Archos' improved Gmini 402
Archos makes a great personal video player (PVP) even better with the Gmini 402, an impressive update--if not a wholesale revision--to last year's top-notch . Just like its predecessor, the 402 ($250) packs in plenty of features, such as video and MP3/WMA playback, photo storage and image viewing, voice and in-line recording, and gaming via the popular Mophun engine. But this time, we also get support for Windows Media Player syncing, including DRM-protected music and video. However, the 402 isn't without its problems: It's saddled with poor viewing angles on its otherwise gorgeous 2.2-inch LCD, so-so battery life, less-than-stellar volume, and lack of direct video recording, but considering the Gmini is nearly small enough to fit in a jeans pocket, we're still duly impressed. The silver and black Archos Gmini 402 is pretty compact for a PVP, but it's no lightweight. Measuring just 4.1 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches, the 402 is almost exactly the same size as an iPod or the svelte Cowon iAudio X5 PVP, but at 6.6 ounces, it outweighs the iAudio by a good ounce and a half. That said, we liked the Gmini's tough, scratch-resistant aluminum shell, and the tapered left and right sides of the horizontally oriented player made it easy to hold while watching our videos.
The Archos Gmini 402's 2.2-inch, 262,000-color TFT LCD looked good to our eyes, with rich color and plenty of detail, thanks to its 220x176-pixel resolution, easily beating the anemic 160x128-pixel resolution of the iAudio's 2-inch LCD. The 402's screen doesn't come close to matching the new Creative Zen Vision's 3.7-inch 640x480 LCD, but then again, the Vision is much bigger than the 402. Unfortunately, your buddies will have a tough time watching the display with you. Try watching from the left at a viewing angle greater than about 30 degrees, and the screen image goes negative, while the picture becomes distractingly bright from the right, above and below. Your audience will also miss out on the sound, since the 402, like its predecessor, lacks a built-in speaker; you can listen with the included earbuds, but they can't hold a candle to the latest in-ear varieties, so be sure to swap them out with a better pair. Clearly, the 402 is a personal device both for sound and vision.
The Archos Gmini 402 has essentially the same intuitive controls as the Gmini400, including a four-way navigational control, Select and Back buttons to the left of the display, along with Stop/Back buttons to the right. Even better are the three soft keys lined up below the LCD--a clever design that allows for a wide range of functionality, especially while you're watching a video (see). We would have liked a dedicated hold slider, but at least you can press and hold the left-most soft key to lock the controls while you're playing music.
The Archos Gmini 402 comes with a pair of USB ports, one for connecting the player to your PC and the other for hooking it up to a USB-enabled storage device, such as a digital camera; those familiar with the Gmini400 will note that its CompactFlash slot is missing from the 402. Along the top of the player is a built-in microphone for voice recording and a combined headphone, A/V output, and line-in port (a plug-in adapter and a set of A/V cords for your TV's video inputs are included), as well as indicator lights for power, battery charge, and hard-drive activity.
Inside the box, you'll find a pair of USB cables; A/V cords and a small plug-in adapter; a typically bulky AC adapter; and a surprisingly sturdy carrying case.The Archos Gmini 402's impressive video features include support for near-DVD-quality video, up to 720x480-pixel, 30fps images for the U.S.-based NTSC video standard and 720x576-pixel, 25fps for Europe's PAL standard. Only MPEG-4 Simple AVI files are supported, and while a pair of included utilities can help convert your videos to the proper MPEG-4 standard, the conversion process is still pretty complicated--novices, beware. That said, we're happy to report that the player now supports DRM-protected WMV movies. We had no trouble transferring mobile-formatted videos from the for-pay CinemaNow service via Windows Media Player--too bad CinemaNow's mobile-video selection is restricted to Z-list karate movies, anime, and tractor-pull videos.
The Archos Gmini 402's video interface is one of the best we've seen in a portable player. First up is a two-pane window, with your movie list on one side and thumbnail stills on the other. When you're watching a video, you can pause and scan forward or back, and pressing the right-most soft key turns on the player's info display, complete with filename; volume and battery-life icons; the current time; and time remaining/elapsed/total info and a progress bar. The soft keys, meanwhile, let you slow the video to one-half, one-fourth, or one-eighth speed; change the screen format from full-screen to 16:9 or squeezed (no overscan) mode; set a bookmark; or delve into the player's settings menu. Finally, the Resume function in the main menu lets you pick up a movie where you left off after powering down--very nice.