Editor's Note, October 2008: check out the new Archos 5 that replaces the 605.
Review posted December 3, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Not everyone's in love with the Apple and the iPod, and that's what Archos, Microsoft with their Zune and Creative count on. Archos' 5th generation portable music and video player, the 605 WiFi improved on the Archos 604 and give the iPod Touch a run for the money (or more aptly, your money). The 605 is a relatively compact PVP (portable video player) with a widescreen display that's touch-friendly, WiFi and a 30 gig hard drive all for $299. There are 80 and 160 gig model for $349 and $399, and a $199 4 gig flash memory based model as well. That's an impressive amount of storage for the money compared to the 8 gig ($299) and 16 gig ($399) iPod Touch models.
We received the most commonly available model, the 30 gig; which can hold a very large library of MP3s and a good selection of feature-length movies. The Archos is modern and attractive, even if not jaw-dropping good looking like the Touch and iPhone. The brushed aluminum casing is sturdy, though the plastic white buttons on the right side detract a bit from the look. The player is eminently pocketable and slim at 0.6" (the high capacity models are 0.75"). It weighs 6.7 ounces (9.17 for the high capacity model) and comes with an uninspiring but effective mesh fabric slip case. At 4.8 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches, it's absolutely tiny compared to the Creative Zen Vision W 30 gig widescreen PVP.
Though the Archos is budget priced by full-featured, name brand PVP standards, we felt a bit nickel and dimed to debt when it comes to getting all the features Archos touts. The package includes the 605, slip case, USB cable, 2 styli, earbuds, a DVR dock adapter for older Archos docks and software CD. Want a charger so you don't have to charge over USB? You'll need to buy the DVR docking station which includes a charger. The docking station is another $100, so if you want to record TV, the price has just gone up to $399. Since the Archos 605 WiFi, has err... WiFi, you might want to use it to browse the web. But the Opera-based web browser isn't included. That costs $30. Likewise, the video podcast/AAC plugin is $20 as is the Cinema plugin that enables DVD quality playback to a TV and 5.1 surround out through the SPDIF output on the DVR station (MPEG-2 + AC3 format). So it's more like $450 if you want to use all those nifty features. That said, not everyone wants to record TV using the Archos dock, and it does make some sense to sell that separately since its price isn't trivial.
The Archos has the best display we've seen on a PMP, it's truly DVD quality playback (better actually). At 800 x 480 pixels and 4.3", the 16 million color display beats the iPod Touch or Creative Zen Vision W easily. In terms of viewing quality, this is the portable we'd take with us every time. Sound quality is likewise good (use a better set of headphones than the included earbuds) for music and video playback, and we appreciate the speakers for those quick listens (another feature the iPod Touch lacks). The player can handle MP3s encoded from 30-320 kbit/s with support for VBR (variable bit rate). It also supports WAV and WMV files including protected WMV.
The Archos 605 WiFi in the optional DVR station.
The 605 supports a wide variety of video formats including MPEG4 and ASF up to DVD resolution with no frame drops. It remembers where you left off (handy when the movie is longer than your commute) and has the usual stop, pause, fast forward and rewind features. The 605 WiFi supports streaming video via UPnP and that worked well in our tests streaming video from a PC as long as we stayed close enough to the router to maintain a good WiFi 802.11g connection. Our unit had the Podcast AAC plugin and we played a variety of unprotected music tracks and videos in iPod-friendly format (important if you're migrating from an iPod). There's even YouTube Flash video support-- full .flv YouTube, not the mobile version. YouTube playback was excellent as long as the player had a decent WiFi signal. When using Opera, tap on a video thumbnail to open the video in a full-screen video playback window (unlike desktop browsers, it doesn't play directly in the web page).
The iPod Touch and Archos 605 WiFi.
WiFi isn't just for browsing; the Archos supports UPnP for streaming video from other PCs on your home network and there's a content portal with links to Archos content and the CinemaNow.com service where you can rent movies for $3.99 or buy them for $9.99- $19.95 and download them directly to the player. The Archos played well with our 802.11n network (in 802.11g mode) with WPA enabled, though range and ability to seek out access points wasn't as good as our notebooks, iPhone or iPod Touch. The player also checks for software and firmware updates and downloads them to the player for installation sans PC. We were impressed with this feature, though ours had a few update hiccups claiming there was an update but then changing its mind and sometimes forgetting it had already installed an update (even after a reboot). This was more of a typical Windows than iPod experience, which is true of the player's user interface overall. Archos has never been known for their super-simple and easy UI, and though the 5th generation 605 WiFi is the best so far, it's still a bit clunky and unintuitive at times. Some targets are large and finger-friendly while others (i.e.: menu controls) are maddeningly small. The touch screen isn't as responsive as the iPod Touch and iPhone's and we sometimes had to do things twice to register our taps. The player was relatively stable, though we did have to reboot it twice in two weeks. Boot time from a complete shutdown takes about 10 seconds, which is slow for a portable player.
