Creative Ziio 7-inch £199.99
8th Feb 2011 | 14:30
A budget Android tablet that more than justifies its own existence
Creative Ziio 7-inch: Overview
Tablets are the next big thing! They're brilliant! They're wonderful to use! They're super-convenient and awesome!
That's what everybody is saying, isn't it? But where are all these brilliant devices that everyone's been squawking so loudly about?
It's fairly safe to say that the tablet market hasn't exactly exploded in a whirlwind of fiery, world-beating über-tablets. Not yet, anyway.
Until the likes of the BlackBerry Playbook, the Motorola Xoom and the Asus Eee Pads finally make their way onto the shelves and into our homes (not long, now), we're left with a fairly disjointed-looking product line-up.
The latest Android tablet to grace the TechRadar office is the Creative Ziio 7-inch. It was announced last year alongside the Creative Ziio 10-inch, which has yet to hit the shops.
At just £199, it's one of the cheapest Android tablets available. So is it a bargainous wonder, or is it a dead touchscreen dog?
The specs don't promise much. This is a tablet running a slightly modified Android 2.1, a resistive touchscreen, no 3G connectivity and no Android Market.
Can it recover from that fairly so-so start?
Creative Ziio 7-inch: Features and performance
Creative Ziio: Features and performance
The Creative Ziio 7-inch is a budget Android tablet, and as such it's not exactly what you'd call feature-rich.
At £199, it's one of the cheapest Android tablets you can find, so you should fully expect some corners to have been cut. We'll get to that in a second.
First, the specs. The Ziio is powered along by Creative's own ZiiLABS ZMS-08 processor which sits alongside 512MB RAM - the same as the iPad 2. Storage comes in 8GB and 16GB flavours (the latter is exclusive to Creative's UK retail website), while additional hardware features include stereo speakers, a microSD slot for storage expansion, a front-facing camera and an accelerometer.
On the top of the device you'll find a mini-USB connector, a mini-HDMI port for outputting to a TV, a microphone, headphone slot and the on/off/standby button.
The left side houses the micro-USB slot.
The bottom is where you'll find the small 5V charging port, as well as four touch buttons for search, home, settings and back.
And the right hand side is the home of the volume controls.
The first sacrifice, and it's a biggy, comes in the form of a 480 x 800 resistive touchscreen.
Resistive screens are cheaper to manufacture than capacitive ones. They work using two thin sheets with a microscopic gap between them, layered up on top of the panel. When you press the screen, the two sheets touch each other and the device is alerted to the presence of a finger in need of immediate assistance.
Some resistive screens we've tested really are diabolically awful. Most work a lot better with a stylus than with a finger, and many are an unresponsive waste of atoms.
Creative risked a lot by putting such a screen in the Ziio, but it actually hasn't hampered performance much at all. The screen is quite responsive. Indeed, even though the Ziio comes with a stylus in the box, you don't really need to use it – although it does help.
It responds more keenly to a stylus poke than it does to a prod from a finger, but on the whole the responsiveness wasn't a problem. Menus react promptly and there's not much lag at all. The screen is sensitive enough without having to push at it – a gentle touch is usually enough.
That doesn't mean it's a good screen though, oh no. The LCD panel underneath the touch-sensitive layer is a fairly average effort at best.
The 480 x 800 resolution is much lower than the Galaxy Tab's 1024 x 800 on the same size panel. This means that sharpness suffers a great deal, and watching videos and viewing images on the Ziio is a far less rewarding experience.
Even though the player can play back HD video files, the end experience is far from being a high definition one.
The viewing angle is also rather poor. You can hold it in front of you and the person sitting next to you can barely see what's on the screen. If you're the bashful sort who likes to sneakily watch a couple of episodes of Glee on the train without anyone knowing, this could be a good thing.
But if showing your mates video montages of cats playing cricket is more your thing, the viewing angle can be a right old pain in the 'nads.
Put it this way, if you show the Ziio to your friends, you might wow them with some of the features, but they're not going to be impressed by the screen.
Battery life on the Ziio was satisfactory without blowing us away. The stated battery time is 25-hours of MP3 playback and 5 hours of video playback. We were able to play with it on and off for a whole day without having to recharge although we suspect with the screen brightness turned up that battery would have drained in just a few hours.
