Creative has always been one of the leaders in portable media players. However, Apple has clearly been a step ahead with their never-ending supply of iPods. But then again, you also have to take into consideration the fact that Creative products are a lot cheaper than that of Apple, and are almost as good in terms of functionality. Here's the new Creative Zen X-Fi Style, and does it provide true value for money? Well, keep reading to find out.

The X-Fi looks quite similar to its predecessors, the Style 100 and Style 300. One of the only differences is that it does not have a memory expansion slot. Apart from that, it's quite similar, right from the layout of the buttons to the placement of the 3.5 mm jack and the mini-USB port. The front panel is smooth, and glossy, while the back has a matte finish. One good thing about this player is that it feels superlight and weighs in at just 56 grams. I only wish it didn't feel so plasticky, as it feels like it would break if dropped. Another weak point I noticed were the buttons, which could have been a little larger, given the amount of space.

The X-Fi comes in three versions – 8, 16 and 32 GB. The one we're looking at is the 8 GB variant, and it supports up to 2000 MP3s at 128 kbps. The formats it supports are MP3, WAV, AAC WMA, Audible4 and FLAC. The player also has an inbuilt microphone at the top for voice recording, as well as a built in speaker at the back. Note that this speaker isn't good for much other than listening to recorded clips. The player also has FM radio support with 32 presets.

The X-Fi has a 2.4 inch TFT LCD screen that supports 262k colours at 640 x 480 pixels. You can play WMV9, MPEG4-SP3, DivX3 4/5 and XviD. In fact, I transferred an AVI file directly onto the player, and it played back pretty well without any glitches. You can also use the 3.5 mm input jack to play video and images on your TV screen with an A/V cable that you can buy separately. The player also supports JPEG and PMP photo formats. Other formats such as TIFF, PNG and GIF need to be converted using the software provided with the player.

Creative has also included the functionality to sync RSS feeds, but that could be a pain, as putting them on the player without 3G or Wi-Fi is quite a chore. You will have to sync the feeds using the Creative's 'Centrale' software instead. One added bonus that the X-Fi provides is the ability to store your contacts, calendar info and tasks.

I tested the player with various genres of music that I like right from acoustic pop and hip-hop to electronic and heavy metal, and it is safe to say that it plays all of these really well. My only complaint was that the maximum volume could have been a little louder. But then again, you always have the option of using the EQ to make it sound better and louder. The EQ presets are pretty standard with settings such as Pop, Rock, Classical, Disco and more. And if you turn on the proprietary X-Fi setting viz. Crystalizer and Expand, the sound becomes a lot crisper, as well as louder. Of course, there's also a Bass Boost option if you want the added thump.

The video quality on the 2.4 TFT screen is pretty good, but it might suffer if you play photos and videos out to your TV as the colours are limited to 262k. As long as you are viewing them on the player's screen, you should not have a problem.

As far as battery life goes, this little player lives up to its word. It can continuously play back over 24 hours of audio or 4 hours of video, which is almost as good as what the company claims it can do.

Creative does not disappoint with this handy little player. Sure, all you iPod fans can complain saying it doesn't look half as good, and is too flimsy. But when it comes to value for money, this little baby is a really good deal. The prices for the X-Fi are Rs 6,999 and Rs 8,999 for the 8 GB and 16 GB versions respectively. As much as I love my iPod, I have to say that it's a very good deal for all the features it provides.

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