Archos has been steadily expanding their range of players from not only offering big media players but also cheaper music oriented devices lately. One of the new models is one of the cheapest players on the market, but with a lot more to show for than the screenless alternatives in the same price range. Read on to see if it’s any good.
- Quick Look
- Dimensions: 75.5 x 39 x 9 mm
- Weight: 28g
- Color: Black
- Capacity: 4GB
- MSRP: £35 (sold for £21 at launch)
- Screen: 1.5″ 128×128 pixel LCD screen
- Batter Life: 21 hours music
- Audio File Support: MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, APE
- Features: Photo viewer, video playback, voice recorder
- Transfer Protocol: MSC
in the box
The player comes with earbuds, min USB cable, video conversion software and various papers. The earbuds are actually quite interesting as they have a small lanyward loop attached to them that can be “unlocked” and removed. that way you can hook the player onto the headphone cord and detach it when needed.
The Archos 1 Vision is a rather small player and doesn’t weight a lot. That is due to it being plastic, plastic and more plastic and it almost feels unnaturally light, with the effect of it feeling like it’s not very solid or well built. It does also quirk a bit when you press the buttons, which is pretty typical of a player this shape and price.
Volume-wise it’s about the same as the Sansa Clip+, being taller and slightly wider but not as thick. In my opinion this is a better design for distributing that volume to minimize the thickness, but that’s a subjective matter. The front of the player is made of glossy black plastic with the back being of matte, rubber-textured plastic that has a nice feel to it. The same kind of back can be found on players like the Sansa Fuze as well. The front holds the 1.5”, 128×128 color LCD screen which surprisingly seems to be a separate piece from the rest of the face plate and noticeably “clipped” into the rest of the front, giving it the look of something that came out of a Kinder Egg (Europeans will know what that is) and was assembled as a kit. The screen is also undersized compared to the free space on the front, as the buttons don’t take up that much and between those and the screen you’re left with an awkward space in between that only has the Archos logo on it. If you’re used to this player design used on players with highscreens such as the Sony players, Sansa View, Cowon I9 or any candy bar cellphone, this player will look like it’s wearing a turtleneck that covers part of the screen. Players with a resolution this low is becoming few and far apart, but considering the price I wouldn’t have expected anything bigger- but it still looks weird when it’s not.
The buttons on the player are also somewhat peculiar, in many ways. First off, there’s a 6 way d-pad on the front that has buttons on each of the 4 corners of an outside pad and two buttons in the middle, instead of the more traditional 4+1 with buttons left/right and up/down. The result is that you control the player using the next/prev buttons, which are actually the upper and lower left buttons on the d-pad. Personally I’m used to scrolling lists with either up/down or left/right buttons, so I frequently find myself using the wrong buttons on the d-pad or simply pressing where there aren’t any buttons at all. As for the two middle buttons, one is the on/off button while the other is the play/pause button. The on/off button also acts as the back button, and Archos chose a backwards play symbol to indicate back instead of the (by now) standard half-circle arrow you see on most players. Again not a big deal, just a peculiar choice as it leaves you a bit confused about the function of that button when you first see it.
Aside from a very small mic hole on the right side of the player, everything else is placed on the bottom. That includes a lanyard loop, 3.5mm headphone port, mini USB connector and – of all things – an on/off switch. A switch, not a button, as it already has an on/off button on the front. Basically this is a physical switch that switches the power of the player on or off. Switching it off will shut off the player immediately without a shutoff screen, and I guess it’s their version of a reset button or something. There isn’t a “hold” switch on the player, so it’s an extremely weird choice to put a physical power switch on the player instead, and I can’t figure out why they would do such a thing. It frankly makes me wonder if the player is a OEM product from China rebranded as an Archos player, as such cheap players you can get over there are the only ones I’ve seen with such a switch. The player needs a hold switch, which it doesn’t have, but it certainly doesn’t need a power switch…
Menus and interface
The main menu consists of icons where only one icon is visible at a time. You have Music, Video, Photo, Record, Files and Settings, which makes it seem a bit like a Philips player by moving the file/folder general file browser out into the main menu as a separate. This means you can use the file browser to browse any kind of file not just music, and you can actually delete files as well. The main menu also lacks a shortcut back to the last used feature or “now playing” screen, but you can get back to the music playback from the music section.
In the music section you have the option to browse by title, artist and album as well as “favorites”. No genre, year or any other more advanced tags to browse by in other words, and also no playlists. The favorites feature is basically just a proprietary (as in it doesn’t use the rating feature in ID3) way of telling the player you like a song and it will then be added to the list of favorites. You can only add songs from the music browser and not from the music playback screen itself, probably due to the lack of an options button. You also have the option to browse by files in the music browser, which applies a music only filter to the main menu file browser. In other words, you browse music by filename not title. You can also access recordings from the music section. Going into any of the browsing options will list all files with a small musical note icon in front of them, which is rather pointless considering the small amount of screen real estate. I’d rather be able to see a few more characters of the artist/title/album instead
of that icon. Scrolling to lists is decently fast although certainly could be faster, but the bigger issue is the screen update each time you hit the bottom of the visible portion of the list. If you scroll down any list with more than 6 songs the screen won’t show them all, and when you reach the bottom of the screen and continue to scroll the whole screen will blink as if it was an e-ink display needing half a second to refresh, which it isn’t and doesn’t. The result is pretty annoying as scrolling through a long list of songs will leave make the screen constantly blink for each song you scroll by and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if someone with the right medical conditions could get a seizure from looking at it.
