Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder (20GB) review: Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder (20GB)

Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder (20GB)

8 min read

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Turn the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder around, and you'll find the biggest change from its predecessor. From the back, it looks an awful lot like a camera. Front and center is a slick-looking, 2-inch circle embossed with the Archos Gmini logo, flanked by a series of raised grip ridges to the left and the camera lens, nestled in a red oval, to the right.

8.0

Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder (20GB)

The Good

The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder boasts a sleek, intuitive design, a sharp LCD; an integrated camcorder and still camera; and support for DRM-protected media. It offers the choice of transferring files via Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer (great for Mac users). Finally, the media juggernaut features voice and line-in recording, as well as support for Mophun-engine games.

The Bad

The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder is heavy for its size, and its hard drive maxes out at 20GB. It doesn't have line-in video recording or a built-in speaker, and the highest volume setting could be louder. Also, the Gmini 402 Camcorder cannot multitask (that is, no background music for photo slide shows), and it has no levels meter for audio recordings.

The Bottom Line

The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder looks more attractive than ever, now that it's added a camcorder and a still camera to its long list of music and video features.
Archos' Gmini 402 Camcorder
We gave the original Archos Gmini 402 high marks, but now that this updated model packs a VGA camcorder and a 1.3-megapixel still camera, we're even more impressed. (For more on this impressive line, see the original Gmini400.) For $370, or $250 for the noncamera version, the 20GB Gmini 402 still plays back video and MP3/WMA files; stores and displays photos; records voice and line-level audio sources; supports games running on the popular Mophun engine; and syncs regular or DRM-protected music and video from Windows Media Player. And while its integrated camcorder can't compete with a stand-alone model, the 402's recorded video quality works fine for casual use. Aside from the red trim and a few other cosmetic differences, the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder looks exactly like its noncamcorder counterpart--from the front, at least. Measuring 4.1 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches, this multitalented device is almost the same size as a fourth-generation iPod or the compact Cowon iAudio X5, although at 6.6 ounces, it's heavier than the Cowon. We'd love to see a higher-capacity version; the 402 maxes out at 20GB. The Gmini's tough aluminum shell does a good job of resisting scratches, and the tapered sides of the player make it easy to hold, but there's no rear kickstand for watching videos.


The lens of the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder: The device takes surprisingly good VGA photos.

On the front of the device, you'll see the same 2.2-inch, 262,000-color TFT LCD as on the original Gmini 402; if we could change one thing, it would be an increase in screen size--it looks a little 2004, and the iPod with its 3.5-inch screen has caught up to the Archos and other PVPs. The 220x176-pixel screen still looks pretty good, with rich color and plenty of detail, although the image turns negative when you're viewing it from the left at more than a 30-degree angle. The Gmini 402 camcorder lacks a built-in speaker, so you'll have to listen with headphones. Do yourself a favor and swap the chintzy included earbuds for a better pair.

The controls on the Archos Gmini 402 camcorder are as intuitive as ever, with a four-way navigational control and Select, Back, Stop, and Pause buttons flanking the main LCD. We especially like the three contextual soft keys that sit just below the display, allowing for a wide range of functionality as you're listening to tunes, watching videos, browsing photos, or shooting a clip. We still wish the Gmini 402 had a dedicated hold slider; instead, you lock the keys by pressing and holding the left-most soft key.

The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder comes with two USB ports: One is for connecting the player to your PC, and the other is a master USB port for hooking it up to a USB-enabled storage device and grabbing data from most USB devices, such as a digital camera with a full memory card. This addition obviates the need for the CompactFlash slot included on some earlier Archos models. Along the top of the player is a built-in microphone for recording voices or environmental sounds, as well as a combination port that handles headphone output, A/V output, and line-level input (all necessary cords are included), in addition to indicator lights for power, battery charge, and drive activity.

As with the original, noncamera Gmini 402, the new camcorder version boasts support for near-DVD-quality video playback: up to 720x480-pixel, 30fps images for the U.S.-based NTSC video standard and 720x576, 25fps for Europe's PAL standard. Only MPEG-4 Simple AVI files are supported for playback, and while a pair of included software utilities can help convert your videos to the proper MPEG-4 standard, the conversion process is still pretty complicated. However, the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder supports DRM-protected WMV movies; we had no trouble transferring mobile-formatted videos from the for-pay CinemaNow service via Windows Media Player. But at the end of the day, the mobile video available on CinemaNow can't hold a candle to the video catalog on the iTunes Music Store. While more than 800 videos are available, the only movies on CinemaNow we recognized were Short Circuit and Victor, Victoria; the rest were either extreme sports, nature, travel, and anime titles, and the films had such bargain-bin titles as Vice Academy 3, When Thugs Cry, and Hey...Stop Stabbing Me!

The Archos Gmini 402's video interface remains one of the best we've seen in a portable player. A two-pane window lists your movies on one side and displays thumbnail stills from them on the other. When you're watching a video, you can pause and scan forward or back, and pressing the right-most soft key brings up file info, such as filename, volume, battery life, the current time, time remaining/elapsed/total, and a progress bar. During playback, you can also 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.

