Decked out in uber-cool black-brushed aluminum, the Gmini 500 is a slightly 'cut-down' version of Archos' AV500. Having said that, the 30GB capacity of the 'base' AV500 has actually been expanded to 40GB for the Gmini. The new model has the AV500's reassuring solidity and the same superb 4in 48 x 272 16:9 display (its only let-down is a reflective finish, which spoils playback in brightly-lit conditions).
There are two main differences between the two players. The Gmini does not come with a remote (you can buy one as an accessory) and the AV500's on-line video recording functionality has been stripped off, so you'll have to rely on your computer. To this end, there are two USB file-transfer modes. In the first mode, the Gmini 500 is PlaysForSurecompatible and will handle protected Windows media. Here, you can synchronise the device with your PC media collection via Windows Media Player 10. Sadly, in this mode you can't copy content back to your computer, and files deemed incompatible by Windows a reconverted. This not only degrades quality, but wastes time.
Thankfully the second 'hard drive' mode gets around this, although playback of protected files is denied. Choose this, and when the player is connected to your computer, it will be recognised by your computer as an external FAT32 hard drive. Files can then be copied directly to the relevant folders. The good news is that in this mode the Gmini 500 can, like the other PMPs featured here, also be used with Macs and Linux systems.
Thankfully, the Gmini 500 retains its bigger brother's second 'host-mode' port; with the supplied adaptor, you can connect up a digital camera or storage device and play or copy/back-up files. Although reliant on USB, there is some onboard recording functionality - you can capture audio onto the hard drive, from an in-built microphone or an external analogue stereo source. Only PCM is supported and, being uncompressed, yields higher potential sound quality but hungrily chomps hard-disk space.
As far as audio playback is concerned, the Gmini 500 caters for M P3, WMA and WAV. Video wise, it p lays DiVX (4/5), XViD and WMV9, but MPEG files of any kind are unrecognised. In other words, you won't be able to play DVD rips unless they're converted first.
The Gmini 500's picture quality is excellent with DiVX files - despite the fact that, as with all of the other PMPs tested here, it hasn't been certified by DiVX Networks. Shown on the internal display they're crisp and bright.
Sound wise, the Gmini pulls its weight with a punchy and fullbodied performance that's only outshone (and even then only s lightly) by mPack's P600. Battery life is fine; expect a maximum of 5hr video (13hr audio) from a single charge. The no-nonsense interface, which provides easy access to configuration and the various media genres, can't be faulted either. In all, one of the best PMPs around - from a master of the genre.