Portable Media players let you stow favourite TV shows, movies, music and photos in your pocket - a mix of entertainment otherwise confined to your desktop computer.
Although Microsoft is pushing players based on the mobile version of its Media Center software, there are a variety of alternatives available, each with a different take on the concept - from physical design to user interface.
Most media players have had a similar drawbacks: high price tags, barely pocketable sizes, and minimal extra features. They will soon face competition from Sony's PlayStation Portable (reviewed on page 19).
However, the i-Station PMP1000 and particularly, the Archos PMA430 both introduce new touches, quite literally.
Both feature 3.5in touch screen displays - a first, and a boon for ease of use. The Archos' display is marginally the better of the two. When it's propped up (no kickstand is included) it's quite viewable from above. But when the device is laid flat on a desk or your lap, it's much harder to see.
Both media players are well built (the Archos even has protective rubberised edges) and are a tad smaller than what we've seen in the past. The PMA430 and PMP1000 are equipped with 30GB hard disks; enough capacity for roughly 6500 songs, 120 hours of video or 300,000 photos. Both have a USB 2.0 interface, can also double as external hard disks and include internal directory structures for organising your media files (see specifications for full listing of supported photo, music and movie file formats).
The two devices can record input from built-in microphones (and line-input in the case of the PMP1000) directly to MP3. However, the Archos has much more extra features.
Its bundled TV cradle provides a convenient method for TV output (Composite or S-Video) and serves as the interface to record directly from the TV - complete with schedule and quality options.
The PMA430 also includes wireless networking and Linux-based PDA-style features. These include a "today" screen (comprising tasks, e-mail and events overview), e-mail client, Opera Web browser, calendar, contacts, to do list, clock, world time, calculator, text editor, terminal and PDF viewer.
There are three types of text input. Handwriting recognition involves using the stylus to write into three sections at the bottom of the display: capital and lower case letters, plus numbers. It guesses the words you're trying to write and displays possibilities for you to choose. There is also an on-screen keyboard and SMS-style pre-emptive text input.
One last trick in the PMA430's arsenal is its ability to play Mophun games (www.mophun.com) - think newer mobile phone-style titles. The i-Station PMP1000 can also output to TV (S-Video) but not record. Its extra features include FM radio tuning and recording (which the Archos doesn't have) plus built-in dictionary, calendar, calculator and a text viewer.
VERDICT Both devices have a lot on offer, with pricing to match. Although the Archos PMA430 lacks automatic photo slideshows, screen orientation switching and true widescreen support, it's still a tempting item for audio-visual enthusiasts with deep pockets. The i-Station PMP1000 is a more conservatively-priced compromise.
ARCHOES POCKET MEDIA ASSISTANT PMA430
DISTRIBUTOR: i-Tech International
PHONE: (02) 9261 8101
SPECIFICATIONS: 3.5in touch screen display (320x240 pixel resolution; 260,000 colours); 30GB hard disk; Wi-Fi (802.11b); AV recording/output cradle (Composite or S-Video); stylus pen; earbud head-phones; USB 2.0; supports JPG, BMP, PNG and GIF images; WMA, MP3 and WAV audio; AVI, Xvid and DivX (4-5) video (plus other formats). Firmware upgradable; removable rechargeable Lithium-ion battery; built-in microphone; 280g; 124x78x20mm (WxHxD)
FEATURES 10 VALUE 7 OVERALL 8
PRICE: $849 (30GB); $749 (20GB)
PHONE: 1300 131 035
SPECIFICATIONS: 3.5in touch screen display (320x240 pixel resolution, 262,000 colours); 30GB hard disk; leather pouch; stylus pen; S-Video TV-output, earbud headphones, USB 2.0; supports JPG images; WMA, MP3 OGG, AC3 and AAC audio; MPEG1/2, Xvid and DivX (3-5) video (plus WMV and ASF). Firmware upgradable, removable battery; built-in microphone, 246g; 123x76x21.5mm (WxHxD)
FEATURES 8 VALUE 8 OVERALL 8