Of course, the crown jewel of the new Archos Gmini 402 is its built-in camcorder--part of Archos's plan to be on both sides of the grassroots video phenomenon of recording and viewing. It doesn't disappoint, as long as you're not expecting superhigh quality. Boasting VGA and 448x336-pixel resolutions, the camcorder lacks nighttime illumination, although you can choose between three video bit rates, as well as fiddle with the exposure settings and the white balance; presets include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Tungsten. The Gmini 402 encodes videos directly to MPEG-4 AVI files, and a 1-minute, VGA-quality clip weighed in at about 30MB. While the video quality of our clips couldn't compare to those shot with a stand-alone camcorder, they were still impressively smooth and detailed (see Performance), especially compared with the camcorders you'll find in cell phones. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the Gmini 402 Camcorder can't record line-in video from a DVD player or other video component; for that, you'll have to step up to Archos's A/V line of personal video recorders.

Compared with its camcorder features, the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder's 1.2-megapixel camera is a bit disappointing. Armed with all the basic functions you might expect in a camera phone, including a 5- or 10-second self-timer, exposure and white-balance settings, and a 2X digital (not optical) zoom, the snapshots we took with the Gmini 402 looked fuzzier and more washed out than camera phone images we've seen at similar resolutions.

You can view your snapshots using the same two-pane browsing interface found in the Archos Gmini 402's video player. Once you've snapped off some pictures or transferred images from your digital camera via the USB master port, select and click any image to see it in full-screen mode, or choose to view four or nine images at a time using the left soft key. Onboard image editing is restricted to zooming and rotating images, and you can't tweak the slide-show interval or play music during a slide show--too bad, given the Gmini's ready-and-willing music player.

The Archos Gmini 402's slick, comprehensive music playback interface displays artist, album, track name, the name of the next track, file type and bit rate, elapsed/remaining/total time, and a progress bar. It throws in album art for good measure. The navigation pad gives you the usual fast-forward/rewind/pause functionality, while the bottom soft keys let you tweak settings; set a bookmark; edit a playlist; or browse your music by album, artist, title, genre, or year. You don't get any equalizer presets, although those who tweak their sound manually will appreciate the sliders for bass, treble, and bass boost (a.k.a. loudness).

As for getting music on to the Archos Gmini 402, you can sync unprotected music using regular old Windows; just double-click My Computer, find the player's music folder, and copy your music over. Or if you have secure, purchased music in Windows Media Player, you can sync those with Windows Media Player, which also works great for keeping unprotected files synced. While the Gmini 402 supports Windows Media Lossless files, there's still no support for AAC or open-source Ogg Vorbis or FLAC music files.

As with the original 402, the camcorder's voice and line-in recording capabilities are decent, if a bit limited. You can make recordings only in the WAV format at sampling rates ranging from 16KHz to 44.1KHz--perfect if you need top-notch sound quality but problematic if you're low on disk space or are looking to use the Archos Gmini 402 to encode MP3s from a record player, a tape player, or another line-level audio source. We also missed such handy recording features as voice-activated recording and the ability to detect and add track breaks.

Gamers will appreciate the Archos Gmini 402's support for games running on the Mophun gaming engine, a platform optimized for devices with small screens and limited processors. The player comes with seven demo games, including Golf Pro Contest, Dog City, Icebox Plus, and Joe's Treasure Quest 3D, with more available for $5 to $10. If you're hoping for PSP-quality action, however, you better temper your expectations--these games are akin to the ones you'd find on a cell phone.

Video quality on the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder was excellent; our prerecorded movies looked sharp and smooth, with rich colors and little in the way of dropped frames or pixelization-related blocks. The video clips we shot with the camcorder looked good, considering the small 4.2mm lens. Our clips also looked smooth, with a frame rate that appeared to be just shy of 30fps; they showed no choppiness during quick pans and little murkiness or blockiness. However, we saw considerable noise in videos shot in low light, and the camcorder struggled with its automatic exposure rates when panning from areas in direct sunlight to patches of shadow.

We were impressed once again by the Archos Gmini 402's sound quality, which packs a punch in terms of detailed highs, solid bass, and practically undetectable hiss. However, we noticed that the 402's sound can't quite reach the bone-rattling levels we expect when the volume is cranked all the way up. If your headphones require a lot of juice, you might want to look elsewhere; high-quality, sound-isolating earbuds such as those available from Shure or Etymotic would be ideal.

Sound levels were also a bit low for voice and line-in recordings, so we'd recommend holding the device's mic close to vocal sources and turning the volume up on line-level sources such as tape players before recording. Some trial and error is required, since the device lacks recording meters.

Our biggest performance gripe with the Archos Gmini 402 is that the processor doesn't handle multitasking, meaning that you can't play music while using other features; for example, games and slide shows would do nicely with customized music. But considering that the addition of multitasking capabilities would have inflated the price tag and that the lack of background music isn't a deal breaker, its omission is justifiable. CNET Labs is in the middle of testing audio and video battery life. The Gmini 402 Camcorder is rated at 10 hours for audio (not great), 4 hours for video (decent), and 2 hours as a camcorder.

Battery life info TK

8.0

Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder (20GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7