Creative launches its ZiiO tablets

Powered by ZiiLabs ZMS-08 ARM Cortex-A8 processor

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, CREATIVE has just entered the tablet market with two new models, the ZiiO 7and 10-inch tablets powered by the ZiiLabs ZMS-08 SoC based on ARM’s Cortex-A8. For what it’s worth, Creative has actually come up with a couple of features that makes the ZiiO tablets stand out from the crowd, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what at least one of these features might be considering Creative’s product history.

As you’d expect, Creative has integrated support for its X-Fi audio technology in both models by adding X-Fi Crystalizer and Crystal Clear Audio support for music and X-Fi Expand for movies and games. Considering that this is in-house technology and mostly, if not entirely done in software these days, it’s a nice touch and it’s a differentiator in what’s set to be a crowded market very quickly. However, Creative has gone one step further and licenced support for the apt-X codec over Bluetooth which is meant to vastly improve the audio quality when using the new tablets with stereo Bluetooth devices.

The apt-X offers a low-latency codec while offering high-quality audio and the apt-X codec is widely used in broadcast level audio equipment. It’s important to note that apt-X Bluetooth is a specific consumer technology intended for stereo Bluetooth devices and it requires specific hardware on both the transmitting and receiving end. Creative already offers a set of compatible headphones in the WP-300 and there are also non Creative products available that supports apt-X Bluetooth. We’re still not sold on using Bluetooth as a protocol for streaming music wirelessly after having tried it at countless tradeshows with the same effect, terrible interference by pretty much anything on the 2.4GHz band, but it might be a different scenario when you use the technology at home.

The processor in the ZiiO tablets is the ZiiLabs ZMS-08 and for those that aren’t familiar with ZiiLabs, then we can quickly let you know that it’s a Creative spin-off that started a couple of years ago and have as yet to deliver any products that we’re aware of that aren’t sold under either the Zii or Creative brands. The ZMS-08 is ZiiLabs high-end SoC with a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 core at its heart with various tweaks that enables it to encode and decode most HD and SD video codecs in hardware. The ZMS-08 is a rather large chip at 13x13mm and so far it hasn’t found a home in too many devices that we’re aware of (read none) despite having been available for almost a year.

For whatever reason, Creative decided to stick Android 2.1 on the ZiiO tablets which just makes them look like a product from six months ago. That might be harsh, but with every other manufacturer launching Android tablets we’re seeing 2.2 and Creative should’ve launched its new tablets running the latest version of the OS. Other common features between the two models include a front facing camera, an HDMI port, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP, a mini USB port, a 3.5mm audio jack, a built in microphone, stereo speakers and an accelerometer. The 7-inch model has a screen resolution of 480×800 and a microSD card slot, while the 10-inch model has a 1024×600 resolution and a full-size SD card slot.

Both tablets support H.264, MPEG4, WMV9, MJPEG, MOV, AVI and MKV video files as well as MP3, AAC, WMA9, FLAC, OGG, WAV and some other less used audio formats. They will of course also display JPEG, BMP and PNG still images. Both models also sport a set of buttons below the screen and the 10-inch model has a set of media playback buttons as well as the usual Android buttons. The bad news is that both models have resistive touch screens and are supplied with a stylus, something that feels fairly dated again, especially as every competing tablet we’ve seen so far uses a capacitive screen. Creative has also seen it in its wisdom to come up with its own UI ontop of Android and we can’t say that we’re huge fans judging by the pictures of the devices. It also seems like Creative has its own ZiiStore, so it’s very likely that neither device supports the Android market.

Both models will be available with 8 or 16GB of built in Flash memory, although the word is mum as to how much RAM the devices have, but considering that ZiiLabs is offering system modules with 512MB of RAM, we’d guess the tablets would have a similar amount. The 7-inch version weighs in at 400g and the 10-inch version at 650g. Both models have a claimed video playback battery life of 5h, while this is upped to 25h if you’re listening to MP3s. US pricing has as yet not been announced with the press release listing only the Singapore pricing. The 7-inch model will cost S$359 ($279) with 8GB and S$389 ($302) with 16GB of Flash. The 10-inch model starts at S$429 ($333) with 8GB and tops out at S$459 ($357) with 16GB. Creative also offers a range of accessories, including a leather case and a screen protector.

We’re not sure how much of the tablet market Creative will be able to steal with its ZiiO tablets, but we’d hazard a guess at less than one percent. Both the hardware and software is out dated and with other manufacturers getting ready to unleash their Tegra 2 tablet onto the world before the holidays, Creative isn’t going to have much of a fighting chance, despite fairly attractive pricing. The ZiiO tablets are not offering most consumers the kind of features they’d want from a tablet and we can’t see a lot of people being interested in returning to use a stylus. In all fairness, there are some good resistive screens out there, but they just can’t compete with a good capacitive touch screen in most cases. We’re going to have to wish Creative better luck next time, but the ZiiO tablets are six months late to be competitive in a market that is moving in leaps and bounds right now.S|A

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