We thought the Archos AV400 was great, but we doubt that you bought one. Archos is pioneering the portable video player before Apple or even Sky get in on the act, but for the moment the high price point and lack of legitimately available video content are holding the concept back.
Nonetheless, enough people bought the AV400 series players to warrant an upgrade, and the AV700 makes its predecessors look like a small fry. There are problems, though: the screen is cheap, with an offputting, flickery appearance and poor contrast. It also lacks the software needed to get video files from your computer to the player, meaning you're dependent on the included dock to record from TV. It's an impressive technical achievement, however, and it has plenty of useful features for the discerning traveller.
The white and silver finish suits the AV700 well, but much like the iPod, it is susceptible to scratching. We took the device on a weekend excursion, and in a rucksack with only the DC charger for company, it ended up with a number of scratches on the rear. You should use the included case to keep the AV700 damage-free, but we felt odd doing so, like someone putting a shiny new mobile phone into one of those massive leather belt cases.
The screen is now a wide 16:9 format, and you might have noticed how much bigger it is too, approaching 7 inches diagonally. The unit is also very thin at only 19mm thick, despite the fact that it holds a 40GB hard drive (and the 100GB model is no thicker). The size of the screen means that this device could even replace your portable DVD player, but as it's a low resolution, 480x234-pixels display, don't expect DVD-level picture quality.
As the AV700 has to accomodate a 7-inch screen, you have to hold the 209mm unit with both hands. It also has a fold-out leg on the rear for setting it up on a desk or seat-back tray table. The front panel has small buttons that are used to navigate, and the back houses the rechargable battery pack. Unlike the AV400, it doesn't have a CompactFlash slot, but you can connect it to a digital camera via USB and download your pictures.
The big new development on the AV700 is its integration with Windows Media Player. However, you can still use the device as a huge external hard drive and simply drag and drop media into the correct folders. For the novices, Windows Media Player can scan your computer for all media and send it over to the right folders on the Archos automatically. More advanced users or those with an Apple Mac will be better off just selecting the 'Hard Drive' mode.
We like the fact that you're offered an option in this respect, but as the player is set to 'Windows Media' mode by default, it takes a while to figure out what's going on if you're not a Media Player veteran. Our test machine, the Alienware Aurora, didn't come with the software installed, so it simply refused to make friends. Likewise, an Apple Mac wouldn't recognise it, but we were able to find the solution once we searched through the box. Archos' documentation is thin on the ground, but to its credit, the company includes an inlay telling you about the format issue.
The navigation isn't going to give Apple nightmares. We criticised the previous Archos interface for being unintuitive and nothing has changed. The only buttons that have obvious uses are the four directional keys and the play/stop buttons. That leaves five buttons completely unlabelled, so it's a trial and error process to figure it out. The play and stop buttons, which are also used to confirm/deny the current menu selection, are uncomfortably small.
The menu system itself is ugly, with fonts that would look more at home in Microsoft Windows 3.1. You'll be itching to get into the movies straight away, and while it's mostly common sense to use, the setup menus are unintuitive.