The portable media player has really come of age in the last year, with new generations launched from a variety of manufacturers. One of the founders of the genre, Archos, has just introduced its Generation 5 players, with the 605 one of the first to be released.
The 605 is a smart, metal-cased unit, the size of a pile of four passports, with a 110mm widescreen LCD display taking up most of its front face. A column of six rocker-buttons runs down the right-hand side of the screen and a couple of smaller, single-function ones sit on its top edge to control power and video output. The display itself is a touch-screen and you can do most things with a finger, though some require a pinky rather than an index.
Along the device’s bottom edge are sockets for an optional adapter, which runs the unit into a TV and turns it into a PVR, and for the supplied proprietary PC USB connection, for file transfer and battery charging. There’s no separate mains charger, so you do need a PC to recharge the 605.
This is a hard drive-based device, with capacities from 30-160GB, but with MPEG 4 compression of videos, even the lowest capacity can handle several full-length movies. Video playback is excellent, with the bright, wide viewing-angle, 800 x 480-pixel screen one of the highest resolution displays we’ve seen on a handheld. Audio playback is similarly impressive, with a good frequency range even through the default earbud headphones included in the box.
There are one or two oddities with the design, though. Archos is keen you only use the supplied stylii with the 605, and yet it provides nowhere to slot one into the player or even into its protective pouch. There’s nowhere to store the USB lead or earbuds, either.
As well as video, music, photos and files, the 605 is WiFi-enabled and anywhere there’s a hotspot, you can download more content or browse the Internet… well, nearly. One thing you very soon realise when using the 605 is that you haven’t finished paying for things. The basic device doesn’t include the Opera Web browser, for example. It appears to be installed, as you can access the Archos Portal using it, perhaps because that’s a pay-for service. To freely browse the Internet, however, you have to add the Opera ‘plug-in’, which costs an extra $20.
The 605 supports MP3 and WMA formats as standard, but if you want to play back AAC format, that’ll be another $10. Similarly, you can play back MPEG 4 movies directly, but to play tracks from a DVD without conversion costs another $10 for software. It’s fairly clear Archos sees the 605 as a way into an ongoing media revenue stream, too, in much the same way Apple linked iTunes to the iPod.
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