Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Though sheathed in a sparkly, silver case, the boxy Archos Gmini XS200 comes off looking pretty drab, mostly due to the mismatched gray-green coloring of its LCD. At 2.9 by 2.3 by 0.75 inches and 4.3 ounces, it's a bit wider and stockier than the iPod Mini, but it's also shorter, so it's just about a wash in terms of pocket portability.
The Gmini's admirably large LCD, which is about the size of a CompactFlash card, boasts excellent contrast and a bright green backlight. Below the screen, a five-way joystick is flanked by two buttons: power/menu and stop/back/power off. The player also sports three clearly labeled LEDs that indicate power, drive activity, and charging status.
We liked the easy flow and logical layout of the Gmini's icon-driven interface. Using the joystick, you can select Music, Browser, Resume, or Setup from the main menu. Within the Music submenu, you can browse songs by artist, album, title, genre, year, or playlist. Browser provides access to the hard drive's folders (handy for perusing its nonmusic contents), while Resume returns you to a bookmarked spot. The Setup submenu includes the usual playback options--repeat, shuffle, or five equalizer presets (and a five-band custom setting)--along with a few nice extras, such as the option to play only a selected folder and a car-stereo-like Scan mode that plays the first 15 seconds of each song until you press the joystick, at which point it reverts to normal playback.
The LCD shows a wealth of neatly organized information, everything from song, artist, and album name to stats on the file itself, such as format and bit rate. It also shows elapsed time, time remaining, total song length, and even a progress gauge. Most players have one or two of these handy elements, but few provide all four.
While the joystick makes for easy menu navigation, it can't compare to the iPod's phenomenal Click Wheel in terms of sifting through song lists. It takes too long for the Gmini to "ramp up" from slow scrolling to fast. We were also disappointed to discover that the player's USB 2.0 interface doesn't charge the battery as well.Having put all its eggs into one 20GB basket, Archos unsurprisingly omitted extras such as an FM tuner and a voice recorder. The Gmini XS200 serves as an audio player and portable hard drive--nothing more. In additional signs of cost-cutting, Archos supplies only an AC adapter, earbud headphones, and a multilingual quick-start sheet. There's no software CD, no printed manual, and no carrying case.
Interestingly, the Gmini's hard drive itself is home to Windows Media Player 9.0, Adobe Acrobat Reader, an Apple iTunes plug-in (but only for the Macintosh version), and a PDF instruction manual. The latter is quite thorough and, at 22 pages, short enough to print a copy. But for novices or anyone who has trouble establishing a USB connection, just finding the manual could be problematic.