More seriously, the Archos 3 Vision is not the easiest device to browse content on. With no iPod Coverflow style system, all your content is organized into long, vertical lists, but while you can select an item just by pressing on it, there’s no facility to sweep the list up and down, or use scrollbars. Instead, a weird little circular device in the bottom right hand corner of the screen acts a bit like the old iPod scroll wheel, moving a selection bar and scrolling up and down through the list. To say this is imprecise is putting it mildly, and you often find yourself selecting the wrong option by mistake. It’s clear that Archos has put some thought into the UI, but on a basic level it doesn’t really work.
While, I’m moaning, there are other wrinkles. For instance, I dragged and dropped a selection of MP3, WMA and FLAC files over to the Archos 3. The MP3 files were correctly stored by album and artist, but the WMA and FLAC files were dumped in a folder marked ‘Other’. Worse, the MP3 files were listed by alphabetical order within their albums, and not in the running order the artist intended. This is really clumsy, basic stuff, and while the Archos 3 has a good-looking interface, with a choice of desktop backgrounds and a clean, modern feel, I’d rather have a more basic but effective UI any day.
The Archos 3 doesn’t come overstuffed with features, but that doesn’t really bother me. The voice recorder, FM radio, photo viewer and stopwatch are all simple but usable, and I can do without the low-quality games or notepad applications that some PMPs insist on packing in. The one ‘extra’ feature it does offer – a built in FM transmitter – is genuinely useful. It uses the headphone cable as an aerial, which means you need to keep your phones plugged in, but with the FM transmitter switched on the Archos 3 will transmit music directly to your car stereo or kitchen radio.
Most importantly, the Archos 3 delivers a good performance when it comes to audio and video playback. Now, to be honest I expected more in terms of video file format support. Archos doesn’t actually list which video formats are supported, but while DivX, AVI and WMV files at SD resolutions worked straight away, H.264 files in M4V, MP4 or MKV containers would not, and nor would the mobile WMV files downloaded from the BBC’s iPlayer service. On the plus side, this is still better than most PMPs on the market and, if you have ripped your DVD collection to DivX, then it’s great to be able to drag and drop files across without conversion.
Playback quality, meanwhile, is very good; smooth, glitch-free and perfectly watchable. In fact, the Archos 3 is one of the smallest PMPs I’ve come across where I could happily watch an hour-long TV programme or a short-ish movie on the thing.