Creative ZiiO tablet review: first look

3 Nov 2010

The Android tablets are coming thick and fast now, with Creative the latest to head into our offices with new hardware. The Creative ZiiO comes in both white 7in and black 10in varieties with a choice of 8GB or 16GB of storage, and from our few minutes with it it certainly has potential.

The key is that, rather than just another tablet clone, the ZiiO does its best to play to the company's strengths.

It uses Creative's own ZiiLabs ZMS-08 processor to power Android 2.1 (2.2 will come in "early 2011") and features its X-Fi audio enhancement technology and a customised audio app. It has 802.11bg Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1, and is set up to communicate effortlessly with Creative's new range of wireless speakers, which were also on show.

But the biggest surprise - and a sign that Creative perhaps 'gets it' in a way some tablet makers haven't yet - is the price. The 7in model costs just £200 inc VAT for 8GB and £220 for 16GB. Compare that to the £529 price of the 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab; sure, there are differences in the hardware and software, but we know which looks the better deal of the two. The 10in ZiiO is barely dearer, at £250 and £270 for 8GB and 16GB respectively.

The big sticking point will inevitably be the resistive touchscreen. Before the moaning starts, it's not too bad - after a long time with capacitive smartphones it does take some adjusting but we were playing Angry Birds in no time, and the optional stylus helps a lot. Yes, we'd prefer capacitive; yes, we'd prefer multitouch; but it's not the deal-breaker it'll be made out to be. Tasks that require a lot of swiping and dragging may soon come to grate, and the fixed buttons at the foot of the screen were also a little unresponsive, but this wasn't the final firmware so we'll reserve judgement until we get our finished review sample.

That TFT screen has a 480 x 800 resolution on the 7in and 1,024 x 600 on the 10in, and both were reasonably bright without really jumping out. The finish is rather reflective, as my very amateur attempts to photograph it under meeting-room lights proved.

The Pure Android Audio player is very nicely put together, with X-Fi settings and a Bluetooth device manager directly within the app. As you'd expect, it has the X-Fi Crystalizer and Expand enhancements, and its apt-X codec allows for high-quality audio streaming. (We know this works as we were treated to a long demonstration using the tiny ZiiSound T6 5.1 speakers (right) - as were much of the first three floors of our London office, whether they were ready for it or not. Suffice it to say the Ziisounds are loud.)

There's no 3G, so the ZiiO doesn't support the official Android Marketplace. Like many we've seen, Creative wants you to go to its own ZiiStore to get apps - again, we'll have to reserve judgement until we've had more than a few minutes with it.

As for the hardware itself, it's clearly a bit more plasticky than the Galaxy Tab, and the Creative guys acknowledged that the 650g weight of the 10in model needs to fall a little, but it didn't feel overly cheap. There's a front-facing camera and accelerometer, a card slot to expand the capacity for big music and video collections - SD on the 10in and microSD on the 7in - and we also tried a nice-looking leather carry case that flips out to become a stand.

With so many tablets emerging right now it's good to see Creative looking at what it does best and attempting to transfer that to the ZiiO. We can see a few flaws, and that screen will need a proper test before we can confidently say whether we could live with it, but for such a reasonable price the ZiiO looks a well-judged piece of kit. The more tablets that emerge at this price point the better, so look out for a full review in the coming weeks.

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