Creative has put out an "Awww"-inspiring, aggressively priced MP3 player, but does it deliver? The Zen Mozaic's rounded edges, mosaic-like buttons, and diminutive size give it a decidedly kid-friendly look. Hipsters and youngsters will likely appreciate the built-in speaker for sharing songs on the spot. However, the Mozaic's controls involve a learning curve, and it looks and feels cheap compared tothe latest iPod nano.
The Mozaic is available in 2GB ($59), 4GB ($79), 8GB ($99), and 16GB ($149) capacities and in three different color schemes: silver (2GB, 4GB), black (8GB, 16GB), and pink (4GB). The textured, matte finish feels comfortable in the hand, and the player feels like it can withstand a few drops and knocks. What makes the Mozaic stand out is the nine-button layout beneath the scratch-prone, 1.8-inch LCD. It consists of directional keys and Back, Play/Pause, Context menu, and Shortcut buttons--and each is a different shade of the particular model's main color. The layout is confusing at first, and it's obvious that Creative sacrificed style for user-friendliness.
On the plus side, the interface itself is straightforward, and the screen is bright enough to see indoors and outside. The buttons click when pressed and are generally responsive, but they may be too small for thick fingers. We like the assignable shortcut button; we set ours to activate the volume menu, since the device lacks dedicated volume buttons.
The Power/Hold switch is on the player's right side, a tiny mic is along the top, and a reset button is on the left side. On the bottom is a mini-USB 2.0 port to charge and sync the device, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. The Mozaic's standout feature is a small monaural speaker on the back, which turns on automatically when you unplug the headphones, though you can set it not to do so.
We had no trouble loading the Mozaic with content via Windows Media Player and Real Rhapsody, but you have to use the bundled Zen Centrale software or Windows Media Player to convert all videos and photos to display on the device; unfortunately the Mozaic doesn't work with Macs. The bundled software lets you import calendar and contacts from Outlook or Windows Contacts. You'll need a separate app, ZENcast Organizer, to download and manage ZENCasts--Creative's version of podcasts. It's disappointing that the Centrale doesn't handle this function.
The included earbuds are fine for casual listening, but when we swapped them out for our Sennheiser HD280 Pro, all types of music sounded great. R&B tracks such as Stevie Wonder's "Too High" sound full, with good bass and clear vocals. Acoustic jazz, such as Miles Davis' rendition of "Bye Bye Blackbird" sounded crisp and reasonably detailed. As expected, the built-in speaker is tinny and rather quiet, but you can make out song lyrics and hear audiobooks easily. The player also offers 8 equalizer presets and a 5-band EQ.
Videos and photos look fine on the Mozaic, though we wouldn't watch long movies on the player's small screen. The FM tuner gets decent reception, and we like the voice recorder's on-screen level meter, though our test recordings were a bit noisy. Battery life is respectable, at around 32 hours for audio and 5 hours for video.
Creative Zen Mozaic Verdict
The pocket-friendly Creative Zen Mozaic player is not the most attractive or intuitive player, but it is affordable, and the integrated speaker is a fun way to share music. It's worth consideration by younger listeners or Windows users looking for a value-price iPod alternative.