Archos Gmini 400 Review

Overall, the Gmini400 is a cool device which will draw attention when you pull it out of your pocket.
Overall, the Gmini400 is a cool device which will draw attention when you pull it out of your pocket.
Overall, the Gmini400 is a cool device which will draw attention when you pull it out of your pocket.

Highs

  • Stylish design; supports audio
  • video and digital photos; high speed file transfers.

Lows

  • Somewhat steep learning curve; okay digital photo display; the detailed manual is not printed.
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Summary

The Archos Gmini400 definitely falls somewhere between being a high quality digital audio player, a solid portable video player and an okay digital photo display device. It is not very user friendly in the beginning, owing to a dizzying array of features and menu choices. If that can be mastered however, without tossing the Gmini400 out the window, you have a very solid portable entertainment device on your hands which will provide many hours of fun.

This type of device is best suited for those who want to take their entire media collection with them on the road for access at anytime.  Those considering the Gmini400 for just one function, like digital audio playback, would be more suited to getting a device specifically focused on that niche. Overall, the Gmini400 is a cool device which will draw attention when you pull it out of your pocket.

Introduction

Archos is by far the pioneer of portable video player technology. They’ve set a standard in the industry for high quality, fully functional portable video and audio players which appeal to early adaptors and those looking for a stylish, useful device to carry their media with. One of Archos latest entries into this category is the Gmini400.

Archos states in their August press release, the the Gmini 400 is a “revolutionary new hard drive-based digital audio player…advanced features such as video playback, photo viewing and gaming for the ultimate portable entertainment experience.” It is a compact device which Archos CEO Henri Crohas says follows a tradition in which his company “continues to evolve its audio players to ensure consumers can enjoy far more than music…at an unmatched price.”

Does the Gmini400, a digital audio player pulling triple duty as a digital photo display device and portable video player, live up to the hype? What is it about the Gmini400 that makes it a potential rock star worth your time and money? Read on to find out.

Features and Design

The Archos Gmini400 which was released at the end of August 2004, is a hard drive based digital audio player which sports a 2.2-inch color LCD display and a 20GB hard drive. It measures 4.2″ x 2.4″ x 0.7″ and weighs 5.6 ounces. Its chief features include playing multiple audio and video file formats, displaying digital photos, playing video games and acting as a portable storage device. The suggested retail price of the Gmini400 is $399.95.

From the moment you first lay eyes on the Gmini400, you know Archos was serious in designing something very cool. This portable player has a very hip look to it, with a silver aluminum shell and horizontal design making it stand out from many other portable electronics devices. It easily rests in the palm of your hand, feeling ultra light and slightly cool to the touch. The Gmini400’s front plate is where all of the control action takes place. Spread logically around the 262,000-color, 220×176 pixel LCD are the on and off, multi-use and navigation buttons, two buttons related to game control and three buttons for various functions. The primary navigation button provides four degrees of control and is large enough for most thumbs.

On the left and top sides of the Gmini400 sit the interface ports. There is a multi-connect jack that supports headphones and A/V cables, a Compact Flash slot which supports Type I and II cards, a USB 2.0 input and the input for an included power adaptor.  There is also a small series of holes for the voice recording function.

Archos Gmini 400
The Archos Gmini looks very stylish with easy button layout

Features and Design Cont’d

Starting up the Gmini400 is as easy as holding down the on switch for a few seconds. After a quick boot up, you are greeted by a cheerfully colorful display which shows nine icons, the version number of the firmware, current sound volume and current time. Navigation through the screen is easy with the multi-directional button and selections are confirmed with a press of the on button.

Since the Gmini400 provides multi-menu options and sub-menus to choose from as you are selecting media or games to play, it is important to familiarize yourself with how each button responds. Failure to do this can result in a somewhat frustrating experience. Archos did provide a colorful sheet which falls into the lines of a “quick start” guide, but it is necessary to dig through the tiny, four language user guide (or access the more complete guide in PDF format which is stored on the Gmini400) to get more of a full understanding of each button’s function under different conditions.

Another shortfall of the Gmini400 in providing information relative to using the software stored on the device’s hard drive. A number of useful programs exist, including MusicMatch, Windows Media Player and a program to convert videos to a format suitable for playback on the Archos. Without digging through the contents of the folders on the Gmini400 however, you might not ever know they were there.

