Slim, sleek, and easily stashed into a shirt pocket, the Archos 404 Camcorder is one of the latest entries into Archos' Generation 4 line of portable media players. Boasting a 3.5-inch screen, compatibility with a laundry list of audio and video files, and its main selling point, a 1.3-megapixel camcorder for snapping photos and shooting video, the 404 Camcorder may very well be the all-in-one media device you've been craving, despite a few flaws.
The 6.8-ounce device features a smooth brushed-aluminum finish that's been the trademark of Archos' latest media marvels. The 3.5-inch LCD, which fills up nearly the entire face of the unit, has only a 320 x 240-pixel resolution, but the 16 million-plus colors provide rich hues and realistic skin tones. The display looks great from all but the most extreme angles, which makes it ideal for watching movies, viewing photos, and reading PDFs. Surrounding the 404's marvelous display are navigation buttons to the right; Power and TV/LCD buttons to the left; and proprietary USB ports on the bottom.
When it comes to audio/video playback, the 404, like other Generation 4 models, excels. It supports AVI, MPEG-4, and protected and unprotected WMV files right out of the box; optional plug-ins for ACC, MPEG-2, H.264, and VOB files are available at Archos' Web site. The player also supports purchased Amazon, AOL, CinemaNow, and Wal-Mart video content. MP3 and both protected and unprotected WAV and WMA files fill out the audio end, and an integrated microphone enables voice recording. We enjoyed very good sound through the stock earbuds, although listening to music and voices through the mono speaker delivered flat audio.
What makes the 404 stand out from other PMPs is its 1.3-MP camcorder. While shooting video in a number of environments (inside the office, in a convention hall, at home, outdoors), the 404 fared extremely well in natural light and in really bright indoor light. In low-light situations, the visuals became very grainy. On the plus side, the footage was quite smooth, as the 404 plays back video shot with the camera at 30 frames per second (at 640 x 480-pixel resolution). Those concerned about battery life need not worry; the Archos 404 Camcorder churned out a solid three hours and one minute of video on our tests.
The 404 Camcorder also takes still photographs, but as with the video footage, the quality varies greatly depending on the light source, and the best you're going to get is 1.3-MP resolution, which is same as you'd get from your average camera phone. Although we're disappointed that the 404 lacks a flash, a submenu provides the option to increase or decrease the amount of received light, which makes for a decent, albeit clunky, alternative.
Like the other models in Archos' Generation 4 line, the 404 also serves as a DVR. Unfortunately, you have to purchase a separate DVR Station ($99.99) to record television to the camcorder's 30GB hard drive or to export video to a TV. We also would have liked to see a built-in kickstand for propping the player at a prime viewing angle.
If you're on the hunt for an all-in-one convergence device, the Archos 404 Camcorder will fill the bill nicely. Although the integrated camera won't replace the video quality produced by a true, standalone camcorder, it's a handy tool if you want to travel light and shoot some footage to share with friends or post to YouTube.
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