We've seen major MP3 innovation from Archos before; the Jukebox Multimedia 20 hard drive-based MP3 player comes to mind. So it only makes sense that the company would eventually release a flash-based player that stands out from the pack. The elegant, feature-packed Ondio encodes MP3s on the fly without a PC, records songs directly from its built-in FM radio, and has a couple of groundbreaking features. A few of these features have their flaws, but some users might tolerate them considering the device's wide range of functions and its low price.
The Ondio's remote has only one function: controlling volume.
The Ondio is a mostly rectangular affair except for a circular indentation on its lower-right side that houses an extra MultiMedia Memory card, allowing you to expand the player's onboard 128MB capacity. However, we should note that you can listen to either the songs on the onboard memory or the card--not both. If you want to hear the songs stored on the device itself, you'll need to remove the card, although Archos claims that this issue will be fixed via a future firmware upgrade. A USB port on the unit's right side is vulnerable to damage when the device is without its case, but this is fairly normal.
Like most earbuds, the ones included with the Ondio are nothing to write home about, but they do have an attached, in-line volume control. A full-function remote would have been nice, but most flash-based players don't even have this feature.
Archos includes a USB cable, as well as an 1/8-inch-to-RCA cable for playing the Ondio on a stereo system or recording from an analog source.
Like the iRiver iFP-180T, the Ondio records music straight from its built-in FM radio, which sports a hefty 30 presets. But the Ondio improves on iRiver's design by including a Retro Record feature, which can be activated in the Settings menu. When Retro Record is on, the Ondio adds to the recording the 30 seconds of FM radio that played before you double-clicked the power button to commence recording. What's so cool about this? Well, if you miss recording the beginning of a song by less than 30 seconds, Retro Record solves the problem--quite impressive. You can also trim away any unwanted audio at the beginning or end of your new MP3 from within the device--again, no computer required. However, the editing process is somewhat tricky, and you'll need a few practice runs in order to perfect it.
Aside from its robust recording capability, the Ondio also does a fine job playing MP3s and playlists, though it does not support the WMA format. A healthy number of playback customization options are available, so you can individually tweak levels for bass, treble, loudness, and bass boost on a scale of 1 to 10. You'll also find the usual random and repeat modes, a hold feature, and a power-save mode that shuts down the Ondio after one minute of pause. The Ondio allows you to delete or rename files on the go and choose among six languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch).
Like certain other portable players, this Archos stores data files, so you can port documents from one computer to another. The Ondio innovates in this area, too, by allowing you to read TXT files on its LCD, something we haven't seen before. The screen is too small for lengthy texts, but the feature is fine for checking a grocery list or an address.
The Ondio connects to your PC or Mac via USB 1.1. Archos supplies the rather short USB cable. Otherwise, getting music on the device is a breeze; since the player shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer, you can simply drag and drop files to the Ondio. A full copy of MusicMatch Plus is included for ripping and encoding MP3s at maximum speed. As we mentioned before, the Ondio gives you a great deal of control over sound quality; all audio files that we heard (including those that we recorded ourselves) sounded excellent, although we'd recommend swapping in a better set of headphones. Unlike some players that don't play loudly enough, the Ondio drove our test headphones at near-concussive volumes without distortion.
Unfortunately, Archos doesn't include a rechargeable battery, but three AAA batteries provide 7.5 hours of battery life, slightly subpar for a flash-memory device. We also found several performance-related issue that tempered our initial enthusiam. First off, the Ondio's FM reception is strictly mediocre. Also, the voice recorder introduces a slight, high-pitched background sound to voice memos, and songs longer than 10 minutes skip. Both of these problems should be fixed by a firmware upgrade, although the latest version on the company's site fails to address them.
In terms of file-transfer speed, we moved 82.4MB worth of tracks to the player in 1 minute, 58 seconds. That translates to a file-transfer speed of 0.7MB per second, which, in keeping with the Ondio's overall theme of excellence, is quite fast.