Other features built into the Gmini400, besides the aforementioned ones, are broken down across several categories. For the digital audio functions, music (supported playback file formats are MP3, WMA and WAV) can be recorded through the line in audio port (this is actually the A/V out port, but an included converter does an inversion for analog audio). Music files can be organized through built-in management software and viewed by artist, title, genre and year through support of ID3 tags. Building a playlist on the go is also a supported function.

In regards to video playback, the Gmini400 can display video on the television in addition to the built-in LCD display. An important note about video support on the Gmini400 – it is only capable of playing MPEG 4 Simple Profile format. Other video file formats are not supported and will need to be converted first using translation software which is installable to your PC from the Gmini400 hard drive.

For displaying digital photos, the Gmini400 supports JPEG and BMP formats which can be copied over through drag and drop when hooked to a PC/Mac or you can copy and paste them when a CF card is inserted into the player’s card reader. Image display options, either on the LCD or a television, include solo, four images at once or nine images at once. The images can be rotated and magnified using the multi directional button.

Game play, the last of the Gmini400’s entertainment options to be addressed in this part of the review, is based upon the Mophum game engine. One full game and several demos are pre-installed, with more games available for purchase and downloaded from the Archos website.

Performance

With so much to offer in such a small package, it’s important to focus on what you are most likely to use this device for. Therefore, we’ve broken the performance section into three main areas: audio, video and digital photo display.

First and foremost, a major thumbs up goes to Archos for making the Gmini400 USB 2.0 compatible. File transfers were blazingly fast, transferring 90MB of files over an average of 6MB per second. On the issue of power, Archos claimed playback time to be around 10 hours for music or 5 hours for video using the built-in LCD display. Tests showed these numbers to not quite be accurate, but still within the ballpark by about 15-20 minutes for each. Factors which were controllable, like automatic shutoff time for the built-in LCD, will influence these somewhat.

Audio playback of MP3 files encoded at 192kbps was excellent, though the included ear buds are only of average quality and sound and should be replaced. Highs and lows in the music were well within range, with no distortions whatsoever. During playback, the LCD presented plenty of information relative to what you were listening to. Setup options for things like shuffle and other play modes were easily accessible without interrupting playback. As we mentioned before, the menu navigation was a little tricky at first but once figured out became quickly manageable.

Video playback varied slightly depending upon where it was displayed. In both cases, the actual frame rate was great, but video shown on the television was slightly fuzzy. On the Gmini400’s tiny LCD, it was extremely clear. This is not a knock on the Archos player however – it is more related to the interaction between the television and the video file format itself.  One thing to be noted in regards to the video/audio output on the Gmini400: it is possible to navigate every menu and screen on a large monitor when the included A/V cable is connected. This is a major plus for scrolling through large file lists and doing things like creating play lists, as well as for general navigation before viewing photos or the like.

It is important to remember you will need to switch the display back to the built-in LCD through the setup menu (or the dedicated function button) before disconnecting from your television – the Gmini400 does not have an auto-sensing feature for this and you’ll end up with a dark screen, requiring you to power off to reset the device.

A slight letdown occurred in the digital photo viewing department. While this area of the Gmini400 is certainly rich in features already mentioned, the actual display was not in line with the excellence of audio and video playback. Photos of 640×480 resolution seemed slightly washed out when displayed on the full screen and didn’t capture the true essence of what they were showing. This got slightly worse as photos of higher resolution were displayed.

Conclusion

The Archos Gmini400 definitely falls somewhere between being a high quality digital audio player, a solid portable video player and an okay digital photo display device. It is not very user friendly in the beginning, owing to a dizzying array of features and menu choices. If that can be mastered however, without tossing the Gmini400 out the window, you have a very solid portable entertainment device on your hands which will provide many hours of fun.

This type of device is best suited for those who want to take their entire media collection with them on the road for access at anytime.  Those considering the Gmini400 for just one function, like digital audio playback, would be more suited to getting a device specifically focused on that niche. Overall, the Gmini400 is a cool device which will draw attention when you pull it out of your pocket.