MP3 players usually come in two flavours.

The choice is between hard disk devices, with enough capacity to store an entire music collection, or smaller flash storage based players.

Flash based players are cheaper, fitting more easily in your pocket and lacking moving parts. These offer anything up to 8GB of space, which for many music experts might be only a small portion of their music.

The hard disk based Archos 204 offers 20GB (really 18GB of usable storage) for either music or photos. Despite carrying a hard drive, it comes in a pocket sized form factor, smaller than the iPod or Creative's Zen.

It fits this into a sleek black exterior and has a battery life that approaches 20 hours. Plug it into your PC and you can either synchronise with Windows Media Player or drop files directly onto the device.

There are some issues with the player's design, though. The control interface is neither as pleasant nor as intuitive as navigating menus on an iPod.

The small metal button in the centre functions like a four-way directional stick, either to select folders, skip tracks, or adjust the player volume. Pushing the button pauses the music, which can happen accidentally when on the move.

Display drawbacks

The 1.8in colour screen is capable of displaying your photos, in 160 x 128 resolution. If you drop a music folder with album art onto the player, it will display this while your songs play.

In the right lighting conditions, the screen appears fine, but bright sunlight makes the display almost unreadable. Despite the screen being of reasonable quality, the interface graphics are not. Fonts appear blocky while long filenames are cut off. More effort with the icons and graphics would have made the product feel a lot more polished.

These shortcomings can be overlooked, since this £120 player offers the storage and functionality of pricier brands.

Granted, it's unlikely to make people abandon their iPods en masse, but if you are yet to join the portable music revolution but are put off by high prices, the Archos M204 is a great alternative.