It seems strange to think that one-time MP3-player market leader and current "catch-up merchant" Creative has only just arrived with its first touchscreen player, but in an attempt to appeal to the tactile generation it has upgraded its impressive Zen X-Fi for just this purpose.
The X-Fi 2 ditches the keypad that used to sit alongside the display and now simply offers a "home" button to return to the main menu. The rest of the controls are operated via the touchscreen interface and aside from a microSD card slot for expanding the generous internal storage (the X-Fi 2 is available at capacities from 8 to 32GB) there are no other notable external features.
Creative has gone the whole hog with touchscreen operation then, and it wasn’t long before we were cursing the lack of a dedicated volume adjuster to avoid the rigmarole of unlocking and trawling through menus. Unfortunately this isn’t too easy to do as this is far from the most responsive touchscreen on the market, paling in comparison to Apple’s (admittedly far more expensive) recent efforts.
While things do improve once you get used to the pressure and angle at which you need to browse the features and settings, it’s fair to say that we were a little let down by what should have been the headline feature of this new player.
Creative appears to have taken a rather token approach to the new operation, preferring to rely on its strengths – namely the X-Fi sound schemes and value for money – to appeal to the modern consumer. Luckily it certainly knows what it’s doing in this area, and the audio quality available by tweaking the range of different effects is excellent. We were also pleasantly surprised by the solid, well-rounded ear-buds supplied, which are far better than you would typically find on a portable player.
One advantage touchscreen adoption does bring is a larger display, and the 3-inch (400 x 240) LCD is certainly clear and colourful enough to do justice to video and photo content, being just about big enough to enjoy feature-length clips on the move.
File support is also very good here and the X-Fi 2 is able to handle a range of conventional formats as well as less common FLAC and AAC audio. There are also a healthy range of additional features that include an FM radio, clock, alarm, calendar, task and contacts list along with a voice recorder via the built-in microphone.
A decent battery life allows for around 20 hours of audio playback and just over 4 hours for video, and it’s fairly slim and light weighing in at 75g.
We were extremely impressed by the audio quality on offer with the X-Fi 2 and suitably comfortable with the large, colourful display, but it’s a shame that the touchscreen operation wasn’t given more attention, particularly as this (along with the slightly larger display) will be the main draw for most. Creative still offers a versatile, solid player at a very reasonable price but those who are expecting it to compete with Apple’s superbly responsive iPod touch from an operational point of view will have to accept this sacrifice for the admittedly substantial savings on offer.
Creative is up there with the best on the market in terms of audio quality with its X-Fi range, and this new model would certainly suit those who prioritise the viewing of video or photos on the move. These factors are its saving grace as the headline touchscreen isn’t great, and though this would have been forgiveable if common operations such as adjusting volume were catered for using dedicated controls, we can’t help but think Creative missed a trick with its first ever touchscreen player, even if it is significantly cheaper than similar rivals.