I already mentioned that I had a suspicion about this player being a rebranded Chinese OEM player after seeing the physical on/off power switch, and another aspect of the player that reinforced that suspicion was the music playback screen. From my experience, cheap Chinese players have a pretty specific way of doing the playback screens, using a visualizer instead of album art and using fonts and icons that look cheap and unpolished. That is the exact same way the Archos 1 Vision playback screen is made, and it generally looks like it’s designed using MS paint from Windows 3.0 where you didn’t have enough bit depth to create nuances of colors and so had to do every other pixel in different colors instead. It looks a bit rough and “Chinese”, but it does the job at any rate. It shows you a progress bar with current position and total duration, equalizer setting, bitrate and file number and play mode indicators. The lack of an options buttons means you have to click the “back” button a bazillion times to get into the main menu, then scroll to settings and music settings to change play mode and equalizer. The settings also include a sleep timer that lets you automatically shut off the player after an interval between 10-120 minutes.
As for browsing videos it will simply list all files available with the file name extension, and the same goes for photos. This is pretty standard as more or less only iPods can sort videos properly. I certainly wouldn’t expect or even want anything else from a player this cheap, but as a side note I think it’s time manufacturers started thinking of videos as being able to handle tags as well.
Viewing videos on 128×128 pixels is not something I recommend anyone do, as I’ve made very clear in other reviews like that of the Philips Vibe. Archos seems to agree with me, because even though the Archos 1 Vision actually supports video playback, Archos hasn’t listed it in the specs on their site. It lists music and photo as features and then lists the formats it supports under specs, but video is only mentioned in passing and not actually listed as a feature. It is however listed on the box, and even comes with a miniature CD (the kind that destroys slot-in drives) with video conversion software. In other words you can get videos to play on this thing, and the included test video (Big Buck Bunny) even plays back ok-ish, but I find the whole notion of watching videos on such a player ridiculous. MP3 players with decent video players are getting rather cheap, so there’s no reason to use a player like this for video. It’s nothing negative towards Archos, it’s just a matter of the player being too small and cheap to ever be a video player, and that’s fine.
The same resolution and physical screen size facts that makes video playback less than useful also diminishes the usefulness of the photo viewer. I’ve said in reviews of similar players that the one use I can see for a photo viewer on a player like this is to put pictures of kids and grandkids on them if the player is given as a gift to the older generation, sort of like one of those keychain photo frames. Still not a very useful feature though, but it’s there. Again one of those features that I don’t expect to be better and it might as well not have been there, and that’s fine.
I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself quite a bit, but the voice recorder is also one of those features that always get stuffed into players for no real reason. Considering the quality (or lack there of) of a voice recorder built into an MP3 player I doubt many people would be sorry to see it go, so it simply joins in the ranks of features on this player that are there, but not really all that useful.
While I’m still not sure if this is an actual Archos product or a rebranded OEM player, that doesn’t necessarily need to mean anything for the sound quality as even cheap Chinese players sometimes have decent sound quality. That’s the case with the Archos 1 Vision as well, regardless of the original product developer. I was especially surprised that it was able to drive my 80 ohm Beyerdynamic DT770 to well above normal volume, something that weaker (non-Cowon, basically) players often have trouble doing. It did show some tendency to be sibilant on high vocals as well as a slightly reduced soundstage compared to players like the Sansa Clip+, but overall it did very well. It also didn’t hiss, something that is sometimes an issue with overly cheap players. The player actually supports FLAC as well, though I seriously doubt anyone who uses FLAC would even consider this player simply because it’s a budget player in every aspect and a player more suited for casual users more than anything else. I’d frankly be surprised if any Archos 1 Vision other than mine will ever be connected to headphones that cost more than $15.
The Archos 1 Vision has a bad build quality, awkward design, peculiar button placements, an undeniably unnecessary power switch, somewhat peculiar menus and an extra features set that might as well not have been there. However, it’s also perhaps the cheapest brand name player with a screen on the market, even beating the 2GB Sansa Clip+. I paid £21 (about $31) for this at launch, and while MSRP is £35 it seems that’s not what it actually costs anywhere. The way I see it, the Archos 1 Vision is 4GB of memory with a color LCD screen, headphone port and 21 hours of battery life that gives you an awesome value for the money if all you want to do is listen to music as cheap as possible. I’ve given the death penalty to players with similar flaws before, mainly the Philips Aria and Philips Vibe, but that’s because those players did very little while still not really being cheap, and had competition from quality players from Sony and Sansa in the same price range. The 1 Vision is too cheap to really have competition from anyone price-wise, so that alone gives it a right to live. You won’t get the best player out there, but you’re also going to pay a lot less than you otherwise would for this feature set. All of that makes it a perfect player for the mainstream, overly casual user but I doubt it will interest people who care enough about MP3 players to visit this site- maybe except for use as gifts.