The face features a 128x64-pixel, five-line, black-and-white LCD. Two rocker buttons, which work well for navigation, sit in the lower right. Beneath the screen is the large, gray Menu key, which you can hold down to lock the Gmini's controls. Along the player's top are a USB port, a CompactFlash slot, and a built-in microphone; the left side holds a headphone/line-in jack.
The controls are relatively intuitive but hard to press, and the interface isn't the slickest we've seen. But playback mode provides a wealth of onscreen information, including artist, album, and track names; volume bars; the elapsed and remaining time; the bit rate; and the battery status. The display also lets you browse the Gmini's music, photo, playlist, and recording directories. All of the main features are accessible through the icon-based menu.
The Gmini's in-line remote control isn't included, but you can buy it separately for $40. It also adds an FM tuner and radio recording. Setting up the Archos Gmini 120 is simple. Once you've connected it to a PC's or Mac's USB 1.1/2.0 port, the computer will recognize the player as a removable drive. As with most plug-and-play models, Windows 98 users will have to install a driver. There are three ways to load the Gmini. First, you can drag over data files or MP3 and WMA music with Windows Explorer or the Mac's Finder. Second, the included Musicmatch software lets you both move and organize tracks. Finally, if you install a plug-in, you can transfer songs through iTunes, but the player won't filter them through its onboard Arc Library, which enables easy browsing by reading ID3 tags and categorizing your collection by artist, album, and genre.
This Archos sports a variety of playback options. For equalization, you get the Rock, Techno, Jazz, Classic, and Live presets and user-defined five-band EQ. The device supports M3U playlists, such as those you make in Winamp, and lets you create and edit playlists on the fly. You can also preview the first 15 seconds of each track, bookmark a song before you power down, and queue up the next tune you want to hear.
The Gmini 120 really shines in the recording department, capturing line-in, S/PDIF, and voice input directly to MP3. The available bit rates range from the low-quality 32Kbps to 192Kbps, which beats CD audio. Plus, you can type in a recording's title, artist, and album using the rocker controls. Our only complaint here is that you must first download a free plug-in from Archos's Web site, which will ask you for your player's serial number and product key. The company was charging $20 to $30 for this plug-in as recently as early February, but it wisely nixed the price tag before press time.
Shutterbugs will appreciate the Gmini's photo-storage capability. The player comes equipped for CompactFlash memory, and Archos's $40 4 In 1 adapter will add SmartMedia, Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, and Secure Digital compatibility. When you load the slot, the screen displays two navigation panes: one for the media, the other for the Gmini's hard drive. You can upload files or simply find out their size, resolution, format, and date. To view the pictures, however, you'll have to step up to the Gmini 220, which retails for $350. The photo-wallet function, like recording, requires you to download a free plug-in.
Just about the only major feature missing from the Gmini's built-in arsenal is an FM tuner/recorder. Adding it will cost you $40, but the module will also give you an in-line remote. The Archos Gmini 120's audio was excellent, with a crisp signal-to-noise ratio of 90dB. Predictably, the included earbuds were a letdown, outputting flat and muddy music, but higher-end headphones improved the sound tremendously. Do yourself a favor and upgrade to a better pair, such as our reference Shure E3c. As for volume, the Gmini 120 cranks out a potentially deafening 50mW per channel. And thanks to the player's high bit rates, our voice recordings came out clean and clear.
Running on a rechargeable lithium-ion cell, the Gmini lasted about 9.5 hours--pretty good for a hard drive player. However, Archos needs to work on its method for measuring battery life. In our tests, the Gmini's three status bars shrank to about one bar within 90 minutes; then the display fluctuated between one bar and depletion for the next 8 hours or so. An indicator with four or more bars would do a better job communicating how much juice is left.