We usually begin our MP3 player descriptions by berating anyone who has yet to join the digital revolution and poking fun at ancient audio formats. But we're bored with that. Besides, the fact that you've managed to find your way onto our site using this marvellous new interweb thingy means you don't need us to explain the infinite advantages of MP3 players, do you?
Therefore we can only conclude that you are MP3-less because you can't decide which one to buy. And that's where Firebox can help. The gorgeous Zen Sleek is the latest (and some say greatest) player to emerge from the Creative stable, and just like its predecessor (the Touch) it's bound to upset the Apple cart because it's more than a match for the mighty iGods of this world.
Creative's 20GB Zen Sleek does everything the pricier icompetition can and more, yet it's actually smaller and lighter than its ubiquitous rival and boasts a rather nifty FM radio and built-in microphone. Finished in chic aluminium with cool white control surfaces the Sleek really looks the biz. But it's more than just a pretty fascia because its 20GB hard disk can store up to 10,000 songs in WMA format or 5,000 in MP3. Transferring music is a doddle: fast USB 2.0 connectivity means you can download from your PC at up to one song per second. Perfect for a quick pre-jog update.
The gorgeously sleek... er, Sleek features a super-intuitive vertical Touch Pad that gives natural, one-handed fingertip management of all the player's functions. Add to this a large blue backlit display and you're looking at the perfect player for anyone who loves fiddling with their tunes under the covers.
If you're reading this and thinking there must be some catch - like a crummy battery - then think again: the Sleek offers playtimes of up to 16 hours from its rechargeable battery. That means you could, in theory, listen to Bill Clinton's hefty audiobook (approx 6 hours), William Shatner's entire back-catalogue (approx 3 hours), a fistful of Pink Floyd concept albums (just under 7 hours) and still have enough juice to enjoy Hear'say's greatest hit (approx 3 minutes). If you want.
The beautifully-engineered Zen Sleek even goes where no iThingy has gone before because it features a nifty built-in FM radio with 32 presets and a direct recording facility so you can store your favourite broadcasts. Alright? Not 'arf!
There's even a built-in microphone that allows you to record personal memos (eg: "Delete that godawful Hear'say track asap") and a custom equaliser with 9 (count 'em, 9) acoustic environments. We're so excited we could rave on about this superb sounding machine for yonks. In fact, we already have. So we'll sign off by telling you that the Creative Zen Sleek is about to rock, roll and quite feasibly derail the almighty Apple cart. What do you think of that Zen!
20GB hard disk stores up to 10,000 songs* in WMA or 5,000 in MP3. Also supports WAV (*Based on four-minute songs at 64Kbps in WMA, 128Kbps in MP3).
Vertical touchpad with LED backlight is quick and intuitive to use, gives total control with fingertip touch.
FM tuner with 32 presets and direct recording, to capture memorable broadcasts.
Built-in microphone for live voice recording and personal notes.
Equalisation feature with 9 acoustic environments such as 'rock' or 'jazz' enables listeners to customise music to their personal preferences.
USB 2.0 connection, for downloads at up to a song per second.
Dimensions: 59 x 101 x 17.1 mm (WxHxD)
Power Source: 1 x Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery & USB bus powered when connected to a power outlet or powered USB port.
MP3: Up to 320 kbps
WAV: Up to 48 kHz, 16-bit, Stereo/Mono
WMA: Up to 320 kbps WMA with Digital Rights Management (DRM) 9 and 10
Voice (via built-in microphone): IMA ADPCM (16 kHz, Mono)
FM Radio: IMA ADPCM (22 kHz, Stereo)
FM Radio: Stereo and Mono, Up to 32 preset stations
FM region support: International: 87.5 MHz ~ 108.0 MHz, 100 kHz intervals
MP3 Playback Performance:
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: Up to 96 dB
Channel Separation: Up to -70 dB
Frequency Response: 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz
Harmonic Distortion Output: <0.1%
Headphone jack: 3.5 mm (1/8") stereo minijack, 25 mW per channel
USB 2.0 port: Standard USB mini-B
USB 2.0 (High speed)
USB 1.1 (Full speed)
LCD: 2 inches (diagonal) display with blue LED backlight
Firmware Support: Upgradable via USB (firmware upgrades are available from www.creative.com)
Frequency Range: 20 Hz ~ 20 KHz
Sensitivity: 111dB ± 5dB (I/P Level:1 mW)
Impedence: 32 W ± 15%
Plug: 3.5 mm (1/8") stereo minijack
Microsoft® Windows® 98SE/Me/2000/XP
Intel® Pentium® II 350MHz or AMD K6®-2 450MHz (Pentium III 450MHz or higher recommended for MP3 encoding)
64MB RAM (128MB recommended)
USB 1.1 port (USB 2.0 recommended for faster transfer)
Wow, just wow. So much nicer than any iPod I've ever seen - why go round in circles when you can go straight to what you want to hear? The FM radio is certainly a useful feature too. Very deserving of its name. 10/10*. Peet, Southampton, UK - 10th August 2005