Creative Zen X-Fi reviewed: solid build but sound processing disappoints

Creative's Zen X-Fi certainly has the spec-sheet to take on Apple's PMP range, but until now we weren't sure it followed through with the usability.  Jenn over at Pocketables has been playing with what must be one of the first out of the shipping crates, and while she likes the PMP it does seem to fall short of Creative's "the sound of perfection" marketing hyperbole. 

The screen – all 2.5-inches of 16.7M-color QVGA – gets all the praise you'd expect, but it sounds as though the control system is a case of innovating for the sake of it, while the instant messaging functionality didn't give an obvious way to access Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo! Messenger as the Zen is meant to support.

More damning, though, is Jenn's opinion that audio on the Zen X-Fi actually sounds better with the X-Fi processing turned off.  This is bound to be a matter of opinion – and Jenn does say you may think differently with your own music – but she describes the two settings as follows:

"Whether X-Fi actually improves the sound of your music is not for me to decide, but my music (192-256kbps MP3s) sounds better without it. Crystalizer seems to intensify everything but the vocals, which I don't like, while Expand just sounds muffled to me" Jenn, Pocketables

It's possible that a tweak in firmware could improve that, and hopefully add some more flexibility in video format compatibility, but I don't see the Zen X-Fi being the PMP that causes huge defections from Apple's iPod range.