The Archos Gmini XS200 is a digital audio player that's clearly gunning for the likes of and . It's as small and as palm-friendly as those devices, and its price tag is nearly an exact match at $249.95. There's just one huge difference: The Gmini XS200 is no mere 4GB or 5GB player--it's stocked with a comparatively monstrous 20GB hard drive that, by itself, makes the competition look stingy. Unfortunately, the old axiom rings true here--you get what you pay for. Although it has storage to spare and a few nice amenities, the Gmini delivers only average battery life, a decidedly unsexy design, and a few annoying usability issues: not the least of which is its failure to support DRM-protected WMAs, meaning that the player is incompatible with most online music services, at least for now. We think that's a pretty steep price to pay for an extra 15GB of storage. On the other hand, if all you want is a bare-bones audio player with plenty of storage, this deal is hard to beat.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Though sheathed in a sparkly, silver case, the boxy Archos Gmini XS200 comes off looking pretty drab, mostly due to the mismatched gray-green coloring of its LCD. At 2.9 by 2.3 by 0.75 inches and 4.3 ounces, it's a bit wider and stockier than the iPod Mini, but it's also shorter, so it's just about a wash in terms of pocket portability.
The Gmini's admirably large LCD, which is about the size of a CompactFlash card, boasts excellent contrast and a bright green backlight. Below the screen, a five-way joystick is flanked by two buttons: power/menu and stop/back/power off. The player also sports three clearly labeled LEDs that indicate power, drive activity, and charging status.
We liked the easy flow and logical layout of the Gmini's icon-driven interface. Using the joystick, you can select Music, Browser, Resume, or Setup from the main menu. Within the Music submenu, you can browse songs by artist, album, title, genre, year, or playlist. Browser provides access to the hard drive's folders (handy for perusing its nonmusic contents), while Resume returns you to a bookmarked spot. The Setup submenu includes the usual playback options--repeat, shuffle, or five equalizer presets (and a five-band custom setting)--along with a few nice extras, such as the option to play only a selected folder and a car-stereo-like Scan mode that plays the first 15 seconds of each song until you press the joystick, at which point it reverts to normal playback.
The LCD shows a wealth of neatly organized information, everything from song, artist, and album name to stats on the file itself, such as format and bit rate. It also shows elapsed time, time remaining, total song length, and even a progress gauge. Most players have one or two of these handy elements, but few provide all four.
While the joystick makes for easy menu navigation, it can't compare to the iPod's phenomenal Click Wheel in terms of sifting through song lists. It takes too long for the Gmini to "ramp up" from slow scrolling to fast. We were also disappointed to discover that the player's USB 2.0 interface doesn't charge the battery as well.