Review: ZVM external battery charger

The Creative Zen Vision: M is already equipped with enough battery life to easily keep you entertained from sunrise to sunset. However, if you’re camping for a few days or on a long flight, it won’t be long before your toes stop tapping. But don’t wave down the flight attendant carrying the bag of headsets just yet. Pick up an external battery charger and some AA batteries instead.

Specifications

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Dimensions: 4.88" x 1.57" x 0.75"
Weight: 4 oz. (approximate w/batteries)
Power: Requires 4 AA batteries

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Made out of white (black also available) plastic with a bit of sheen to it, the charger is equipped with a power switch, LED indicator, and proprietary ZVM cable. It would’ve been nice for the charger to be equipped with its own rechargeable battery, but alas, you’ll need to stock up on packs of AA batteries.

There isn’t really much to say either way about the charger’s appearance. It’s not beautiful. It’s not hideous. It’s a battery charger. And apparently one that scratches easily. Mine got quite beat up from just sitting in a drawer with some cables and knick-knacks.

Baseline tests
The only way to evaluate the charger’s performance is to compare it with test results yielded from the ZVM’s internal battery. Similar tests have been done before, such as by MonsterNet.org and epiZENter forum member K9, but I needed to run them myself for a more accurate comparison.

I tested two full-length movies (1 hr. 1 min., 649MB, DivX 4, 1339 kbps, 480 x 360, 128kbps MP3 CBR; 1 hr. 47 min., 699MB, XviD, 770 kbps, 576 x 304, 129kbps MP3 VBR LAME 3.93) and a playlist of 192kbps MP3s (CBR) with the EQ set to the "Rock" option and Bass Boost turned off. After a number of tests (7 to be exact), I learned that volume settings didn’t make a significant difference in battery life. So I just kept mine set at level 8 (out of 25), which I like with my Sennheiser CX300S IEMs.

Video
Screen brightness at 50%: 5 hours
Screen brightness at 100%: 4 hours

Surprisingly, it seems that video codec and bitrate don’t impact battery life. I also learned this from my extensive UX180P battery tests (I ran both sets of tests simultaneously, hence the duplicated findings).

Note: I rounded the times in all these results because there’s little difference between 5 hours and 4 hours, 50 minutes. Besides, whole numbers are a lot easier to remember and repeat.

Audio
For anyone unfamiliar with the ZVM, there are only two screen setting options when playing music: turning the screen off completely by using the "hold" switch or leaving the screen on to its default 10% backlight setting.

Screen off: 15 hours
Backlight at 10%: 9 hours

Battery charger tests: Parameters
Each test began with a fresh set of 4 AA batteries. I used Energizer alkalines, which aren’t the best choice for this sort of thing but are probably what most people have around the house (versus, say, rechargeable NiMH batteries).

Depending on the test, I drained a fully charged ZVM until the low battery indicator flashed on screen or vice versa.

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Battery charger tests: Results
One set of batteries can charge a nearly dead ZVM 1.5 times. The full charge takes 4 hours; the partial charge (half full on battery indicator) takes 2 hours. I actually left the charger connected to the player for 6 hours during the second charge to see if the battery indicator would eventually make its way to the three-quarter point. It didn’t. To give these numbers some context, the ZVM can be charged completely in about 2.5 hours using the AC adapter and about 5 hours via USB.

The charger can also be used as a battery extender, connected to and powering up the ZVM while you’re watching a movie or listening to music. I ran these tests with the ZVM beginning with a full charge, partial charge (half full on indicator), and nearly no charge (red on indicator).

Video
Screen brightness was set at 50% during these tests because that’s what I always keep it at. You can safely assume that increasing or decreasing the brightness will affect battery life.

Fully charged ZVM: 17.5 hours
Partially charged ZVM: 12.5 hours
Nearly dead ZVM: 10.5 hours

Audio
The backlight was at its default 10% setting during these tests. Turning the screen off completely will, of course, extend the playback time (though the results are already very impressive). Personally, I don’t like not seeing what’s playing on the screen. I didn’t spend hours tagging all my songs with album art for nothing!

Fully charged ZVM: 30.5 hours
Partially charged ZVM: 26 hours
Nearly dead ZVM: 23.5 hours

Conclusion
At a glance, you may think the best usage scenario is the one that produced the highest number. And you’d be right.

But to the non-believers, let’s say you have one set of AA batteries and a fully charged ZVM. If you used the battery charger only to charge the ZVM battery when it was almost completely drained, you’d be able to enjoy about 12.5 hours of movies (5 hours from the original fully charged ZVM, 5 more hours from the ZVM fully charged via the external battery, and maybe an additional 2.5 hours from the ZVM partially charged via the external battery). If you used the player while it was connected to the battery charger, however, you’d be able to watch 17.5 hours of movies. That’s a remarkable difference.

In truth, all of the test results are impressive. But if you’re on a trip away from civilization for a long time and you only have one set of batteries, your best bet is to start off with a fully charged ZVM and use it while connected to the charger. Of course, if you have a lot of AA batteries, you can do whatever you want!

The ZVM external battery charger is available on eBay for about $12.

Note: 28 batteries were harmed during these tests.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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