One of the most hotly anticipated gadgets of late has been the Archos Gmini400, a PVP that's roughly the size of the latest . Well, the Gmini400 is finally here. Previous versions of the Gmini were rough-and-tumble, but the third iteration of this video, music, photo, and gaming device is polished, refined, and (did we mention?) tiny. To create the Gmini400, Archos took many features from its larger, critically acclaimed sibling, the AV420, and packed them into a device that's a hair thicker and a penny heavier than the iPod. The 20GB device may cost a little more than a hard drive-based MP3 player, but can the iPod play back video and photos on a fabulous 2.2-inch color screen? The Archos Gmini400 is the smallest and lightest portable video player (PVP) available. At 4.2 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches and weighing 5.7 ounces, it is actually more portable than many MP3 players without video capabilities. In fact, the metal-encased device is only slightly larger than the Apple iPod.
The Gmini400 is clearly designed to be held in your hands at all times--there is no kickstand. The 2.2-inch (diagonal) LCD is really too small to view at more than arm's length. And unlike larger PVPs, the Gmini400 doesn't have an integrated speaker. (It includes a set of earbuds, but we recommend you upgrade.) A few users might miss these features, but to us, they seem reasonable trade-offs to cut what is really meant to be a personal device down to the smallest size possible.
Though small, the 220x176-pixel LCD shows 262,000 colors. To the left are the power switch, a navigational pad, and a Back button. To the right are two start and stop keys. Three function buttons sit below the screen. What these buttons do depends on which application you're using. For example, in Browser, the up and down navigation buttons scroll through lists of files; when playing music, the same buttons control the volume.
A sturdy door on the left side of the device covers a CompactFlash slot for transferring images directly from a digital camera--a feature not found on many PVPs, including the Portable Media Centers. Aside from the slot, there are just three connectors: a power dock, an A/V-out/headphone jack, and a USB 2.0 port for connecting to a computer.
Like all Archos players, the Gmini400 uses its own software, not Microsoft's Portable Media Center platform. The look and feel takes you back to Windows 3.1, with a two-paned file browser reminiscent of good old File Explorer. It also has large icons for all of the primary applications (Music, Video, Photos, and Games), as well as a control panel for changing the device's setting.
Though the Gmini400 is more polished than some of Archos's earliest PVPs, neither the hardware nor software design are consumer-electronics simple. The functions of the buttons are not always clearly labeled. For example, to lock the buttons, you hold down the first function key for three seconds. To display the video on a TV, you hold down the second function button. There's no way you would know this without reading the manual. Similarly, it takes a little practice to figure out how to execute more advanced functions on the player, such as creating playlists and copying images from a CompactFlash card.
Fortunately, the 68-page manual is first-rate, and if you invest the time to read it carefully, you'll get a lot out of the feature-laden device. But the Gmini400 it is still more a computer than a consumer electronics gadget, and as such, it will appeal mostly to enthusiasts.Archos has managed to pack an awful lot of features into a 5.7-ounce gadget. The most heavily used applications will be the music and video playback, but the Gmini400 is also a digital photo wallet, a portable gaming device, an audio recorder, and an all-purpose 20GB external hard disk.
The Music application plays both MP3 and WMA files, including the protected WMAs used by MSN Music, Napster, Wal-Mart, and others. It reads the tags in both MP3s (ID3 versions 1 and 2) and WMAs, if present, and automatically displays artist, album, song, and album art. A useful feature called ARCLibrary indexes all of the files using these same tags so that you can select and play music by album, artist, genre, song title, or year. You can also create and edit your own playlists on the device.
The Gmini400 is a so-called mass-storage-class device, which means it acts just like a hard drive--you can simply drag and drop the music files into the correct folder. Archos includes plug-ins that also let you transfer files within Windows Media Player (WMP) or iTunes. Unfortunately, the version we tested (1.0.00) did not support WMP 10.0's new features, such as autosynchronization and the ability to check out subscription-based content. Archos told us that the Gmini400 is not currently compatible with these desirable features and was unclear whether there will be a timely, free flash update.