I have owned or own a few different Archos PMPs dating back to the third generation (Now on the 6 th). They were good and very capable PMPs, but I never really got too excited about them, due mainly due to clunky hardware and haphazard interfaces. Oh – and let’s not forget about the lack-luster sound quality.
However, upon holding the new Archos in my hands, my aversion to Archos products quickly faded. The device is one of the sexier devices currently on the market, and small tweaks in the UI have made a drastic difference. If you are looking for a serious portable video player or had previously denounced Archos, please read on. Though there is still much room for improvement, there is much to like about the Archos 5.
- Quick Look
- Screen: 4.8” 800×640 pixel 16m color Touch
- Wireless: 802.11 b/g
- Processor: ARM CortexTM-A8, 32 bit, In-order, dual-issue, superscalar core @ 600 MHz + 32bit DSP @ 430MHz
- OS: Lunix
- Video Playback: MPEG-4 (including XviD/Divx), WMV, MJPEG [optional $30: MPEG-4 ASP 720p, WMV HD MP 720p, MPEG-2 MP@ML up to 10 Mbps up to DVD Resolution with AC3 5.1, and H.264]
- Video Recording: MPEG-4 AVI @ VGA resolution @ 30 or 25 FPS.
- Audio Playback: MP3, WMA, WMA Pro,n FLAC, OGG WAV [optional: AAC, AC3]
- Photo Playback: JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
- Other File Types: PDF
- Transfer Protocol: MTP/MSC User Selectable
- Rated Battery Life: 12hrs Audio, 4 hours Video
- Size: 127.5 x 78.3 x 12.9 mm (60GB) / 127.5 x 78.8 x 19.4 mm (120/250GB)
- Weight: 250g (60GB) / 300g (120/240)
- Applications: Email (POP/IMAP), Opera Web Browser, PIM (VCF supported), Calculator, News Reader, Currency Converter, and many other Widgets.
- All of the Archos 5 features and specs
Inside the Box
Archos packs in the very basics: the player, headphones, a cleaning cloth, an adapter for the DVR Station (sold separately), and a proprietary USB cable. They went with just the basics to keep the cost down, but it would have been nice to have at least had a dock or a cable that would allow you to connect to a TV.
There are quite a few add-on accessories for the Archos 5, many tht add substantial functionality. For instance there are four docking stations, two
of which give you the ability to use the Archos 5 as a DVR while hooked up to your TV: the DRV Station ($100 Retail) and the more portable DRV Snap-On ($80). The other two docks give you basic TV out and USB host, with one of the two including a battery pack (Battery Dock $50). It’s nice that they have given us some choice, but it is a bit absurd to have all these docks.
But the additional hardware add-ons don’t stop at that. There is a GPS cradle to turn the Archos 5 into a full blown turn by turn navigator, a snap on TV tuner/antenna, wired remote/FM tuner, and a helmet cam. Note that some of these are yet to be announced or released in the US. One thing I did find interesting is that you can use a USB 3G modem (from AT&T or Verizon) plugged into USB host port on one of the several docks. It would be such a messy dongle-infested, unusable setup, but neat none-the-less.
Archos sells optional software plug-ins in order to give you additional codec support or additional applications. As of now the only plug-ins that are available are three different Codec packs for Cinema (DVD, MPEG2 video, AC3 audio), Video Podcast (H.264, AAC Audio), and HiDef Video (720p WMV and MPEG-4). Each of these sells for a ridiculous $15 a piece (or you can get all three for $30). I hate this, plain and simple. One reason I don’t agree with this approach is Archos’ argument that this keeps the cost down to the people who will not use all the codecs. The problem with this argument is that they are making some serious coin on the sale of each. Licensing does not cost Archos $15 per codec, more like a few bucks. and on top of this, it is a pain to find serial numbers, login to online accounts, purchase, download, install, then finally use the codec.
I really commend Archos for adding the web browser for free in this generation (it was $20 as a plug-in for the last gen), but they have to come the rest of the way and include the codec plug-ins. It’s just not a fun experience to mess with the extra purchasing. Either eat the cost or add $10 to the price tag; don’t nickel and dime me.
