We got our hands on the 30GB model, which is available now for £200 (US$403.30).
Design of the Archos 605 WiFi Portable Video Player
Unlike Optimus Prime in the funked-up new Transformers movie, the 605 doesn't look particularly different to its predecessor, the 604. Its buttons still reside on the right-hand side of its display, but this time they're more plastic in their appearance. A handy kick-stand flips from the back panel allowing you to prop the player up at an angle for hands-free viewing.
Build quality is excellent--it's a solid device and feels resilient to the knocks and bumps of frequent use on the move. The touch-sensitive 4.3-inch screen is large and unusually resistant to grubby finger marks that plague so many similar devices. A pair of styluses come as standard anyway--though there's no slot to hold one in the player.
One hand is all you'll need to hold this media-hoarding contraption, and although it can get hot with extended use, it's pretty lightweight and comfy to carry in a trouser pocket.
Features of the Archos 605 WiFi Portable Video Player
When you're looking at the Archos 605 WiFi's main menu, several of the menu options don't work unless you purchase extras. Recording TV requires a docking station and you need to buy the Web browser and several codecs separately.
The 605 mounts into Windows as an external drive over USB, allowing drag-and-drop management of files. Media player functions are painless, and the transitions and slideshows through image libraries were impressive. The 605 supports folder-based sorting, really high-resolution JPEGs, BMPs and PNGs, and an Adobe PDF reader handles your documents.
WMV and MPEG-4 (Xvid included, though not DivX) are supported up to DVD resolution (although the screen is 800 x 480 pixels), along with MP3, protected and unprotected WMA and WAV audio files. AAC, MPEG-2, H.264 and AC-3 formats will play only after you pay for extra plugins, each of which costs €20 (about US$27.30).
An optional docking station lets you display video content on your TV as well as allow you to use the 605 as a DVR TV recorder. The Web browser also needs to be purchased separately, but more on that shortly.
Performance of the Archos 605 WiFi Portable Video Player
As an audio player, the 605 has excellent sound quality. Its general warmth complements most music, leaving the highly customizable equalizer free to enhance whatever parts of your favorite music you want boosting. Playlists and ID3 tags are supported as standard, but there's no FM radio.
Video playback is outstanding and the 605's screen is incredibly sharp. We played some DVD-quality MPEG-4 files and were really impressed with the performance. Once we'd installed the optional H.264 and MPEG-2 plug-ins, we were highly impressed with video quality. Playback is smooth and various aspect ratios let you choose how to scale each video to fit the screen. You'll need to get used to the touchscreen in order to avoid using the traditional navigation buttons, which are a little clunky. Menus are fluid, enjoyable and self-explanatory. You can also access the system's root directories should you want to.
After installing the optional Web browser--a version of Opera--the entire Web is at your fingertips via Wi-Fi. We browsed sites such as Flickr, read some news in Google Reader and even watched full-screen video on YouTube. Penning an email in Google Mail was easy and the 605's page zoom worked well. When zoomed in on a page, it's easy to drag it around in any direction. Browsing is fairly fast, too. Remember the Net on a 128kbps ISDN line? It's a little like that--we'd like to see pages loading faster.
A virtual keyboard appears on the screen when you want to type and works just like the one on Apple's iPhone. Widgets such as games and weather apps will be available in autumn this year, and will sit on top of the Opera browser.
You can access the Archos Media Portal through the main menu on the 605. It offers plugins, online streaming video from DailyMotion.com and various other content providers, including CinemaNow if you live in the US. None of these were available at the time of our review, but at the recent press unveiling of the new Archos devices, representatives of Archos and DailyMotion spoke about the partnership, so expect it soon.
Battery life for video is rated at around 5.5 hours for video, and 17 for audio. Compared to the 80GB iPod's 6.5 and 20 hours, the Archos is falling a little short. Bear in mind though, that the 605's screen is considerably larger and at a higher resolution, and it supports video files that can reach bit rates several times that of the iPod's.
The 605 WiFi does so many things, it's difficult to think of decent competitors. The Nokia N95 springs to mind on the phone front, and the iPod in the media player camp, but neither of them can play video or browse the Web in the same way.
Overall, this is one of our favorite media gadgets. It impresses with its beautiful screen, great hardware and its ability to play even very high-quality video--although we're annoyed that if you opt for all the extras, you'll have to shell out an extra £50 (about US$100).