Pros: Good video playback; Responsive touchscreen; Long battery life; Available DVR accessory
Cons: Have to pay for certain codecs; CinemaNow issues
Verdict: This pricey portable media player offers a huge 7-inch screen and very good battery life, but you'll have to spend even more to tap its full potential.
The Archos 7, the bigger, beefier brother of the Archos 5, is an Internet Media Tablet that offers a slick design, a solid Web-surfing experience (complete with Flash support), and excellent video playback on a large, high-resolution 7-inch display. Unfortunately, Archos nickel-and-dimes customers when it comes to adding format support, and we had some issues getting premium movies to download from CinemaNow.
Design and Interface
Measuring 7.5 x 4.3 x 0.6 inches and weighing a hefty 1.4 pounds, the Archos 7 isn't a device designed for toting around in your jacket pocket. But with the girth comes a sharp 7-inch (800 x 480-pixel resolution) display that's far more suitable for watching movies than the Archos 5 (which sported a 5.0 x 3.1 x 0.5-inch, 8.8-ounce figure). The player sports a shiny gunmetal plastic finish that conveys that it's a premium product (which is welcome considering the $449 price tag), but it attracts all manner of fingerprints and smudges.
Two dedicated volume keys are on the top of the device, headphone and AC adapter jacks are on its left side, and two non-standard USB ports are built into the bottom. Stereo speakers flank the display, and a kickstand in the back props the Archos 7 into prime movie-watching position.
Like the Archos 5, this model utilizes a touchscreen for input and navigation; We had no problems navigating the system's intuitive menus and folders. A dock on the left side of the screen that lets you quickly access media files, TV, Internet, settings, and Add-Ons (and their corresponding sub-folders) using bright, colorful icons. The latest firmware (1.3.05) was very stable and worked in conjunction with the ARM Cortex processor to produce a lag-free experience when moving about the system.
Deep Audio/Video Formats (When You Pay Extra)
The Archos 7's wide codec compatibility gives Cowon's PMPs a run for the money--unfortunately, you'll have to shell out some of yours to unlock the full power of this tablet. It supports MP3, FLAC, OGG Vorbis, WAV, WMA (protected and unprotected) on the audio end, and BMP, GIF, JPEG, M-JPEG, MPEG-4, PNG, WMV (protected and unprotected) on the visual side, but if you want AAC and H.264 you'll have to pay $19.99 for the IMT Video Podcast plug-in. For MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (at 720p), and WMV (720p) support, it's an extra $19.99 for IMT HiDef Video plug-in.The Archos 7 even has a built-in PDF reader, which we used to open a downloaded tax form.
Bundled with the Archos 7 is a pair of hard, plastic earbuds that weren't very comfortable, but aren't any worse than freebie earpieces offered by other vendors. Despite their rigidness, we enjoyed the extremely loud, clear sound when watching YouTube clips or playing Led Zeppelin tunes (which we transferred to the 160GB hard drive via drag-and-drop), but the audio didn't sound as robust as that on theCowon S9. A downloaded Terminator: Salvation trailer played back smoothly without any blurring during high-action sequences, but colors were a bit washed out.
Web Surfing and E-mail
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio was poky during our Web-surfing sessions with the included Opera browser (available as a free download upon registering your unit). It took 15 seconds before we could even begin to read text at CNN.com and 32 seconds for the homepage to load completely. We were able to read content on Laptopmag.com in 11 seconds, but the main page didn't fully load until 24 seconds later.
That wasn't the end of our Wi-Fi woes; the Opera Browser lacks an address bar, so we had to tap the browser option icon in the upper-right corner of the display, then Go To, and finally Enter URL to bring up the address bar. Fortunately, the virtual keyboard made typing URLs a breeze; the Archos 7's wide body is conducive to swift thumb-typing. Double-tapping the screen zooms the page so you can take a closer look at content.
Archos' e-mail client enabled us to set up a Gmail account, but the other e-mail options are skimpy: Yahoo Mail Plus is the only other supported service.
Multitude of Media Options
The Archos Media Club lets you download content from the likes of CinemaNow (Max Payne was listed as $3.99 to rent, $19.95 to purchase, but we encountered an error that wouldn't let the flick fully download--we'll update when we get a fix for this problem) and view free clips from DailyMotion. Jamendo lets you download free (and legal) albums from a variety of independent artists across a variety of genres. Clicking on the Archos News Network icons provided fast access to the Euronews and DW-World Web pages, where we watched streaming news videos.
The Web TV & Radio plug-in enabled us to stream radio and TV programming (such as a talk show on a local radio channel and numerous community-access channels) from a variety of nations at a smooth rate with very little buffering. The audio and visual quality ranged from poor and static-filled, to very good with few blemishes. We were able to tune into a local rock station (Z100) as well as watch a music video broadcast from the Ivory Coast on Ivorian TV.
Additionally, the Archos 7 has a number of widgets for converting currency and measurements, getting the weather forecast, and taking notes.
As per usual with Archos media devices, a number of add-ons are available for those willing to spend the extra cash. We tested the Archos 7 with the $99.99 DVR Station (which includes a wireless QWERTY keyboard with built-in navigation pad), and S/PDIF, composite, S-Video, and HDMI ports for connecting your audio/video gear. Bundled with the DVR Station are all of the cords you need to get started except for HDMI, but we used our office HDMI cable to connect the dock to a 32-inch Samsung monitor. Video playback was flawless, but multimedia mavens who want to experience the sharpest picture will have to look elsewhere, as the video output is capped at 720p. You can also use the DVR Station to record your favorite television shows.
Good Battery Life
The removable battery is rated to last 39 hours of audio and 10 hours of video. In our hands-on time with the unit, we looped a video clip for nearly 7 hours before needing to reach for an outlet.
Archos 7 Verdict
Assuming Archos can work out the CinemaNow kinks, the Archos 7 would offer something theiPod touchcurrently doesn't deliver: wireless video downloads. As is, the Archos 7 is a quality portable media player, but the sluggish Web surfing sullies the Internet Media Tablet experience. In addition, even for 160GB of storage, $449 is no small price to pay, and Archos' nickel-and-dime add-on tactics drives the cost up even more if you want to use the PMP to its full capabilities. Nevertheless, if you want a big-screen PMP for cross-country flights, the Archos 7 is your player.