The Archos syncs to Windows XP and Vista machines and supports USB drive mode as well as MTP (media transport protocol). Mac users can mount the Archos 605 as an external hard drive to transfer files back and forth but there's no syncing software nor can you use a Mac to download CinemaNow.com content (you can of course use the player itself). The Archos does more than music and video: it has an image viewer and it can display PDF files (but not MS Office docs). Photos look absolutely brilliant on the excellent display and the viewer supports JPEG, BMP and PNG files, and is fairly fast to load even 3 meg images.
Back of the Archos 605 WiFi.
The optional Gen 5 DVR Station doubles as a stand and charger. It comes with an ample remote to make using the TV Program Guide and recording app easy to use (these appear on your TV's screen when the Archos is in the DVR station that's hooked up to the TV). The dock comes with RCA and S-video cables to connect to the cable box and TV and a printed guide. You can use S-video or RCA for video in, and there are component connectors for output to the TV. The dock is a pass-through device and that means it must be set up in line between your cable box (or satellite box, VCR or DVD recorder) and TV. Setup was painless and the DVR worked well with our Time Warner digital cable box using the dock's IR control.
The DVR station's back connector panel.
DVR station remote.
The DVR station records in MPEG-4 format and has a scheduler that starts and ends recording and controls the tuner input source via an IR window. The recorder can handle standard and widescreen formats and can recording at bitrates from 500kbps up to an impressive 2500 kbps in 500kbps increments. we recorded at 1,000 kbps (a happy medium between quality and manageable file size) and found video quality to be very good, more than good enough for playback on the device or a standard definition TV 32" or less.
Battery life is decent at 5 hours of video playback (display set to mid-brightness) and nearly 17 hours of music playback. Unlike earlier Archos models, the battery is permanently installed which means you can't buy a spare to carry on the road or plane to double playback time. That's a drawback that the iPod Touch shares and we'd much prefer a swappable battery.
A compact PVP with the best screen on the market. It's truly a pleasure to watch and at 4.3" your eyes won't cross half way through a transatlantic flight. The Archos 605 WiFi packs a lot of features into a very petit package, though we do wish that using all of them didn't require so many additional purchases. On paper, the 605 is the portable video player to beat with varied audio and video file format support, a high res display, internal speakers and a capable (optional) docking station. Our gripe is the usual Archos user experience which sometimes reminds us of fighting with older versions of Windows. Things aren't nearly as brain-dead intuitive as they are on the iPod Touch or Creative Zen Vision W and we found ourselves referring to the pre-loaded PDF on the player to do fairly simple things. Once you have mastered the Archos, it is a very powerful player.
Pro: Fantastic display in terms of resolution, size and overall quality-- eat your heart out iPod Touch! Good sound quality, varied video and audio format support. Small, light and attractive. Web browser is quite good, though a tad slow. YouTube support is excellent.
Con: Battery life is passable but not being able to swap in a spare battery on the road is a kill-joy. Many features require additional purchases. Not very intuitive-- should we have to work hard just to have fun?
Display:800x480 pixels, 4.3'' TFT LCD, 16 million color touch screen.
Ion Polymer rechargeable. Not user replaceable.
Charges over USB or charger (included with DVR station). Claimed music playback time: 17 hours. Claimed video playback: 5.5 hours.
XScale PXA 255 400 MHz processor. 64 MB built-in RAM
(55 megs available). 32 MB Flash ROM with 2.85 megs
available in File Store for your use.
Size:30 gig model: 4.8 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches. Weight: 6.7 ounces.
in speakers and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Audio formats supported: MP3, WMV, AAC (requires plugin sold separately), AC3 (requires another plugin, sold separately) and WAV. Bitrates up to 320 kbps supported.
Video: Supported formats: MPEG-4 (AVI) and ASF up to DVD quality, video podcast (requires plugin sold separately), MPEG-2 (requires yet another plugin, sold separately). ITunes video format for unprotected video supported (requires plugin purchase).
Audio Recording: Via the optional DVR Station/ DVR Travel Adapter: Stereo line-in, WAV (IMA ADPCM or PCM) format.
Software:Music player, video player, photo viewer, PDF viewer.