The software on the Ziio is a faintly-modified version of Android 2.1 which we probably don't need to tell you is now a year out of date.
We're told that an update to Android 2.2 is incoming, but we won't be holding our breath for the much more tablet-friendly Android 3.0, which isn't due out probably for another month or so.
The main problem with the software as it is is that it lacks the core Google apps that make Android such a decent operating system. There's no Gmail app, no account syncing, and no Android Market. And that means no easy access to the thousands of apps inside it.
It's also got a mild case of the bipolar disorder which seems to hamper all non-phone devices running Android at the moment. It doesn't know what it is. While the Galaxy Tab constantly refers to itself as a phone, the Ziio repeatedly referrs to itself as the "Ziio or Zen Touch 2".
The Zen Touch 2 is a smaller Android-running Creative PMP that's running on the same platform. Why Creative couldn't at least have tweaked the software on each device, we don't know.
Creative is marketing the Ziio as a "pure wireless entertainment tablet", and this is where it's at its most interesting.
The Ziio is designed to wirelessly stream music to other wireless devices using Bluetooth and apt-X. The apt-X codec is designed to enable the transmission of audio wirelessly without a loss in fidelity.
Creative already has a range of wireless speakers and headphones out there, and the idea is that you can connect them up to the Ziio.
It's not totally straightforward, though, because Creative has a range of both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz speakers, and only the ZiiSound range of Bluetooth speakers will be able to hook up to the Ziio.
Of course, to get this working properly you're going to need to load your Ziio up with content. It's easy to do – simply plug the Ziio into your computer, and drag your music, video and picture files into the relevant folders on the Ziio's storage.
It supports a wide range of audio formats including: MP3, AAC, WMA9, FLAC, OGG, ADPCM, MIDI, WAV and Audible Format 4.
Supported video formats include: H.264, MPEG4, WMV9, MJPEG, MOV, AVI and MKV.
Wireless streaming works very well, but it's not as much of a unique feature as Creative might have you believe. Any Bluetooth-enabled device can pair with Bluetooth speakers.
Out of the box, the Ziio 7 has no Flash support, which means no YouTube videos. It's a bit of a pain.
You can remedy this by installing an alternative browser, but it's certainly not ideal.
The Ziio packs what Creative calls 'Pure Android Audio' which uses Creative's X-Fi technology to improve the sound quality of compressed audio files, such as MP3s.
The X-Fi Crystalizer and Expand settings are both present, and you can turn their effects up and down as well as switching them off completely. They make a difference too – we've always been a fan of X-Fi, mainly because the crystalizer can make even 192kbps MP3s sound half decent.
The browser on the Ziio is standard Android fare. Despite the Ziio's cheapo resistive screen, browsing is actually fairly smooth and easy.
You don't have to aggressively poke at the screen in order to get it to respond to scrolling – but it wouldn't be accurate to say it's as comfortable to use as the capacitive screens on the (albeit more pricey) Galaxy Tab or iPad.
And talking about scrolling, it's a fairly smooth affair. It's far from the jolty, laggy scrolling you get from most budget tablets.
Creative Ziio 7-inch: Verdict
Creative Ziio: Verdict
The Ziio is not a premium product. It's not going to win any awards for performance or functionality – and certainly not for its looks – but as a budget tablet it's a decent piece of kit.
At 412g, it's not too heavy. While it could be thinner, the Creative Ziio is a reasonably sized tablet.
The price is a massive part of what makes it worth considering. At £199, it carves itself a niche in exactly the same way that most budget tablets don't.
The sound quality is excellent and the presence of X-Fi is a big bonus. However, chances are you're unlikely to sit around listening to music on the tablet.
The screen is horrible and it's not a great-looking tablet in general. The lack of Android 2.2 is also a drawback, especially when you consider the absence of the Android Market and all the standard Google apps.
It also takes an uncomfortable length of time to wake the device once it's gone into sleep mode. Where other tablets are instant-on, the Ziio takes at least five seconds to respond when you press the standby button.
There's also no native Flash support which is a bummer, and is likely to confuse some end users.
It's a long way behind the iPad and the Galaxy Tab in terms of overall usability. But at just £199, the Creative Ziio does offer great value for money. If you've got £200 to spend, you won't find a better tablet than the Creative Ziio.