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Christmas Gift Guide
MP3 Players

Archos XS104: The king of mediocrity

Another day, another fallen comrade. Will someone please give Apple a run for their money? Can the Archos X104 kill the iPod, or is it another eye-roller?

More disappointing than when Geraldo opened Al Capone's safe to discover a pile of dirt and a bottle of gin, the XS104 is Archos's €199 (£140) way of letting us know it couldn't be bothered. About the same price as a 4GB iPod nano, but twice as thick, with the same battery life, same capacity and a smaller screen. What were they thinking?

Archos's pre-2005 slogan was 'Think Smaller', and they've certainly done that here. The XS104 represents a lilliputian strike against the iPod. But we think it's a dud. If you sat a group of engineers in a room, drained them of all joie de vivre (perhaps by screening The Da Vinci Code), then hired an expert doctor to sedate them to within a hair's breadth of unconciousness, this is exactly the kind of MP3 player they'd sketch.

"We've done it! We've beaten the iPod," one engineer might exclaim while fending off invisible eagles with an umbrella. "Yes," says another, suckling on a rat.

In keeping with our new policy of transparency regarding new MP3 players, here's your easy guide to why yet another manufacturer has failed to kill the iPod:

DESIGN
[ x ] It fails to match or improve on the Clickwheel interface
[    ] It uses proprietary song transfer software that is poorly implemented
[ x ] It has no greater capacity than the equivalent iPod, but a bigger chassis
[    ] Song navigation is flawed by badly designed menu systems
[    ] It converts MP3s into an inferior codec before playback 

PERFORMANCE
[    ] Sound quality is poor
[    ] Battery life is inferior to the nano
[ x ] It is only compatible with one operating system

We're as bored of the iPod as you are, Archos, but you're going to have to put in a lot more effort. Next MP3 player to match the iPod wins a packet of Smarties. Now get designing. -CS