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Multimedia in Your Hand

By Andrew Brandt When Archos announced that the next version of its popular Jukebox MP3 player would play videos and display photos, I expected some great things. However, while the Archos Jukebox Multimedia 20 delivers the promised functionality, repeated problems with two shipping units I tested gave me pause.

The $420 Multimedia 20 is 4.5 by 3.1 by 1.2 inches and weighs a little over 10 ounces. Its 20GB hard drive is big enough to store multiple movies or about 330 hours of MP3s encoded at 128 kbps. A USB 1.1 port makes the device truly plug and play--no special PC drivers required.

The full-color 237-by-234 pixel LCD measures about 1 inch high by 1.25 inches wide (roughly the size of a large postage stamp). Watching video--encoded in either AVI or DivX standards--requires eagle eyes, as does viewing JPEG photos. MP3 playback sounded good.

The unit's interface isn't particularly intuitive: It's a far cry from the slick Apple IPod, arguably its competition in terms of MP3 storage and playback. If you're looking to entertain a crowd of more than one, you can display the video on a television using an included cable. The device also includes adapters for uploading the contents of CompactFlash or SmartMedia cards.

Unfortunately, both of my test units exhibited a pixel flutter that made text shimmer. And I disliked some design elements: A poorly placed headphone jack, for example, makes the unit unnecessarily wide, and the rubber corner bumpers give it a more rugged appearance but actually offer little true protection from damage.

Archos gets credit for offering a unique, first-of-its-kind device, and gadget gurus may overlook its flaws to be the first on the block to own one. The unit's design problems, however, make it difficult to recommend to everyone else. From the December 2002 issue of PC World magazine

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