Archos has been building high-quality portable media players for several years now and has an extensive line of accessories and plug-ins available that add new tricks to the base players’ audio and video repertoire. With the 605 WiFi, the company made some great additions—a touch screen and Wi-Fi streaming— and created a browser plug-in that lets you cruise the Web on its bright, hi-res screen. The 605 WiFi does have a few minor flaws, but with its video performance, Web and Wi-Fi tricks, it’s a powerhouse of a media player.
Unlike previous Archos players, the 605 WiFi is truly portable, meaning you can shove it in your pants or coat pocket and it won’t cramp your style with its weight or thickness. The overall appearance is sharp and the build quality very solid, although the navigation buttons on the right side don’t look very sturdy. And why are they made of white plastic? Over time, I’m wondering if they’ll take on a new color altogether. In any case, I much prefer the metal buttons used on the company’s previous players.
Archos has a reputation for high-quality displays, and the 605 WiFi’s remarkably vivid and colorful 4.3-inch hi-res (800x480) LCD screen is no exception. It’s just big enough to let you watch longer videos comfortably, and the 605’s built-in kickstand and speaker let you do so in style. The touch screen interface is easy to manipulate with your fingers, but there is also a stylus included (although there is no place to store it within the body of the player). My two-year old took a turn with the touch screen, and I can verify that it is remarkably smudge-resistant.
The battery life is listed at 17 hours for music and 5.5 for video, but my testing fell about 10 percent short of that. Unfortunately, the battery is not replaceable, so you’re stuck recharging more often than you might like. Also included in the package is a protective pouch, earbuds, and a proprietary USB cable for transferring your music and video files from a computer.
The first thing you want to do with this player is load up some videos and pictures and gawk at the screen’s beautiful colors and pinpoint resolution. I downloaded a batch of video files from my computer—transfer speed is very fast, about 10MB/second—in several formats (MPEG-4, WMV, DivX) and they all looked great. Colors are accurate and bright, onscreen motion is smooth, and viewing angles are excellent—only in bright sunlight does performance begin to suffer. Now, with some video files the audio won’t play, and of course this is annoying. But it’s Archos’s way of reminding you about its extensive line of plug-ins and accessories, which enable you to play numerous file formats and add new features. Available plug-in applications include a Video Podcast plug-in for H.264 and AAC ($20), a Cinema plug-in DVD for MPEG2 and AC3 ($20), and a Web Browser ($30).
The browser plug-in is well worth the extra coin, and it does a nice job of scaling sites to the screen, letting you zoom in and out and even open multiple windows at once. Having Web access in a device this size, without subscribing to a service, is a fine thing indeed. Wi-Fi hotspots are so prevalent these days that you’re almost surprised when you’re in a mechanic’s waiting room and can’t tap into the Web. Another plug-in worth considering is the DVR Station ($100), which lets you record TV shows in MPEG-4 and transfer them to the player. You can also use it to stream videos and photos from your PC to a TV over a Wi-Fi network.
As its name suggests, the 605 WiFi supports wireless streaming and downloading, so you can check out audio/video/photo files from PCs or Macs on your network. The player quickly pulled up Wi-Fi networks when I was in range, and I was able to browse and stream files from the various computers in my network—a handy option since the capacity of the 605’s built-in hard drive is limited, at 30GB.
You won’t find a portable media player that’s a better photo viewer than the 605 WiFi, and pics are organized in a large matrix, so browsing and selecting is quick and easy. You can also use the 605 WiFi for playing music, and with its 5-band custom EQ with bass enhancement, it can sound even sharper than the iPod. Another thing I liked, in contrast to the iPod, is that Archos lets you simply drag and drop files to its drive—no iTunes middle-man necessary.
The one area where Archos has work to do is with its user interface. Of all the media players I’ve used over the years, this is one of the most confusing, due to the layout of the menus and buttons. It’s not very intuitive and takes time to get used to.