The latest Archos 5 is probably the most significant advancement for Archos to date. The French chaps have scrapped a great deal of what we criticised about past Archos devices -- though the Archos 605 WiFi was still good enough to win one of our Editors' Choice awards in 2007.
So it's safe to say we were excited about this new model. It's available in 60GB, 120GB and 250GB versions, with prices starting at around £250.
While gadget design doesn't usually feature above surrendering and cooking gastropods on a list of things the French are good at, this really is the most beautiful Archos player to date. Gone are those clunky front-mounted buttons to control an unattractive interface, and in their place is a fully finger-controlled touchscreen. At 122mm (4.8 inches) it's also much larger than the iPhone or the previous Archos 605 WiFi.
It's also sharper, and the 800x480-pixel resolution is made even better by terrific pixel density, making this one of the finest screens we've ever seen on a portable video player of this size, second only to the Cowon A3.
Some built-in speakers sit on the right-hand side, and an integrated kickstand helps make this an ideal hands-free movie player. This is handy, so to speak, because the Archos 5 is a pretty damn chunky player; it's thick and it's heavy. But it's also solid, and feels amazing. Just don't expect as lightweight a movie experience as you'll get on an iPod touch.
The Archos 5 runs on a customised Linux build with a 600MHz ARM CPU, making it a capable machine for its size. Out of the box it'll handle MPEG-4 SP, WMV, DivX, Xvid and Flash 9 FLV files up to DVD resolution. And it supports the BBC's portable iPlayer downloads, multiple audio streams and soft-subtitles, providing they're in the .SRT format.
However, Archos has also done its abysmal you-need-to-pay-separately-for-extra-codecs thing again, meaning you need to cough up just over £12 to get support for 720p HD WMV and MPEG-4, another £12 for MPEG-2 and DVD VOB files, and another £12 for H.264 video and AAC audio. The Cowon A3 does all of this right out of the box for no extra charge.
Though audio support is a little above average, with supported files including MP3, WAV, FLAC, OGG and both protected and unprotected WMA, AAC support costs an additional £12, as mentioned. Unsupported formats -- most of which only advanced users will appreciate -- include AIFF, Apple Lossless, Monkey's Audio, AU, MusePack, WavPack and WMA Lossless. Fans of live music albums won't appreciate the lack of gapless playback, either.
Of course the other main feature of the system is its Internet capabilities. Opera's Web browser comes pre-installed and gives you access to the full Web, with the advantage over the iPhone in that it supports Adobe Flash content. There's also an email app for accessing POP and IMAP mail accounts, and access to various online video services such as Daily Motion.
This is all accessible via the Archos 5's built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi (a 3G version will be available soon too), and your music and video files on your networked PC are streamable this way also. Games are supported, but must be purchased separately (sensing a theme here?) though SWF Flash games are compatible. We saved a bunch off the Web -- including YetiSports -- and found some of them quite playable.
If rubbish Flash games don't excite you as much as video, you're in luck. The amazing screen on the Archos 5 makes this device one of the most impressive portable video players we've seen. Its superb colour depth and practically unrivalled picture quality, combined with the more-than-capable CPU, helps high-quality video look truly stunning.
DVD-quality MPEG-2 and well-encoded DivX movies looked amazing, and audio quality through decent headphones was easily in our good books. The hearing-impaired will appreciate the support for subtitling, too, and once again that crisp screen comes into its own by making even small fonts readable.