An Archos video player has become as indispensible on a morning commute as a Starbucks coffee and a croissant. And with the portable media market sewn up, it seems that the company has had a refocus, clearly marketing its Gmini 402 with a 'Camcorder' suffix. Has Archos tried to fit too much into its diminutive new media centre?
Well, the answer is yes, it has. The best video recording quality available is VGA -- fine for the tiny built-in 220x176-pixel screen, but if you play it back on your computer, the video quality leaves you wondering if Archos put Vaseline over the lens when it shipped. Describing this device as a camcorder is about as accurate as describing the latest Apple iPod as a video player.
Despite the forced video recording feature, this is still a media centre at heart, and if you have a collection of media on your PC then you'll be watching it back in minutes. The device is tiny, so although it houses a 20GB hard drive, the screen is a minuscule 56mm (2.2-inches) diagonal and is a 4:3 ratio. Considering that all films and most TV programmes are shot in widescreen, the black borders at the top and bottom mean the image is smaller than you'd get on many mobile phones.
Ironically, with video downloads all the rage thanks to 3G, Archos' future competition may be coming from the mobile phone sector. The company's plight isn't helped by the fact that this model comes without a dock, so you can't record directly from a TV. Unless you have a collection of DivX files residing on your computer, the Gmini is about as much use as a brick for video playback.
The interface on the Gmini is the same infuriatingly difficult one from every other Archos. While you struggle to get to grips with it over the first few days, you'll seriously want to smash your new toy into millions of tiny pieces in frustration. The button with a 'Stop' symbol actually plays video files, for example. Nice one, Archos. Yet the ability to drag and drop DivX and XviD files in minutes makes us love the Gmini all the same, and the screen is particularly good quality, despite its size. First impressions suggest you'd be better off with the gorgeous AV500, but expect a full review later on in the week. -GC
Update: a full review of the Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder is now live.