Design & Build
Previous Archos designs have been solid but rather “clunky”. This time around they built one sexy piece of hardware. The majority of the player is solidly crafted out of a heavy gunmetal with just two pieces of plastic used on the left and right sides of the device. Although I would like to offer a word of caution to the obsessive compulsive, this gunmetal is highly susceptible to fingerprints, more so than the glossiest black device. It also shows scratches more so than many others – after just a week around the house use there were plenty. An attached case might seem like a logical way to go, but I believe that putting a case on this great design is blasphemy. Use it, love it, enjoy in the raw. Each scrape and scratch is a mark of your identity and interaction with this device. (However, you might want to put a screen protector on since it protects a crucial component and is invisible if applied correctly.)
As far as stress tests, I did not do any on purpose, but the player did take a few tumbles from my pocket. Once the player dropped about three feet onto a tile floor and only suffered a few light scuffs on the back. The other two times it landed on the carpet and there were no damages.
The screen looks fantastic. It’s bright, quick, and the colors are accurate. The 800×640 pixel 16.7 million color screen looks better than many laptops, and better than my Sony Vaio I paid $2k for two years ago. When comparing it to the last generation’s matte finished screen you will notice that the Archos 5’s screen is glossy, lending to a much better viewing experience. Overall, the screen is on point. I can’t find anything bad to say about it. I guess if you wanted to get really picky, it doesn’t do well in direct sunlight, but no non-transreflective screen does.
With the previous generation Archos 605, one of my biggest complaints is the UI. This is because it’s a very awkward hybrid touch /tactile interface. Choosing to go strictly touch was a natural step but it also focused the efforts into a single purpose driven interface. While the UI could still use a lot of polishing, since there are a few inconsistencies, the difference between the Archos 605 and Archos 5 is night and day. While the 605 was frustrating, the 5 I find to be a delight to use. There may be a very slight learning curve that would take less than a day to get used to, but overall it’s a much more straight forward interface compared to previous Archos’ PMPs.
What they need in order to improve the overall organization of the UI would be to allow the user to add, remove, and rearrange the main menu items. There is a lot of clutter from menu items pertaining to features you can only get with add-on accessories like the GPS or TV. For instance when you look at the home screen’s main menu, “TV” is an option, but this menu item and sub items are completely useless if you don’t own the $80-100 DVR attachment. Looking further down, there is an entire section for adds and these are nothing more than “commercials” for each hardware accessory. If you never buy an accessory it’s a menu of junk.
The responsiveness and accuracy of the touch screen is noticeably improved. Touch typing on the on screen keyboard works very well and is fairly accurate. I would equate my number of mistypes on this to any candybar QWERTY mobile phone (ie, Treo, Blackberry, Nokia e71, ect). “Flicking” a list of items to scroll could use some improvement; it doesn’t always behave predictably and sometimes “sticks”. This may be improved over time with firmware updates.
The battery life is rated at 12 hours audio and 4 hours video. My tests showed a bit less on the video: about 4-4.5 hours and about 12-14 hours for audio- both over the rated battery life. One note about this though, you will archive these battery times after 5 or so charges and discharges.
There is an optional battery dock that will give you video out plus extra battery time for $50. I didn’t want to shell out $50 bucks for this accessory so I don’t know how much more time this adds (If you have one and do know, please comment below). What I don’t like about this option is that it adds an awkward bulk to the bottom of the player. It would have been nicer to have a sliver type battery that snapped on the back.
The Archos will work on any operating system since it used both MTP and MSC transfer modes. MTP should be used if you plan on managing your media with MTP based media player such as Windows Media Player. Or you should use this mode if you plan on using a music subscription service like Napster or Rhapsody. MSC mode works just like a portable hard drive on any operating system.
