Of the numerous models in the new Archos 04 series, the 30GB 604 WiFi is definitely the most advanced. Basically, the 604 WiFi is the 604 (read the review) with integrated Wi-Fi and a touchscreen.
We were impressed with the touchscreen aspect of the 604 WiFi -- the sophisticated icon-heavy GUI has clearly been designed for touchscreen use. The standard button interface is good, but not out-of-the-box intuitive, and the touchscreen does wonders for navigation. Web browsing worked well, though users should be aware that in general, sluggish load times mean click-and-wait surfing.
We like this gadget a lot -- on paper. It has a removable battery, a kickstand, the same gorgeous 109mm (4.3-inch) widescreen display and overall excellent playback of a variety of media file types. But the performance hit on the processor -- whether opening files or even navigating between menus -- turns this able gadget into one that could run faster.
Barring the words 'WiFi' on the front and the contoured little bump on the unit's upper-right spine, the 604 WiFi from the outside is the 604's identical twin. Technically, though, the 604 WiFi is a fraction wider (thanks to the 'bump' that houses the Wi-Fi antenna), taller and thicker (132mm by 79mm by 18mm), and it weighs about 30g more (290g).
The screen isn't as shiny as the 604's due to its thin touchscreen layer, which adds a measure of protection and anti-glare, but also negatively affects sharpness and colours (blacks aren't as black). Regardless, the large widescreen is still a winner for viewing movies and photos, though imaging nerds may not be so satisfied.
The 604 WiFi is bundled with the usual sparse set of accessories: a proprietary USB cable, earbuds and the docking saddle. In addition, it ships with a hard case and two styli. There are numerous accessories that will expand the 604 WiFi's capabilities, including the at-home DVR Station dock, the travel kit (with the smaller dock that enables AV recording) and basics such as an AC adaptor kit.
The bundled styli are easy to use, especially when you're stationary. In most cases, you won't even need to hit a button to operate the device.
One problem we found with the 604 WiFi is that there's nowhere to stash it, unless you have the case. While we recommend using the case for this luxury gadget, we found we didn't use it as often as we should.
If you're bound to lose your styli, it's nice to know that the touchscreen works okay using your fingers. Minor interface updates, such as scroll wheels that enlarge as you touch them, help those using their fingers to navigate.
Overall, the body is just too big and heavy to go running with, for example, but it is pocket-friendly -- just not with the case. The 604 WiFi is an awesome digital audio player/recorder, but we'd definitely prefer a smaller digital audio player for mobile music needs. Also, we'd like to see an Archos 604 WiFi with a bigger drive -- 30GB is puny these days for hardcore users.
The 604 WiFi arrived with the latest firmware (1.5.53). It goes without saying that the device can do nearly everything a portable media maven would want, and it does most things well. The excellent screen, compatibility with most common formats (including MPEG-4, protected WMV, DivX and H.264, and MPEG-2 with optional and downloadable codecs) and precise playback control ensure first-rate video playback. Add a digital camera or the cool helmet cam from Archos (plus the required DVR Travel pack), and you've got a hard-drive-based camcorder.
It's a good MP3 player, too, with MP3, protected WMA, WAV compatibility, plus AAC and AC3 as optional codecs. It also supports album art, podcasts, gapless playback, useful playlist creation and management. We'd love to see OGG, Audible and decent equalisers, but the audio experience here is outstanding. The voice recorder is fantastic, and with add-ons you can record line-in video and audio (as well as schedule TV recordings) into the 604 WiFi with ease and generally excellent quality.
Photo viewing is strong, with a gorgeous thumbnail library where thumbnails magnify as you pass over them. Images look crisp (though not as crisp as on the 604 unit), and zooming, rotating and skipping photos is quick and tidy -- with the Docking adaptor accessory, you can even offload photos from a digital camera. But the main reason you'll buy the 604 WiFi is for its integrated 802.11g, which adds Web browsing and Web-based email, as well as the ability to use it as a file server on your Wi-Fi network.
Enabling Wi-Fi is a cinch. On the main-menu screen, you'll see an enable Wi-Fi option in the secondary set of menu options in the bottom-right corner. The 604 WiFi will scan for networks and give you a list with signal strength, WEP/WPA status and mode info. Within each network, you can opt for Manual IP configuration. The unit also will scan when you hit the main menu's new Web icon (the fourth listed), whereby the Opera Browser will launch. In general, the wireless antenna has good range.
Surfing on the 604 WiFi is surprisingly intuitive and useful. The screen can be formatted to display an entire Web page (as well as zoom in) and though text is small, it's legible. The touchscreen truly helps in this regard. You can drag the screen up or down to scroll, drop-down menus work well (though Flash graphics didn't appear -- we couldn't find a plugin that would run), and a virtual keyboard pops up when you select a text-entry area such as your Yahoo username/password.
Common browser functions such as zoom, navigation (back, forward, reload), browser tabbing, search (via Google), homepage, URL entry and even bookmarking are based in the context submenu. Opera even allows for blocking pop-ups, and deleting cookies and history. The browsing setup is quite good, though performance is another story (more later).
Page two of the main menu features an additional wireless feature called File Server. This allows this 'computer' to be seen (with write- and read-only access) on a network. Enabling the file server allows you to play files remotely off the device, or you can actually play network-based files on the 604 itself.
What's missing from the equation is a way to feed the device content in an easy way. You can download files or applications -- they appear in your Downloads folder -- but many standard apps don't open in this Linux environment. It would be cool to have a dedicated iTunes-like store for purchasing or streaming audio or video -- streaming music (outside of streaming off a Wi-Fi network or downloading a file and then playing it) so far doesn't seem possible (not compatible with PLS files). Visiting sites such as YouTube are a waste since it requires a Flash player. Rhaspody.com, where you get limited music streams for free, is not supported by the browser, and requires a plug-in as well.
The Wi-Fi element is much more appropriate for browsing and email, less for downloading. A dedicated Internet radio option would have been cool on this device. Also, there is no ad hoc mode so you can't connect directly with other 604 WiFi devices, unless you do so via the network.
The 604 WiFi is seemingly the answer to many mobile users' idealistic dreams: video, music and photos packed into a compact multimedia powerhouse, with a screen big enough to surf the Web effectively. The device is impressive, however having used the 604, 404 and 504, we have to say processor performance on the 604 WiFi is disappointing, particularly for Web browsing and general menu navigation, where you'll notice one-to-two second delays across the board.
Video, music and photo playback is good, once you get into those operations -- playback is always skip or stutter free. But you'll notice that for some functions, such as video scrubbing, there is a delay that's long enough for you to question the touchscreen's sensitivity -- in most cases, though, the Archos has received your input.
Web browsing can be a pain when the content hasn't fully loaded and you're trying to scroll up or down. If you're not a patient surfer, you'll get no reaction or a delayed reaction that is much worse than most of us are used to. You'll also notice the Opera browser options can take a second or two to register. Download speeds varied from fast to middling.
Battery life is probably the biggest performance issue outside of the speed of the processor. The unit is rated for 16 hours for audio playback and five hours for video -- not bad, but our experience with 04 devices shows that battery life can be a bit lower than rated. It's also worth noting that using Wi-Fi seemed to run the battery down considerably.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield