Sunday, December 16, 2007

Can Archos design be trusted nowadays?

Archos always had some innovative and based on the specs quite impressive media players. However, I've had many problems with them, mostly due to bad design:

Jukebox 6000 (my first MP3 player)
  • Turning off unexpectedly due to loose solder connections carrying power from the batteries. The connections were between the main board and the small top board and they were used structurally, to hold the two boards together.
  • Turning off unexpectedly due to the battery springs not being springy enough. One of them even has a wire going through it, deforming it and limiting it's extension. Lots of devices use AA batteries without such a problem.
  • Overly small capacitors in the headphone circuit which seriously limited bass. I was still pretty happy with the sound, but the difference in bass compared to my computer was dramatic.
Gmini 220 (my 2nd player)
  • Occasional glitches and corruption in the music. Archos never did anything about it.
  • The buttons are unreliable, with a press on one sometimes being registered as a press on another. This is because multiple buttons are on the same wire and instead of the usual scanning arrangement different buttons connect to different voltage divider and the Gmini senses the different voltages. This is a unique and quite stupid design. Lots of people had this problem and Archos did nothing. Someone found how to change the voltage dividers by changing surface mounted resistors and improve the situation.
  • The ground contact from the headphone jack isn't springy enough. It needs to be bent back every once in a while. This isn't hard, but I'm concerned it might break and other jacks never needed such service. Furthermore, this worsens the remote problems.
  • The LCD seems very cheap. The overall brightness of a column is affected by what is displayed on it (with dark areas leaving white stripes). Archos claimed you'd even want to view photos on it and it actually even sucks with text.
Gmini FM remote, used with my Gmini 220
  • Puts hard drive spinup and seek electrical noise in the audio (the Gmini 220 by itself doesn't have that problem).
  • Backlight and scrolling cause electrical noise in the audio. Clearly the design has some problems. Many people report this but Archos doesn't seem to care.
  • Unstable: Sometimes it goes almost totally dim, sometimes the red recording light comes on, and sometimes it locks up. The remote can easily become slightly unplugged from the Gmini 220 and the ground contact can also cause this problem, but even without these problems the remote still locks up. Again Archos does nothing about it.
V2 Jukebox Recorder (Like the FM Recorder without the FM receiver module. A friend got it used from eBay and used it for a while. He gave it to me for free when it broke the second time (thanks!) and now I use it.)
  • Headphone channels (first one then both) cut out intermittently. This was because a small daugherboard is soldered to the headphone jack pins. It's such a high-stress point and solder isn't meant to be structural like that.
  • Battery appears dead, but actually it seems the contacts were dirty. The contacts are cheap and other people had the same problem.
  • Cannot charge if too discharged. It needs battery power in order to start charging!
  • Bad solder joint at the charger jack. There's something weird there. It seems the jack is mounted on its side! The pin for the centre connection has been rotated and a short wire connects the pin for the side connection to the circuit board. The connection between that wire and the jack was bad.
  • The metal part of the case is connected to the circuit board using only solder joints. Solder or the copper on printed circuit boards isn't meant for such use and of course there was some damage there.
The common thread is that generally things didn't just break randomly. Archos made some very questionable design decisions and that's why things broke. Several of the problems are because solder was used to make structural connections. The designers should have known better. Because of this I'm now afraid to buy Archos products. For example the Archos 605 for $249 Canadian was a tempting deal but how much is it worth if it's annoying and/or unreliable?