UPnP: The Archos 5 like previous Archos PMPs will automatically recognize your UPnP media libraries on your home network. So if your media library on your computer is set up to share, the Archos 5 will automatically see that shared network folder and show it in your me
dia library on the device. This is great for streaming your music and video when connected to your wireless network. In addition to being able to stream massive amounts of media, you are also able to transfer songs from your computer to the Archos. This is somewhat slow, but it is quite convenient not to have to connect the player to the computer every time you want to transfer media.
Video playback is incredibly smooth, with lower resolution videos scaling nicely. Even full screen YouTube videos look great (as good as a YouTube video will get). Archos PMPs have always been strong in the playback department, and the Archos 5 is no exception.
The Archos was able to handle most of the videos I threw at it, including XviD/DivX. You will start to run into problems with codecs using audio streams that are only available by purchasing the codec pack. Some XviD/DivX use AAC audio streams as opposed to MP3; these files will only be playable if you bought the codec pack. Frustratingly, H.264 is also only available via $30 purchase. This is a shame since H.264 is becoming more and more of a standard with many video podcasts being in this format.
Web TV: Thrown into the main video menu is a link for web TV. This is basically a repository for all kinds of video feeds from all over the world. The video quality can vary by stream, but they are generally of a lesser quality, even lower than YouTube vids. Other than that, it’s a fantastic feature. I have been using it to catch up on world news, carrying it around the house as I cook, or go though the morning routine propping it up with the built in kick stand. I get a big kick out of being having my video follow me throughout the house so conveniently. I would love to see a SlingBox or a Windows Media Center client on this PMP.
The large screen lends itself very well to music playback and manipulation. It is much like the previous generations but is easier to use due to the improved UI. The main music screen is similar to a standard file browser with an info window on the right showing album art and other meta data pertaining to the selected item. The content is displayed primarily with the ID3 tag info with Artist, Album, Genre, Title, Year, etc. But for those who love the standard file folder browsing, that option is available above all the ID3 tag categories.
Playlists: Playlisting is also a treat since you can very easily create, rename, and manipulate playlists all from the device. Playlists can also be done on your desktop computer, but it’s way more fun to be able to do it on the go and on the device. Audiobook listeners will be happy to know that bookmarking takes place with a single click in the options menu. On the downside, you can only bookmark up to 32, although I’m not sure I would ever use more than 32.
Internet Radio & Podcasts: Built into the main music screen is a menu for “Web Radio”. This is a simple but comprehensive list of available internet radio streams – everyone will be able to find something he likes. What is a bit odd to me is that under this Web Radio menu is a section for podcasts (audio only). It is another very rich list with something for everyone. However, this is an example of the poor organizational skills of the Archos UI team. Podcasts do not belong under in the same category as internet radio; there needs to be a separate menu for these. In addition, in order to give this player a strong podcast offering, they will need to include video podcasts and the ability to download them. As of now you can only stream podcasts while connected to a wireless network.
One of the biggest concerns I had with previous Archos players was the lack of acceptable sound quality. This was one of the reasons I would never use Archos as an audio player. This time around, with the Archos 5 they have stepped out of that poor sound-quality doghouse. While not the top echelon, the sound is very good and might only displease those who spent more on their headphones than they did on the Archos 5.
Built in speaker
The built in speaker is very weak in terms of performance as well as volume. This is only something that you can use while sitting in front of it or in a small quiet room. It also easily distorts at higher volumes. Not that I expect a lot from a tiny built in speaker, but almost all of the recent players I have reviewed easily outperform the Archos 5.
Photo is not something I use that often, mainly because I don’t want to show people picturess on a small screen. In this case I would be much more apt to use the Archos 5 as a photo browser, not only because of its big screen but because it’s more of a rich, hands-on browsing experience. Since the 5 has USB host abilities (with optional accessory), it may be a nice companion for a photographer, athough without RAW support it does have its limitations.
TV / DVR
There are a few optional accessories that will turn the Archos 5 into a full blown DVR. Two of these are docking stations and the other one is a portable TV tuner that clips onto the bottom. Since these are major purchases of between $80-100 ($30 for the simple TV out adapter), I will cover them in a separate upcoming review. I was far from impressed with the last generation DVR features, but I have seen a lot of improvements thus far, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for something usable this time.
