Archos came out of nowhere to take the portable media market by storm, attracting a small but vocal market that likes to watch DivX movies on the move. In the meantime, the market has gone mainstream with the Sony PSP, but the ordeal of movie transfer and the cost of Memory Sticks mean that it's simply not an option for the serious media user. While Archos' media players have suffered from poor-quality screens and an archaic design, the drag-and-drop interface and simple TV recording made them a winner with advanced users.
The Gmini 402 omits TV recording in favour of a VGA video camera. The result is a player that can only be used with a PC, and the poor quality of the camera makes it feel like it's being sold on the basis of a cheap gimmick. Video playback is good, boasting a quality that's on a par with the company's AV500, but it's so small that widescreen video ends up the size of your thumb. Something of a missed opportunity, then, but cheap enough to warrant interest from media-player virgins.
Considering it houses a 20GB hard drive, the Archos Gmini is small and light, with a durable casing that will protect itself in a rucksack. The Gmini range is small enough to go in your pocket unnoticed, but it has a detrimental effect on the screen -- it's an equally diminutive 2.2 inches diagonally and a 4:3 format. Both these factors combine to make the device unsuitable for movie viewing, and given the fact that most TV shows are now shot in widescreen too, the actual amount of image on screen is very small indeed. The pixel resolution of the LCD is a low 220x176 pixels, with 262k colours.
Despite a prolific output over the last year, Archos still hasn't found time to take a retrospective look at its godawful interface. Despite the fact that we (and many other reviewers) have criticised the players' button layout across innumerable iterations, the same ambiguous controls and unfriendly menu system has been transferred across. For example, if you want to play a video file, you inexplicably have to press the button with a square stop sign on it. Volume and rewind/fast-forward are located on the D-pad, with no indication of this to newbies. Prepare to throw common sense out of the window when becoming acquainted with the device.
Another strange design choice is placing the camera on the right of the back panel, meaning your fingers will sit right over it in normal use. It means that when you want to shoot video, you need to hold it one-handed on one side, which isn't comfortable, or to position your fingers around the lens. Surely it would have been possible to have the camera lens in the centre instead?
The normal range of Archos players come with a dock, but on the Gmini series all connectivity is on the main unit. The USB connector allows you to hook up to your computer, and data transfer speeds are some of the fastest we've ever seen. The second USB port allows you to hook up to other devices to use as a host. This means that you can connect your digital camera and transfer photos without having to use a computer as an intermediary. The headphone socket is self-explanatory, and the splitter included in the package is a nice bonus. Finally, a video cable plugs into the same headphone socket to let you output to a TV. However, it's only composite video, barely an acceptable quality for CRT TV owners, let alone flat-screen users.