Best known for its premium, feature-packed PMPs, Archos made a determined effort last year to branch out, adding netbooks and tablets (including the Archos 5 Internet Tablet) at the high end, and a range of budget-conscious media players at the low end. The Archos 3 Vision we’re looking at (rather belatedly) today is arguably the most interesting of this latter group, going up against the likes of the iPod nano and Samsung YP-R1, but with a larger 3in, 16:9 format touchscreen and a very aggressive price point. Look around, and you can easily pick up the 8GB version for between £75 and £85.
The good news is that, despite its price point, the Archos 3 Vision looks and feels like a very credible rival to the iPod nano - or even Apple's more expensive iPod touch. With the Archos 5 and 7 Media Tablets, Archos ditched its old rather ugly, rather boxy style and embraced a curvy, sleek, minimalist design, and the Archos 3 Vision maintains this. From the front, it resembles a slightly shrunken iPod touch, with nothing bar the single menu button beneath the 3in touchscreen, and the glass panel covering the whole area. The edges are bare except for the headphone socket, power/hold switch and USB connector on the bottom edge. The back of the device is constructed from what feels like brushed aluminium.
The sample we have here comes in a cool, chocolate finish, but it’s also available in an eye-catching red, and in either colour it should draw a few admiring glances from kith and kin. While it's impossible to describe any device with such a good sized screen as rugged, the Archos 3 feels very solid, and it's also good to see that Archos has ditched its usual proprietary connectors in favour of a simple mini-USB socket.
These positive impressions continue with the device switched on. The 3in LCD screen isn't as startlingly brilliant as, say, the OLED screen on Sony’s X1060 Walkman, but it’s bright, clear and rich in vibrant colour, and the 400 x 240 pixel resolution is a good match for the size. When looking at photos or watching video there’s a sense that the screen hasn’t quite got the depth of tone and colour that some rivals offer, covering the extremes better than the mid-range, and horizontal and vertical viewing angles aren’t great. However, as a display for a single person watching video or browsing content on the train or plane, the Archos 3 screen is more than adequate. Let’s not forget: that X1060 Walkman is going to cost you more than double the price of this baby.
Unfortunately, things start to go awry when we come to the touchscreen – and the user-interface in general. The Archos 3’s resistive touchscreen isn’t exactly bad, but it can take a bit of prodding before it acts, and some basic functions – including changing volume or skipping from track to track – seem particularly hard to pull off. Physical controls might be a bit old hat, but at least they always work. Turning the volume up and down should never be a chore.