With Apple it's all about the style and usability. With Cowon it's all about the sound. With Samsung it's all about the value. With Sony it's all about the quality. With Archos, it's mostly been about the video playback, but the Archos 2 is something of a departure. Here, it's all about the bottom line. £40 buys you an 8GB player from a respected brand, complete with video playback, FM radio, a voice recorder and a colourful, animated GUI. It's even expandable, for heaven's sake.
In other words, we have something here that undercuts and out-specs the 8GB version of Sandisk's ever-lovable Sansa Clip, which currently retails for nearly £10 more, and should - on paper - be the MP3 player bargain of the year. Has Archos created a stripped-back classic, or has the quality baby been tipped out with the bargain basement bathwater?
Well, it has to be said that the manufacturer has made a lot of intelligent choices here. For one thing, while the Archos 2 isn't the most stylish player in town - and that's putting it mildly - it doesn't feel like it's been built to hit such a low price point. Measuring 84mm x 41mm with a thickness of around 9mm, it's roughly the size of the mid-range E series Sony Walkman, though its 1.8in screen is a little smaller than Sony's 2in effort.
The gloss white plastic front of the case is complimented by a chrome back and, bar the slightly cheap feeling buttons, the unit feels solid and reasonably tough. The headphone socket sits next to the (hurrah!) standard mini-USB connector on the bottom edge, while the top edge hosts an on/off/hold switch and (double hurrah!) a microSDHC slot, which enables you to take the capacity up to 16GB or 24GB with an appropriate card. This isn't the sort of feature you expect on a £40 player.
I can say the same about the Archos 2's GUI. While primarily text-based, it makes selective use of animated icons and colour. It's quick to start up, snappy in use and relatively easy to navigate. The forward/backward buttons on the left scroll up and down through the available options or items, the M and Play/Pause buttons act as a menu toggle and select, respectively, while the up and down buttons on the right are mostly restricted to volume control. Albums and tracks can be browsed via file/folder or via iD3 tag, and the only odd thing I noticed is that songs on an album are occasionally listed out of the correct order for no clear reason.