Move over, iPod Shuffle, there's a new kid in town: the Zen Stone by Creative Labs. This new portable player does not have a screen, and the best news is that you no longer need to use iTunes to transfer files. No special software is required. The Zen Stone plays protected and unprotected MP3 and WMA files, as well as material from Audible.com. According to Creative Labs, the 1 GB player can hold approximately 500 WMA or 250 MP3 songs. The Zen Stone will not play subscription music that has not been purchased.
The Zen Stone requires Windows XP (service pack 1 or higher), an Intel Pentium III 1 GHz PC, an AMD Duron 1 GHz or better processor, 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended), and 170 MB free hard drive space.
The Creative Zen Stone is small, only 2.1 inches wide × 0.5 inches deep × 1.4 inches high. It weighs just 0.7 ounces.
On the front of the player is a four-way control button with another button in the center. This configuration is also found on many cell phones and portable players. The button in the center is the On/Off and Pause button. To turn the Zen Stone on, hold the button down for a few seconds. It may seem like it takes a while for the player to start, but it does start after about 15 seconds. Pressing the top part of the outer button increases the volume, and pressing the bottom part lowers it. There is a small hole on the part of the circle where the volume can be raised, which is used to reset the player. This can be done by sticking an unbent paper clip into the hole. Pressing the left side of the circle moves you backward, and pressing the right moves you forward. If you hold down either of the movement buttons, you can move within a particular song.
On the top left of the player is the headphone jack. Next to it is a switch that has three positions. If you push the switch to the position closest to the headphone jack and then quickly release it, you will be moved to the next folder on your player. If you then push the switch to its farthest position away from the headphone jack, your songs will be shuffled. If you put the switch in the middle position, your songs will be played in track-number order.
On the bottom left of the player is the USB port. On the left side of the player is a small hole to attach a string or lanyard to hang the player around your neck. When the player is hung, the orientation is different. There are also lights on the player to indicate the battery charge. The player does not need additional batteries; it uses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion Polymer (embedded) battery that gets its charge from the computer. It takes approximately three hours to charge the player completely, which gives approximately 10 hours of continuous playback. To charge the player, insert the wider end of the USB cable into your computer's USB port and insert the other end of the cable into the player.
Getting Started, Getting Help
The Zen Stone comes with a set of headphones (earbuds), a short USB 2.0 cable, and a manual. The manual can also be downloaded as part of the Creative Media Lite software package. This software package is not required, but it is worth downloading just for the manual. Other features of the software are discussed later in this article. Since the Zen Stone is not complicated and the manual gives good descriptions, it will not take you long to learn to use it.
The downloaded manual uses a standard tree view. Within each topic, there are subtopics. In addition to providing information about a particular topic, the manual provides links to related areas. For example, the manual's description of the switch on the top of the player also provides links on how to structure your folders and tracks. To download the Creative Media Lite software, visit the web site <http://us.creative.com/getstarted/zenstone>. Once you have the software on your computer, you can register your player. You will need help from a sighted person to enter the serial number.
There are several ways to transfer music to the Zen Stone. Three ways—using Creative Media Lite, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player—are discussed here. In addition, since the Zen Stone does not use any proprietary software, you can transfer music from any computer to your player.
The Creative Media Lite software is not totally accessible, but Brian Hartgen has written scripts for JAWS that can be located at <www.hartgen.org/zenstone.html>. As of this writing, there are no Window-Eyes set files for Creative Media Lite, but by using some of the mouse keys, parts of the software are accessible. Even if you do not use the software to transfer music to your player, you can find out how much free space is available and how much the Zen Stone's battery is charged. Window-Eyes users can find this information by pressing the Mouse Top Left key and then using the Mouse Down Arrow key. At the bottom of the page is the space availability and battery charge.
There are buttons in the application to select songs from your computer and then transfer the selected songs to your Zen Stone. The software has a feature where a CD can be transferred directly to the player without first going on the computer's hard drive. It is possible to do all this with the JAWS scripts, but it is much more cumbersome with Window-Eyes because some of the buttons do not speak.
To transfer a CD directly to the Zen Stone using Creative Media Lite and Window-Eyes, tab until you hear the button that says "Zen Stone." Hit the Enter key and then immediately hit the Down Arrow key one time. This will bring you to the Rip CD button. Route your mouse pointer to the button and left click. A new dialogue box will pop up where you can choose which tracks to transfer to the player.
It is easy to transfer music to the Zen Stone using Windows Explorer, but protected content cannot be transferred in this manner. Protected music can be transferred through Creative Media Lite or Windows Media Player. Simply connect your player to the computer via the USB cable. Next, open Windows Explorer and type the letter "Z." Windows Explorer sees the Zen Stone as an additional drive. To transfer music, select the files that you want to add to the player. Either copy and paste or drag and drop the files to the Zen Stone in Windows Explorer.
The synch feature in Windows Media Player allows you to transfer both protected and unprotected content. There is an option to have Windows Media Player automatically choose songs for the player, which is similar to the Auto Fill feature on the iPod Shuffle, or you can choose the songs yourself. If you do not have your songs already in Windows Media Player, they can be added through the Add to Library option in the File menu. If your songs are in a folder in Windows Explorer and you do not want to put them into Windows Media Player, select the song you want to add, right click on it, and arrow down to Add to Synch List. Start the synch process, and Windows Media Player will add the song to your player.
The Zen Stone lets you organize its contents by folders. For example, when a CD is transferred to the Zen Stone, it will show up as a separate folder. If you want to integrate the CD into a different folder, simply cut and paste the tracks into the folder where you want them.
Another great thing about this player is that it plays material from audible.com. It is possible to have both content from Audible.com and music on the player at the same time. The Zen Stone can play Audible formats 2 and 3. To put Audible content on the Zen Stone, you must have Audible Manager 5 on your computer. The Zen Stone has to be selected and activated in Audible's Device menu. Audible's tech support can assist you in this process. You can transfer material from Audible only through Audible Manager. Once your Zen Stone is set up with Audible, simply arrow to the book that you want to transfer and type Control-T or type Alt-D and arrow down to Add to Creative Zen Stone.
Navigating Through Audible Content
The process for navigating within Audible content is slightly different from playing music. Once you are in an Audible book, and you need to navigate within the book, push the switch on the top of the player toward the headphone jack, and hold it there for a few seconds. This action tells the player to use different navigation parameters. Then quickly press the Forward button to move ahead in the book and the Backward button to go to a previous section. If you hold down the Forward button, it works the same way as if you held down the button while playing music. This is also true for the Backward button. If you wait too long after setting the player for Audible content, the player will revert to its setting for playing music.
If there is more than one book on your player or if the book is in multiple parts, when you put the player into Audible mode, pressing the Forward button will move you to the next book or book part on your player. Once you are in the book or part you want, repeat the sequence to put the player into Audible mode, and then the Forward and Backward buttons will move you through each section of the book.
The Bottom Line
This is an easy-to-use and affordable player. The Creative Zen Stone should not be confused with the Creative Zen or the Zen Stone Plus, two players that have screens and inaccessible menus. Happy listening.
Product: Zen Stone.
Manufacturer: Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; phone: 408-428-6600; web site: <www.us.creative.com>.
U.S. Sales Outlets: Numerous online and brick-and-mortar retail stores, such as <www.amazon.com>, <www.target.com>, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Wal-Mart.