I've had a 256 MB Creative Muvo TX FM for a while now, and really love the tiny size and features of the device. As my first portable music device since a Sony Discman, it rocked -- but it was time to graduate to something with a bit more storage space, especially given the six cross country flights I'm taking between now and the new year.
So, I went down to my local Best Buy to check out some portable devices with more storage space. After looking at all of the choices, I narrowed it down to the Creative Zen Micro and Apple iPod Nano. Seriously, I had been leaning towards an iPod after talking with Michael and Matt, two Microsoft Media Center employees who own iPods.
The Apple iPod Nano had a color screen and came in 2GB ($199) and 4GB ($249) versions based on flash memory technology. The Nano is super thin and light -- 1.5 ounces at 1.6 x 3.5 x 0.27 inches. I'm used to replacing the AAA batteries in the Muvo, so this feature is actually something to which I've grown accustomed. Based on everything I've read, the battery issues with iPods are a thing of the past, so I'm not concerned there. Anyway, the battery doesn't appear to be end user replaceable in the iPod Nano. The Apple website has gobs of information on how to care for and extend battery life, but apparently if you need to replace the battery you must send it in to be serviced. You can see album art with the Nano, but according to a conversation with my friend Michael I'll need third party tools to take my medium sized collection of already ripped WMA files and convert them to MP3, then get the album art. He tells me iTunes won't fetch album art for any music already in my collection, but does for tracks purchased through the iTunes Music Service. The Nano has lot's of wow factor, and would be an obvious draw for many people.
The Creative Zen Micro has a black and white screen and came in a 6GB ($199) version based on microdrive technology. It's quite small at 3.8 ounces and 2 x 3.3 x 0.7 inches. While that measures at over 3 times the size (by volume) of the iPod Nano, it's very close to the same ballpark (within 10%) when compared to the iPod itself, which is also based on microdrive technology. The battery is user replaceable, and you can purchase additional batteries for around $40. I occasionally fly to Asia from Seattle, so having multiple batteries for the >12 hour flight is a plus. No album art with the Zen, but all other metadata is roughly equivalent to the Nano. I can also transfer my existing WMA files as is with no conversion necessary. The Zen micro is nice looking, but doesn't have quite the 'ooooo ahhhhhh' factor of the Nano.
The user interfaces, nuances notwithstanding, seemed largely interchangeable between the two devices. I'll give the Nano the edge here -- it's somewhat more usable when you first pick up the devices. The difference became negligible after using each for about 10 minutes each -- I could accomplish the same task on each device in about the same amount of time.
There are two features present on the Zen Micro which are important to me, but probably less so to others. Like the Muvo, it can double as a removable storage device for data files. I've found this feature very convenient in the past on trade show floors or roadshows setting up demo machines. It also has the ability to tune FM radio stations which comes in handy if I want to watch TV at the Pro Club while exercising instead of listening to music.
I basically came to the conclusion I would be equally happy with either device.
I ran the numbers on storage - the Zen Micro came out clearly on top...
- 2GB iPod Nano = $99.50 per GB
- 4GB iPod Nano = $62.25 per GB
- 6GB Creative Zen Micro = $33.17 per GB
Best Buy was also running a special where you got a $50 Best Buy gift card for free if you bought the Creative Zen Micro, dropping the price per GB to around $25 for that device. This coupled with the added features (removable disk feature and FM tuning) finally tipped the scales in favor of the Creative Zen Micro. It seemed to have the biggest bang for my buck.