Pros: Attractive, sleek design; Sharp, responsive touchscreen; Very good A/V quality on player; Good Internet browsing and e-mail experience
Cons: Audio sometimes out of sync with TV output; Recording with optional DVR station is problematic; Picks up fingerprints easily; Issues with CinemaNow downloads
Verdict: Archos's sexiest PMP yet sports a sweet touchscreen and excellent video playback, but be sure to update to the latest firmware.
The Archos 5 is the sexiest device yet from the French PMP pioneer. It has a sleeker body than its predecessors, and eschews physical controls for an entirely touch-based interface. Available in 60, 120, and 250GB hard drive capacities, it's even priced reasonably, though you'll need to buy some add-ons to access some features.
Measuring 5.0 x 3.1 x 0.5 inches, the Archos 5's heft (8.8 ounces) makes it feel expensive. We tested the 60GB model ($349), but 120GB ($399) and 250GB ($449) versions are also available. The finish is gunmetal-colored plastic, framing a 4.8-inch touchscreen. The only buttons on the device are along the top for power and volume, giving the front a clean look--except for being covered in fingerprints, which it picks up easily. A monaural speaker on the right side and a kickstand on the back make it easier to watch videos with friends, especially because the 800 x 480-pixel screen has wide viewing angles, with color shift only at extreme angles and no dimming.
The interface is well organized using brightly colored icons with easily readable text labels for the main and sub-menus. It's easy to navigate with taps and swipes of a finger, and you can use your fingernail for more precision. The roomy virtual keyboard is a joy to use as well. During our early testing using beta firmware (Version 1.0.54), we encountered some lags and freezes in the interface, which were mitigated after we upgraded to Version 1.0.76. Make sure you update to the latest firmware (Version 1.0.87) upon purchasing by going into Settings > Firmware and selecting Online Firmware Update.
Audio and Video
Loading content from our MacBook Pro was a breeze; after plugging the Archos 5 in via USB, we simply dragged and dropped files into the appropriate folders on the player. In Windows Vista, the Archos 5 connected to Windows Media Player 11 without any software installation.
Videos and photos stored on the Archos 5's 60GB hard drive looked and sounded excellent on its built-in screen. We output our Superbad DVD via HDMI from the DVR Station at 720p (1280 x 720) to our TV, and though it looked fine, the audio was sometimes slightly out of sync with the video. We swapped out the so-so earbuds for Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones, and music from Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly" to Cypress Hill's "Lick a Shot" to REM's "Hollow Man" sounded stellar, with great bass, detail, and clarity.
The Archos 5 connected easily to our WPA2-secured Wi-Fi network. The Opera-powered Web browser delivered decent speeds, with CNN.com loading in less than 20 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 12 seconds. We streamed an episode of Weeds from our Mac via TwonkyMedia's UPnP software and saw smooth playback and well-synced audio. The built-in e-mail client was still in beta during our testing (it will be available in November), but it worked fine with our Gmail account. Widgets such as Notes, Weather, and RSS worked well, and were easy to add via the Get More Widgets tab, although there's not much of a selection, as of this writing.
You can get content from online sources like Jamendo and DailyMotion (both free), and the Archos Media Club. We rented Jumper directly on the player via CinemaNow for $3.99, but we encountered errors and the download never completed.
As with previous versions of its PMP, Archos sells several hardware add-ons that increase the player's functionality. We tested the Archos 5 with the $99 DVR station (which includes a wireless remote featuring a full QWERTY keyboard and navigation pad), and lets you record audio and video and output it to a TV. Problems included poorly synced audio and frequent interface hangs. The component video input didn't work at all, forcing us to rely on lower-quality S-Video, but the HDMI output worked fine. Archos representatives said that this issue should be resolved with the recently released firmware update, Version 1.0.87.
Other add-ons include a DVR Snap On ($79) for mobile recordings, a battery extender that also outputs TV, for $49.99, and a helmet-mountable camcorder for $129. Unfortunately the Archos 5's new dock connector won't work with any existing accessories, except for the $129 GPS In-Car Holder.
The Archos 5's battery isn't removable, and was originally rated to last for just 12 hours of audio or 4 hours of video--and that's with Wi-Fi off. Keep that charge cable handy. According to Archos, however, the latest firmware update should extend battery life to 22 hours of audio or 7 hours of video; we'll update this review when we get the chance to test this.
Archos 5 Verdict
If Archos can work out the kinks in its firmware, the Archos 5 will be an excellent portable DVR; as it is, we still enjoy it thoroughly for playback of side-loaded content and for surfing the Web. We look forward to cellular 3.5G capabilities being added later this year, which will increase the player's value immensely as an Internet device.