Archos 404 camcorder (30GB)
iPod with the same capacity. For a little less than $300, you can get an MP3 player, a PVP, a camera, and a camcorder all rolled into one pocket-size device. Of course, the 404 camcorder is not without its flaws--the utilitarian interface takes some getting used to, and you'll have to pay extra for recording features--but we still think it's a pretty sweet deal.
At 3x4x0.6 inches and 6.5 ounces, the Archos 404 camcorder isn't a lightweight contender in the MP3 player ring, but it is ultracompact by PVP standards. Its sleek, brushed metal exterior adds to its appeal. A 3.5-inch, 16 million-color LCD screen dominates the front of the device, which means your viewing pleasure won't be negatively affected by the relatively small size of the player. Of course, you also can output your stored video content to a TV. A button on the left spine of the unit lets you toggle between LCD and TV output. This is also where you'll find the power key and headphone jack. Along the top edge of the 404 is a single external speaker; the bottom houses the pinhole mic and two proprietary USB ports, one for charging and syncing and one for attaching optional accessories. Flip the device over, and you'll notice a tiny digicam lens near the top on the back.
The 404's navigation controls line the right edge of the screen and consist of five two-way toggle keys; the top three are marked with various directional arrows, and the bottom two function as OK/Back and Menu/Tab buttons. As you can infer, these are quite different from the standard playback controls, which means navigation can take some getting used to. You have to take your cues from the display, which is fairly straightforward. For example, the arrow keys can move you around the main icon-based menu as well as scroll through inner lists, and the OK button serves to make selections as well as play and pause music and videos. The Menu button, however, does not serve to take you to the main menu; instead, it brings up contextual menus based on where you are in the interface. The back button is what will get you to the top screen. All in all, this is not as simple as Creative's user interface structure (used by the iPod and others), but you'll get used to it.
Minor navigation gripes aside, we were taken with the Archos 404 camcorder's extra viewing touches. The thumbnail preview for the photo library, for example, is an impressive 8x8 grid, and each one magnifies as you scroll over it. When you're scrolling through the video submenu, each selection offers a moving thumbnail preview. Plus, you can choose from a plethora of background colors and themes, as well as set any of your photos as wallpaper.