Archos 605 Wi-Fi Review

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$229

Pros: Slim design with brilliant display; Content Portal provides wireless access to media; Excellent sound and video quality; Can wirelessly stream content from PC

Cons: Many features require additional cost; Short Wi-Fi range; CinemaNow offers sluggish content browsing; No stylus slot

Verdict: Archos' latest wireless PMP lets you download movies over the air, but you'll have to shell out more to get the most of this device.

Archos' PMPs have been steadily improving and becoming thinner and easier to use. The latest generation, the 605 WiFi, comes dangerously close to being what Apple's iPhone would be without the phone. Unlike the iPhone, the 605 WiFi lets you wirelessly download movies, TV shows, and (soon) music on the spot, as well as stream the latest YouTube videos. However, the number of content providers is slim at the moment, and some of the most compelling features (most notably, the Web browser) cost extra. We tested a 30GB hard drive-based version, but there are also 80GB and 160GB models available, as well as a 4GB flash-based model with an SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity) Card slot.
Measuring a svelte 4.8 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches, the 30GB 605 WiFi feels great in the hand, thanks to the silver matte finish and solid heft (6.7 ounces); the 4GB model is slightly lighter, and the ones with larger hard drives are a little bigger and three ounces heavier.The main attraction is the 4.3-inch touchscreen, which packs 800 x 480 pixels in a widescreen orientation and supports an impressive 16 million colors. The screen looked quite crisp under fluorescent lights on a train and in the office, but we saw a lot of glare when we viewed it in direct sunlight. Just below the display is a small built-in speaker that's adequate for only close-up listening.
There are a few hardware disappointments: The battery is nonremovable, and a slot for storing the stylus would have been a better design choice than an integrated kickstand. The 30GB model's battery lasts for a little more than five hours of video playback and about 17.5 hours of audio, but your mileage will vary depending on volume and screen brightness. The accessory bundle includes a protective pouch, DVR station adapter, USB cable, mediocre earbuds, and a quick-start guide.
On the bottom are connectors for the proprietary USB cable and optional accessories. The eighth-inch output on the left side is for headphones, AV output cables, or an S/PDIF cable for digital output. The 605 WiFi's row of two-way buttons along the right side of the screen is complemented by Power and Hold buttons on top, but you can do just about everything from the touchscreen.
Navigating the player's animated icon-based interface with your finger is fairly easy; the stylus gives you better precision when clicking on Web links or list items. For tasks such as Web browsing, however, fingers work well on the onscreen QWERTY keyboard and on the full keyboard on the wireless remote. Panning around pictures and Web pages by dragging your finger around the screen is pretty hip, but the screen's response isn't as smooth as the iPhone's and doesn't support multi-finger touch.

The 605 WiFi's wireless performance was far from blazing; Web surfing via the optional Opera-powered Web Browser plug-in ($30) was sluggish, and the 802.11g device's Wi-Fi sniffer had trouble picking up networks that laptops found easily. You can stream networked music, videos, and photos via the UPnP protocol right to a TV that has a 605 WiFi connected to it. We streamed part of Sin City, and it looked clear and smooth as long as we maintained good wireless signal strength. File-transfer times for a 5MB test file varied dramatically from about three minutes to ten minutes, depending on signal strength. Plug-ins for Internet radio, HD video, and Real content are available for $20 each.
Using the Archos Content Portal menu, 605 WiFi owners can directly download movies and TV shows from CinemaNow. Movies cost $3.99 to rent and anywhere from $9.99 to $19.99 to buy, and the options available to you will depend on the film. Also keep in mind that you don't get DVD extras like deleted scenes or directors' commentaries. The Content Portal will support full-screen videos from YouTube, but it wasn't available as of press time. (You can also watch online videos from YouTube and many other Flash-enabled sites via the optional Web browser plug-in.) Also coming soon: widgets for instant access to weather reports, calendaring, sports updates, and more.
It took about 27 minutes to download the movie 300 from CinemaNow over a Wi-Fi connection. That's not great, but in most cases you'll have enough time to grab a flick before your next flight. We're not crazy about CinemaNow's user interface on the Archos, which is a truncated version of what you see on a PC. For movies, clicking from one screen to the next was slow and tedious. Strangely, Genre and New Release categories aren't available as navigation options on the mobile UI, so the only real way to find a movie among the 1,500-plus titles is to use the search option. On the plus side, we liked the timely selection of movies and that more than 100 TV shows are available for download, including oldies like Friends and more recent gems like Arrested Development.

The 605 WiFi's AV-recording features require a docking station ($99.99) or travel DVR adapter ($69.99) from Archos. Our test recordings from TV and DVD sources in MPEG-4 AVI format, including the intro to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, looked and sounded fantastic on both the built-in screen and a TV, as did our side-loaded video content. You can also get automatically updated TV programming guides, so you can schedule recordings of your favorite shows and movies. One minor limitation is that you can't play back content recorded from Macrovision-protected sources (including many Hollywood DVDs and VHS tapes) on an external monitor.
The bundled firmware supports MPEG-4 ASP and WMV video formats, as well as MP3, WMA, protected WMA, and WAV files. For about $20 each, you can also purchase codecs like AAC, AC3, MPEG-2, and H.264. Photo support includes JPEG, BMP, and PNG, and there's even an onboard PDF reader. The 605 WiFi works with PCs (MTP or USB mode) as well as Macs and Linux machines (USB mode only).

At $299 for the 30GB model (not including optional hardware and software), the Archos 605 WiFi is a hot portable media player, despite the pitfalls of CinemaNow. Just have your credit card ready to shell out more than the advertised price for full functionality.

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