Archos Gmini 500 review

£170
Price when reviewed
Hard disk MP3 players

Carry your whole music library with you, along with movies and photos. We test five hard disk-based MP3 players

While flash-based players aren’t susceptible to skipping because of the absence of moving parts, they don’t offer the capacity of the biggest hard disk players. And with bigger capacities come bigger screens, making them better suited to watching movies and viewing photo slideshows.

Apple iPod 30GB (and 80GB) sports a 60% brighter screen and battery life is extended to 14 hours for audio and 3.5 hours for video (for the 30GB version). It weighs only 156g and software improvements include the new search feature where, like the Creative, you can scroll through the alphabet with the click wheel to save time in long lists. You can now buy games such as Pac-Man and Tetris from the iTunes Store, but still no movies or TV shows in the UK. Video looks good on the 2.5in screen, but it can’t compete with the Archos’ 4in display. Also, codec support isn’t as wide as the Creative, lacking WMA and protected WMA. The iPod is a good choice, but only if you don’t have WMA files in your library.

The Sony Walkman NW-A1200 tips the scales at 110g. It’s similar to the NW-A1000, but offers an 8GB hard disk. It also supports MP3, ATRAC3, unprotected AAC and WMA files. Unlike others here, it only plays music and nothing else. The navigation pad is no match for the Creative’s touch strip, especially with a large music library. We like the Top100 option and the Artist Link button, which can find songs or artists related to the current song. The problem is the software – Sony still hasn’t introduced compatibility with Windows Media Player. Instead, you use the counter-intuitive SonicStage, which is a pain when you want to add music. And at £15 per GB, it isn’t good value.

Neither is the Cowon iAudio 6. It has a paltry 4GB hard disk, equating to a whopping £36 per GB. But it’s by far the most pocketable here (and weighs just 58g). Plus, it has some surprising features too. It supports MP3, OGG, FLAC, WMA and WAV files. Despite the 1.3in OLED screen, it supports MPEG4 videos and photos. There’s also a line-in on top for direct recording, an FM radio and a text file viewer. But menus are fiddly and the headphones are poor quality, which makes the FLAC support pointless. But the poor capacity at this price makes the Cowon one to avoid.

The Creative Zen Vision:M is cheaper than the Cowon, but has a 30GB hard disk (a 60GB version is imminent). As our current A-List resident, it’s yet to be ousted and for good reason. The 2.5in screen is superb, allowing you to more comfortably watch DivX, XviD, WMV or MPEG1, 2 or 4 movies, while the battery lasts a shade over four hours. If you’re just listening to music, it will last for about 14 hours. The Zen weighs 164g and is DRM friendly; there’s also an FM radio with recorder. The touchpad allows quick browsing through lists, while you can also jump to any letter in the alphabet to save scrolling. If an adapter weren’t needed for USB, power and A/V output, the Zen would be just about perfect. Even so, it’s still the one to buy if you’re primarily after an MP3 player.

If video is a priority, consider an MP4 player like the Archos Gmini 500. It costs only £25 more than the Creative, but boasts a 40GB hard disk and a fantastic 4in widescreen TFT with a resolution of 480 x 272. It’s bulky at 124 x 24 x 76mm and weighs 322g, but it’s a small compromise for the superb video quality. MPEG4, WMV and AVI files are supported, and the screen is so bright that you can comfortably watch a three-hour movie without eyestrain. You can expect five hours of life watching movies and 15 hours with MP3s. With the extra bulk, we can only recommend the Archos if video is a priority, but the Gmini is a superb alternative to the Creative if it is.

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