Watch your back, iPod Mini--the Gmini XS 100 is nipping at your heels. Archos's new svelte, eye-catching music player is like a smaller, lighter version of Apple's colorful and popular portable. While the Gmini XS 100 doesn't come packed with extras such as an FM tuner and line-in or voice recording, it boasts an intuitive interface, great music-management features, compatibility with subscription-based music, and excellent sound quality. It's also available in 3GB or 4GB capacities. Music lovers looking for an alternative to the iPod Mini should give the XS 100 a serious listen. The Archos Gmini XS 100 bears a striking resemblance to the iPod Mini, from its small size (3.6 by 1.7 by 0.5 inches, making it the same height and thickness but noticeably narrower than the Mini, and at 2.8 ounces, a bit lighter) to its vivid colors, which include the none-too-subtle Volcanic Black, Techno Blue, Ice Grey, and Funky Pink. Once we'd spent a little time with the eye-catching, flyweight, and easy-to-hold XS 100, the iPod Mini wasn't looking so mini anymore.
Just below the Archos logo on the front of the player is the 1.5-inch, 128x128-pixel monochrome LCD. The display is on the small side but makes the most of its available real estate, packing in artist, album, song title, and file/sampling info, as well as time elapsed/remaining/total, a progress bar, play and repeat modes, volume and battery indicators, the current time, and even the title of the song that's up next. Our only complaint is that the display is sometimes slow to refresh, especially when skipping from one song to the next.
Beneath the display lies the five-way navigational control and the stop/back and menu/power buttons (all within easy reach of our thumbs), as well as indicator lights for hard-drive activity, all embedded in a handsome but easily smudged silver panel. We had no trouble with the Gmini's intuitive controls; we were zooming around the player's various menus within a few minutes.
Along the top of the Archos Gmini XS 100 sits the USB 2.0 port, a headphone miniplug jack, and an AC port. Unfortunately, you'll have to buy the AC power separately, although you can charge the battery via the USB port. Also missing is a hold slider, a small but crucial omission; instead, you can freeze the keypad during playback by pressing and holding down the menu key. (Note: Holding it down disables the power-off feature.)The Archos Gmini XS 100 doesn't have the bells and whistles of other compact or even flash-memory music players; there's no FM tuner, no line-in or voice recording, no calendar or contacts, and not even a game or two. But what the XS 100 does do, it does well.
Setting up the player couldn't be easier. All you have to do is attach it to your system via the USB 2.0 port--the XS 100 appears as a lettered drive in Windows Explorer or a removable drive in Mac OS X--and drag and drop files and directories into the Music folder. Windows Media Player users can sync their playlists or libraries with the player, and a plug-in lets you transfer MP3s using Apple iTunes, although not the music purchased from the iTunes Music Store. Once you're done transferring, the player automatically combs through your music's ID3 tags and sorts your songs by artist, album, and genre for easy browsing. A note for iTunes users: You can transfer music to the XS 100 using iTunes, but your songs end up in the top directory rather than the Music folder; you'll have to move your files to the Music folder manually for the XS 100 to sift through your songs' ID3 tags.
The Archos XS 100 plays MP3, WAV, and WMA (including DRM-protected and subscription-based) files, and there are plenty of repeat and shuffle modes available along with several equalizer presets--including Rock, Techno, Jazz, Classic, Live, and a user-defined mode--but no simulated surround sound or bass-booster modes, à la SRS Surround or MegaBass. You can create multiple playlists on the fly, and there's a two-paned interface mode that makes it easy to keep track of your list as you add and delete songs. You can also bookmark your songs, and while there's no autoresume feature, a Resume option in the main menu lets you manually pick up where you left off on your last song.
The player boasts plenty of options for power-management and display settings, but as we mentioned before, there's nothing in the way of extras. If you want to listen to the FM morning zoo, record a voice memo, turn old album tracks into MP3s, listen to Audible books, or kill time with a game of Breakout, you're out of luck.We were quite happy with the Archos Gmini XS 100's sound quality; we heard plenty of high-end details, thumping bass, and little or no hiss. That said, we wish the player's volume went up a tad higher; it does climb to near-rocking levels, but it falls short of the true earsplitting kind. The included earbuds aren't bad, but we'd recommend swapping them out for a better pair.
Archos promises 14 hours of playback from the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. CNET Labs was able to muster 15.2 hours on a charge--not up to iPod Mini standards (21.1 hours) but still decent. File transfers over USB 2.0 came in at a typical 2.1MB per second.