1GB option

Creative Zen Nano Plus (256MB/512MB/1GB)

Creative Zen Nano Plus (512KB/1GB)
Creative Zen Nano Plus MP3 player available in 256MB, 512MB or 1GB variations

key features:

up to 500 songs (in 64Kbps WMA format), approx. 175 in 160Kbps WMA format
compact blue backlit LCD display
FM radio with 32 presets
voice recording facility through built in mic
direct line-in digital encoding up to 160Kbps MP3
custom graphic equaliser
in-ear headphones supplied

Guide price:

GBP 79.99
available from: Play - GBP 49.99/69.99 (512MB/1GB) (free delivery) |
Amazon - GBP 39.99/49.99/63.61 (256MB/512MB/1GB) (free delivery) |
John Lewis - GBP 34.95/49.95/69.95 (256MB/512MB/1GB) (delivery extra)

Prices subject to change : please visit retailers site to confirm current price
more places to buy the Zen Nano Plus online


Other links:

features and reviews, on this website.
guide to DAB digital radio, on this website.
where to buy DAB digital radio, on this website.
what to buy - a DAB Buyers Guide, on this website.
more DAB radio receiver, system and tuner reviews, on this website.