Archos Gmini400 - Part II
My Gmini400 Experience
First and foremost the CF-port has been invaluable. I've only got two 256mb cards and my recent switch to pretty much 100% RAW shooting has left me with about 35 shots per card.
However, all I have to do is stick the full card into my Gmini, create a new folder, and copy all the files. Even better, when I get home, I now have a USB2 interface to copy all those pictures (usually using DownloaderPro to help with the organisation).
The Gmini400 as an MP3 Player
This is really the main feature of this gadget, right? So how well does it do it's job? In a nutshell - it does it. Just about. Archos promised a firmware update to provide for proper sync capability with WMP10. unfortunately this never materialised (although this feature is fully incorporated into all the recent Archos products). So sync-ing is pretty much out the window in terms of WMP. Of course, you can forget iTunes as well - although there is a Mac fix provided with the Gmini400 that will at least allow the Mac version of iTunes to recognise the player and sync files - I'm just not in a position to comment on how well that works.
My music collection on my PC is somewhere around 36GB. Whereas the music capacity of the Gmini400 is around 18GB. So I obviously couldn't just copy the entire music folder contents. If I had a smaller music collection, this would have worked fine. The 'Mini has a built in database software thingy that will sort through all the music files and generate a library, with artist, album, genre, year info. What I was able to do at first was use a program I got which is really excellent at analysing your music collection and creating playlists of any custom length. Then I used that playlist in WMP to copy the files into the music folder on my 'Mini. Not a particularly tidy way of doing it, but fairly effective. Otherwise I would just pick a few artists, and copy those folder directly then update the library on the 'Mini. Copy a few more artists the next day, and the next day etc etc. It all depends on your music listening habits.
I either ride or walk/bus to work in the morning and home again in the evening. So my music listening, on a day-to-day level, is broken down into either 15 minute or 30 minute segments. So its not entirely necessary for me to have 18gb and a billion songs on my 'Mini. Although it would be nice to just plug it in and go (ala the iPod). Recently I have come across a piece of media management software that does pretty much exactly what I want, and during my trial period with it it has done the job very well. I select how much (time or space) I want to copy, it generates a random list and that gets copied to the music folder of the 'Mini. Underneath the polished exterior, thats exactly what iTunes does with the iPod. So with a little fiddling, and probably a little money spent on some software, music sync-ing can be up and running.
Now the music is on the device, how good does it sound? Well, that is mostly dependent on your headphones and your source music. Most of my mp3s are 256k and my headphones are the Sennheiser PX100s - excellent and cheap! With that setup I simply boost the bass a little in the setup menu, and I'm pretty happy with the results. The Volume can often be very nearly maxxed out, but I do tend to listen quite loud sometimes. If I was serious about listening...say on a 10 hour flight on a loud aircraft I'd invest in an external amp and closed headphones.
The menu system on the 'Mini can be a little fiddly. But I'm a Windows network administrator, these things come as second nature to me, so I found myself getting around the menus pretty easily in practically no time at all. The thing is, you have to consider what functions you really need to use the most. Generally the top five are:
GO. PAUSE. STOP. INCREASE VOLUME. DECREASE VOLUME.
Of course, the most complicated of these is the first one - because "go" may mean play one file, or it may mean play a huge playlist. And here is the greatest failing of the Gmini400: When you select a playlist, the device seems to scan every single file in that list. So if you select a large playlist, you'll lose sometimes a couple of minutes whilt the device scans for all the files it needs. This seems completely pointless - and annoying. although, if you're loading a huge list, maybe for a long journey, losing a few minutes might not be a problem. so consider your perspective. However, the same issue arrises if you use the "Random" play mode, where you can set it to scan either files in a folder (artist) or the entire music folder. Again, if you have a full library, skipping between songs can become a frustrating experience. Sometimes the player will just hang for a couple of minutes. A few times I've had to reboot the player because it just goes completely nuts. So, give it a 200mb playlist, you'll be fine. Give it a 18GB playlist, you're in trouble.
The on-screen display is fairly useful. It will even display embedded album art, which is a novelty thats rarely noticed, because the player is generally in my pocket or in the pouch of my back-pack. Which leads me to...
Listening to audio on the go and watching video are two entirely different things. As a good example of this: You can listen to music whilst driving. Many people do. But if you try to watch a movie whilst driving, you are both breaking the law and endangering your life and that of others.
I have watched a few TV episodes on my 'Mini whilst on my lunch break - and I have to say, that was pretty cool. But if I wanted video (and pay attention here you iPod Video fanboys) I would buy one of the larger VR units, probably from Archos. They are designed with that purpose in mind and are cool devises. But as for me and my Gmini, I hardly look at the screen while it is in use. Generally, I only navigate the menus for playing music and copying files. The video side of it is just a cool little bonus.
Its almost my lunch break, so I'm going to wrap this up here. The Gmini400 has done exactly what I needed it to. It also does pretty much what I want it to, even if it does at time take a little effort. If you're after an iPod beater - this is not it. The Gmini400 cannot beat the iPod at its own game. But there are certain things that this little machine could do years ago that Apple (and Belkin - the Pod's practical housekeeper) are only just implementing or even considering. In the meantime, Archos and others are pushing the envelope further. Merci Archos!