One of the attractive features of Android has always been flexibility. Flexibility, however, can lead to incompatibility: you may be able to add a memory card filled with content, but what use is that if you can't play it?
With video appearing from many different sources, in many different formats, there's no shortage of video apps either. Throwing its hat into the ring is Archos, which for those in the know has long been a master at supporting a diverse range of video types.
Archos Video Player
- Google Play
You can't say Archos without thinking about video. The company's devices may not show the most inspirational design, or use the most premium of materials, but they have always aspired to give you a great video experience.
Archos is no stranger to Android customisation either. Long-time friends of Google's platform, Archos has been tinkering with apps for a while, with the likes of the Archos Remote giving you control of your Archos device from another Android handset.
With the Archos Video Player, we see the separation of software and hardware in what is typically Archos's core strength. The result is an app that aims to be your one-stop-shop for video, offering hardware and software decoding (if you wish), and claiming to play just about everything.
Of course, with the huge variety of Android hardware out there, from screen sizes to CPUs and GPUs, something will always fall down the gap. Equally, with quirks in video formats, you can almost guarantee that there will be something that doesn't play nice, although in the short time since release, Archos already looks to be addressing problems.
Fire up the app and you'll recognise the interface from recent Archos hardware devices. Your library is broken down into categories – movies, TV shows, all videos, recents and the video folder. In portrait this is a straight list, in landscape you get the fan carousel, reflecting the sort of widgets that Archos offers on its devices.
Select the video you want to watch and the player window gives you plenty of up-front options. You can change the volume on-screen, which is convenient, as well as skip forward and backward, or jump to a point along the timeline, which is standard stuff.
Elsewhere you can elect to expand the video to fill the display, rather than playing in the native aspect.
You also have a run of icons across the top which bring other features forward. You can view info on the file, including technical details like the format, length, codecs, and so on, including the option to fetch subtitles, if your video is something recognised. If it is a recognised video, the player can scan for information.
You can set bookmarks in your video, and bookmarks will be recorded separately from resume playback positions, so you can find something you're interested in sharing or seeing again if you're in a longer video.
You can also change the brightness from the app, so long as your device isn't set to auto brightness. If you've ever watched video in bed in the dark, you'll see the immediate benefit of this, as you might want to drop the brightness to save yourself eye strain, although you might just find that auto-brightness works well enough as it is.
You can also disable/enable screen rotation - again, a godsend for those watching video in bed. Want to roll on your side, rest the phone on your pillow and watch it sideways? No problem. Having this direct control means you're saved from the video switching aspect every time you rotate the phone.
We like the fact that all this this isn't just limited to your local devices, as it will also offer to find content from shared folders (SMB) or media servers (UPnP) which it seemed to navigate with some speed, offering playback directly from those sources too.
Generally speaking, we found the the app performed well, although, it won't play all file types. The main run is supported, so feeding it MKV or MP4 worked well enough, with wide support for files from all sorts of different digital cameras working too. However, when we started feeding it high bitrate DSLR video files, the screen would go blank, as though they were supported, but unable to play.
Performance differs between devices too. We've been testing the app on various devices and where on a long MP4, we've found the Nexus 4 dropped frames where the Nexus 10 doesn't.
But overall we like the Archos Video Player. It's an app that has aspirations, it wants do do everything and replace functions to give you one place to go for your video files. That's great, but it's going to need constant attention from Archos to keep updating and supporting as issues become apparent.
And finally we come to price. At £3.99 there will be an expectation that it will be perfect. It's a nice enough app and gives you plenty of features, but some will feel it is too expensive to have the holes it does.