The media club icon is one of those menu options I want to remove. The media club is a content portal where you can buy or rent videos from Cinema Now or Archos Media Club. The selections contain few, if any, new releases and are typically priced at more than what you would pay for the physical movie on DVD ($15-20). Also under this menu option is DailyMotion (Video) and Jemendo (Music) both of which are free, but can also be accessed just the same with the web browser.
I don’t know if this does well back in France or the rest of the EU, but quite frankly Archos needs to nuke their efforts in building this content portal for the United States. The Media Club is poorly implemented and does not cater well to the American market. Instead in order to have a solid content delivery plan they should be partnering with bigger US content players like Amazon, Rhapsody, or even NetFlix.
Email & Contacts
On the main home screen there is an option marked “internet”. In the sub-menu you will find applications for email and contacts. At the time the 5 was released, these applications still carried beta software warnings. Rightfully so, since I have had to perform a few resets while using these apps, and the mail accounts don’t always display your inbox correctly. However, while using a Gmail account, it will display your labels as folders. You can have multiple email accounts, POP or IMAP, as well as import VCF contact files.
One of the annoyances I did run into with the widgets was that it will not automatically start the wireless connection. They do not have the ability to turn on the wi-fi so you always h
ave to remember to turn it on before launching widgets that use a connection.
Games come into the Archos 5 as purchased applications. There are three different game packs costing $10 each which include 4-5 games in each pack. Did not purchase the games this time around because I don’t think they are worth the money. I had played the same games on the Archos 605, but found them to be rather generic and they didn’t really keep my interest. In all fairness, though, Texas Holdem, Solitair, and Video poker typically don’t entertain me very long. Check them out on Archos website to see if they are worth it for you.
Upon turning on your Archos and selecting the flash applications folder you will find nothing. The idea is for people to develop Flash 9 applications for the Archos 5, but none are available at this time. I’m also wondering if we will see any kind of development support, as we don’t see a lot of support for the Widgets. It will run any flash based application, but the problem is the application needs to be targeted to the control sets of the Archos 5. For instance, I can run Flash apps from the iriver clix 2, but they won’t work since they are looking for the clix button layout. All in all it’s a great idea, it just lacks content.
With this PMP you have full control over all files residing on the device. Managing these files (moving, renaming, deleting, browsing, etc.) is similar to the music UI and not much different than typical file/folder UI found on any computer OS. This particularly comes in handy in browsing your network and transferring files to the device from the network. Additionally there is a way to password-protect folders and files by marking them as “Adult” content.
There is an option for file sharing over a wireless network with other Archos players. It’s still an internal beta and not available yet, but definitely something to look forward to.
Archos has taken a big step with their newest generation of PMPs. The hardware is substantial, well built, and a leap better than the previous generations. Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the touch interface, I do very much commend them for getting rid of the hardware button. This improved the overall usability of the device, though they do have many more things they can improve and better organize in the UI. I’m also feeling a bit burned by the additional costs of what are standard codecs with other PMPs, mainly H.264. $30 for a pack, That, long with knowing that licensing fees don’t cost that much, does not sit well with me. I love the idea of having the ability to add on Flash 9 or Widget applications, but I fear that few developers are interested in creating apps for the Archos 5. However, there are always web based and cloud applications to access though the very robust Opera browser, which is now free (Bravo!).
Aside from the problems, I do think that the Archos 5 is one of the best – if not the best choice – for a bonafide portable video player. If you had a previous aversion to Archos as I did, I would encourage you to take a second look.
Compare the Archos 5
- Excellent build quality
- Fantastic screen
- Improved touch screen
- Improved UI
- Good sound quality
- Good native video support
- Lots of accessories and add-ons
- Support for OGG or FLAC
- Menus not customizable
- Plugins cost extra
- Games cost extra
- Non removable battery
- TV out needs a dock
- Metal housing scratches easily
You can pick up the Archos and all the accessories from Amazon for the best price, usually free shipping, and no taxes. UK, EU, and the rest of the world should check here. Note that you can only purchase the Plugins directly from Archos.com.