09/07/2012 10:22 | By Nick Peers, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Archos 24d Vision review

This competent media player is hampered by a fussy control system and limited format support.

Archos 24d Vision is rated three stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Archos)

What is it?
Small, lightweight and cheap music and video player. .

What's great
Reasonable sound quality; intuitive navigation; bright, easy to read screen; controls easy to master.

What's not
Limited format support; tracks displayed in alphabetical order; no lock button to counteract over-sensitive touch controls.

The bottom line
It's a mixed bag, with positives including sound quality, design and user interface, outweighed by major flaws such as overly fussy touch-sensitive controls and limited format support.

If you're looking for a cheap and cheerful music player with limited video capabilities, the Archos 24d Vision might appeal, but despite some excellent features - the bright, crisp viewscreen and support for audiophile-friendly formats being just two - there are some potentially deal-breaking niggles to contend with.

The first is evident from reading the box: a lack of audio and video format support. While support for audiophile-friendly formats such as OGG and FLAC is welcome, it's at the expense of Microsoft's (WMA) and Apple's (M4A) lossy standards, which feels counter intuitive, particularly as the device's limited capacity - both onboard and microSD (capped at 8GB) - means you won't be able to fit large amounts of lossless music on it.

Video format support is similarly hobbled - something that is not helped by the sparse documentation available. Archos claims its unit supports FLV and AVI files, but makes no mention of the all-important codecs required. What we do know is that the 24d Vision refused to work with any FLV files we downloaded from YouTube.

Things improve when you look at the Archos for the first time. It's lightweight and small enough to cradle in the palm of your hand, while the 2.4-inch screen is bright, crisp and displays an awful lot of useful information, making the interface relatively easy to navigate. It's practically identical to its little sibling, the Archos 18d Vision, but here the larger screen and intuitive controls make it far easier to navigate.

Everything's controlled by three physical buttons on the unit's edges, plus four touch-sensitive buttons to the right of the screen. They all work as they should. The only thing you really need to know is that holding down the menu button reveals extra controls during playback, ensuring you can tweak the sound settings or view file information without having to wade through the menu hierarchy.

Sound quality is perfectly acceptable from such a cheap unit. It's eclipsed by more expensive models, as you'd expect, but pretty good all the same. There are seven settings, including one user-customisable one using a five-bar equaliser. All can be previewed without committing any changes, and make a noticeable difference to the sound, although they all come at a price, such as a muddying of the high end when using the Rock or DBB setting, for example.

Video quality is equally adequate for such a small screen when you can find a video file that's compatible, but the restrictive viewing angles and cramped display ultimately make it impractical for anything but brief use. The built-in camera is a nice touch, but its low resolution ensures it is little more than novelty, even when pressed into service as an emergency webcam via your PC.

There are some other nice touches: a built-in FM radio (with the ability to record broadcasts using the voice recorder), calculator, stop watch and calendar. In fact, at this point, even taking into account the limited format support and tiny screen, the Archos 24d Vision looks like it could make itself a real contender in the budget market.

But sadly, more bad news is on the way. The unit has no fittings for clipping to your belt, so it'll need to be placed in your shirt or trouser pocket. Unfortunately, when you do this you discover how easy it is for your clothing to accidentally brush those touch-sensitive controls. It's a major problem as tracks skip or pause simply because you've shifted to a more comfortable position or started climbing some steps. If only Archos had thought to use the physical on/off rocker switch as a lock instead.

We also don't like the way tracks are arranged - in alphabetical order, even when viewed in album view. Small but subtle annoyances such as these, coupled with the other problems, ultimately count against the Archos 24d Vision: a great idea in theory, but poor execution makes it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend, even at this low price point.

Archos 24d Vision is rated three stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets

Best multimedia players for under £50
Same storage, better audio format support and battery life, smaller screen, no video: Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip
Similar sized screen, far superior audio and video format support, similar price tag, no expansion: Samsung YP-Q3

Essential info
Price: around £35 (4GB), £45 (8GB)
Capacity: 4GB/8GB
Expansion: microSD, up to 8GB
Screen (size, type, resolution): 2.4-inch colour TFT, 320x240 pixels
Audio formats supported: MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, APE
Video formats supported: FLV, AVI, RMVB, 3GP
Other features: video/voice recorder, FM radio, 0.3mp camera, webcam
Stated battery life: eight hours (audio), three hours (video)
Dimensions: 84.3mm x 55.3mm x 9mm, 45.1g