A tale of two MP3 players..
Aside from a cheap 32mb mp3 player I owned in college, all my MP3 players have been iPods. In fact, an iPod was the first Apple product I owned. I've had a 10 gig second gen firewire iPod (clearanced from Target - I bought 5 of them, sold 4 on eBay and to coworkers, and kept the 5th), a 1 gig shuffle, and currently a nano.
I've been debating replacing the Nano. It's a 4 gig first gen and the battery is on it's way out. I've bought a replacement battery off eBay but haven't gotten around to installing it, so it barely makes it through my hour and a half daily cardio workout. It's also gotten too small for me - I keep having to delete music to put other songs in.
I'd love to replace it with a new 8 gig nano, but they are $249 new or $199 for a refurb.
Last Sunday morning, I was lurking on a deal site I sometimes lurk on and found an 8 gig Creative Zen MicroPhoto for $50 after rebate - it was $189 with $100 rebate. It was supposed to come with a free spare battery, but they were out of the stock on the battery and were giving $40 off instead. I made a quick check on eBay and discovered that dead ones went for $50, so I bought one.
I got it a few days ago and figured I'd give it a shot. Heck, even in open condition it would be worth more than I paid, and I might like it.
First of all, here's a pic of the Zen and my Nano. They are about the same size width and length wise (the nano looks bigger because I have it in a hard plastic case). However, the Nano is way thinner than the Micro, which is probably as thick as my old 2nd gen iPod firewire.
I loaded up the Zen last night with a bunch of music and took it to the gym today. So far, I have to say it's no iPod.
First of all, I use iTunes with the Nano, and have grown to like it. My original iPod shipped with MusicMatch, which was the suck, but once Apple wrote iTunes for the PC, things improved. It's a good music player, and it makes it very easy to move music from your playlist to your MP3 player. I can search for a song in iTunes and then drag it to a playlist on my 'Pod. The Zen, on the other hand, uses the "Creative ZenPhoto File Explorer", which is basically a file browser that you use to locate music on your machine and add folders and files to the Zen. Being able to add directories is nice, but the interface is kind of clunky, and not being able to play songs - and having to know where they are stored - is kind of a pain.
As far as the player itself, I'm not impressed either. The display on the Zen is way nicer than the Nano -it's OLED (organic light emiting diode) so it's bright, and it has a bunch of color schemes. However, that (and a working battery and 8 gigs of storage) are about the only things going for the Zen. The interface - 6 buttons, including a vertical scroll button for volume control and browsing playlists - doesn't feel nearly as natural or intuitive as the Nano's scroll wheel. I kept accidently bringing up submenus or skipping to another song when all I wanted to do was scroll down to a song and select it. The Zen does have a cool blue glow around the unit and the buttons also glow - the button glow is useful for dark areas, but the glow around the unit itself is kinda cheezy.
The Zen does have a couple features I'll never use, like an FM tuner. I've never gotten the appeal of an FM tuner. If I've got a large chunk of my music collection with me, why would I want to listen to other people's music, interupted by static, annoying DJ's, and ads? I guess if you are a news junkie, or if you go to a gym that broadcasts TV audio over FM (mine doesn't - it has direct plugs on the cardio equiptment) it could come in handy, but it's never seemed useful to me.
I'm going to try to stick with the Zen for a while, and maybe it will grow on me and I'll get used to it's size, interface, and software. And I'm guessing the Zen Software explorer won't be as bad when I'm just adding a song or two rather than filling up a virgin player. Still, if I use it for a while and it doesn't grow on me, it's going on eBay (or getting sold to a coworker who was looking for a cheap MP3 player).