Cheap and cheerful Tunage.
I remember buying my first MP3 player back in 2002. It was a Thomson Lyra that I bought from Argos for around £150. It had a 32MB memory (expandable with MMC cards), would last about 4 hours on a single AAA battery, had a display but could only show track numbers and was so quiet that you couldn’t actually hear it on a bus.
These days most people are comfortable using their mobile phones as their music player of choice, but there’s still a market for bespoke MP3 players with no additional functionality. I’m an example of this. While out running or riding on my bike, I don’t want my smartphone on me. I do these things to get away from emails and tweets and Facebook and phone calls, so why would I want to take my mobile with me? Once I realised this I took a stroll down to my local PC World to see what was on offer.
Sure enough, most of the devices there were way more than I was interested in. I didn’t want video playback, I didn’t want to integrate my music selections with some random social network, I just wanted to listen to music.
Once of the only devices that fit this bill was the Archos Clipper, and beggars can’t be choosers, so here we go!
Look and Feel
While the Clipper might be compared to the iPod Shuffle in terms of functionality, it’s about as different as you could get in terms of design. Rather than opting for a sleek metallic feel, Archos have gone with a rubberised plastic case. It looks and feels well made, though it is quite a bit bigger than Apple’s offering.
The front of the device is taken up almost entirely by the control buttons, which give a satisfying click when pushed. You get the usual suspects; track forward and back, volume up and down, and play/pause. It’s nice that the buttons are as large as they are, but they could have done with some raised edges or markings to help people distinguish between them without looking.
To the side of the Clipper you’ll find the headphone/sync jack and a lock switch. Like the iPod Shuffle, the Clipper uses the same 3.5mm jack for audio out, and for syncing with a PC or Mac via the supplied adapter cable.
To the rear of the device you’ll find the sprung clip (hence the name) designed to keep the player secure when on the go.
Overall I like the design of the Clipper, it feels well made and is small enough to attach discretely to a belt loop or shirt lapel. One thing that lets it down, as mentioned previously, is the lack of any raised edges for the buttons, which may be a problem for runners or cyclists.
Living with it
I had no problems at all adding music the the Clipper via a PC or Mac. Connect it up using the supplied cable and it’ll appear as a mass storage device ready for you to copy music over. In truth, I’d have preferred a micro-USB connector to the 3.5mm audio/data combination, but that’s only because I’m renowned for mislaying cables and I happen to have more micro-USB leads laying around.
When it comes to audio quality, the Clipper performs reasonably well for the price point (though not with the supplied headphones). Like most tiny MP3 players, it lacks a little in volume, and bass notes are not as pronounced as I’d like, but for the most part it’s listen-able.
The belt clip on the back of the device is not as comfortable or usable as some other products, and I did find it working its way loose while running on more than one occasion. But, it seemed to be absolutely fine while walking and I had no issues with it while riding my motorcycle either. Perhaps performance would be better on thinner materials, but I found it to be a little loose when clipped on to a pair of jeans.
As mentioned previously, the buttons presented a little bit of an issue when using the device without looking. I found it tricky to discern between the buttons while running or while wearing my motorcycle gloves. Adding a raised edge to the buttons would have easily solved this problem, so it seems like Archos opted for style over function in this respect.
When it comes to battery life, I have no complaints. On a full charge the Archos managed a full (9 hour) day in the office without me having to plug it in to my computer.
It’s also worth pointing out that there’s no physical “shuffle” button on the clipper. To switch between normal playback and shuffle mode, the user has to press the play button and hold it for two seconds. This only became clear to me after reading through the instruction manual, and seriously; who has time for that? I would have much preferred a physical switch next to the “lock” switch to allow me to easily switch shuffle on and off.
That small gripe aside, the Archos Clipper is an MP3 player well suited to those on the go. While the belt clip and button layout aren’t the easiest to get along with, they’re both still usable, and music playback syncing are both pretty good. In terms of audio quality and battery life, Archos’ offering is pretty much in the same place as the iPod Shuffle. In all honesty, I prefer the iPod Shuffle for use when exercising. But with the Clipper being half the price, and not requiring iTunes in order to work properly, there’s a clear winner in my book.
If you’re looking for a cheap MP3 device with no added bells and whistles, then the Archos Clipper should definitely be on your short list. If you already use iTunes for syncing other Apple devices, then you might want to consider the iPod Shuffle. But if you’ve no allegiance to Apple, or if you can’t justify the price of the Shuffle, then definitely take a look at the Archos Clipper.