Archos has once again demonstrated why it is the reigning king of portable video players. The latest addition is the 704 Wi-Fi, which may be the ultimate PMP for multimedia mavens, even though it comes at a rather hefty price. It boasts a huge seven-inch screen, sports an optional DVR dock for recording TV shows, and surfs the Web wirelessly at a decent clip.
The 1.4-pound device features a brushed-aluminum finish that's characteristic of other Archos Generation 4 portables (though the 704 is boxier). You'll also find twin USB ports and a button on the right side of the body that ejects the removable battery. Its massive widescreen display means the 704 will not be mistaken for the much more pocket-friendly 5G iPod, but this unit is first and foremost a movie player. The expansive real estate combines with the highest resolution we've seen from a PMP (800 x 480 pixels) to deliver a superior experience on the go.
With this model, Archos abandons navigation buttons in favor of a complete touchscreen experience. Although users can navigate menus with a finger, we found that using one of the two included styli elicited greater response and accuracy. We would have preferred, however, that the 704 Wi-Fi retained the standard button controls found on the other Generation 4 products, as the touchscreen was finicky at times.
The 704 Wi-Fi supports a wide range of video files (MPEG-4, WMV, protected WMV, with H.264, MPEG-2, and VOB available as optional plug-ins). Those of you who frequent online movie stores will be pleased to learn that the 704 Wi-Fi can play back flicks from Amazon Unbox, AOL, CinemaNow, and Wal-Mart. Unfortunately for Apple devotees, iTunes' Fairplay-protected files are incompatible. You can expect four hours of video playback from the 704 Wi-Fi, which is good enough to watch one or two complete movies. A built-in kickstand offers hands-free viewing.
Surfing the Web with the included Opera browser was a pleasurable experience visually. Because of the large screen, page formatting nearly matched that of the same site viewed on a PC. The bright, clear screen also makes Web pages legible from almost any angle, and the tabs let you view multiple pages within one window, la Firefox and IE 7.
On the other hand, like the Archos 604 Wi-Fi, this player suffers from sluggish performance. There was a one- to two-second delay between an input and an action. In addition, flash-based sites such as YouTube are off-limits. If you're looking to do simple browsing or check your Web mail, however, the 704 Wi-Fi's online capabilities should suit you well.
The biggest nitpick that we've had with other recent Archos PMPs has been the lack of built-in video recording. That trend continues here, as the optional DVR station costs an additional $99. That balloons the cost of the 704 Wi-Fi to $648, which is just shy of the price of a budget laptop.
If you're on the hunt for a device that will handle almost all of your multimedia needs, check out the Archos 704 Wi-Fi. It's too big for a pocket, but it's perfect for a long flight or car ride. If you're looking for portability, get the 604 Wi-Fi, but if you can handle the size and price, the 704 won't disappoint.
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