The Archos 5 touchscreen media player offers spectacular video and music playback to go along with its elegant design. It also has a multitude of available accessories and features - although you will have to pay extra to get them.
At 127.5x78.3x12.9mm, the 5 is basically the same size as its predecessor, the Archos 605 WiFi. In this iteration, however, Archos has added a generous half-inch of screen - its size is now 4.8in, so it takes up almost all of the device's faceplate.
Except for a power button and a volume rocker, the Archos 5 is controlled nearly entirely by the touchscreen. A chrome casing and a glossy screen give the player a slick look, but the entire device is easily blemished by fingerprints and dust.
The Archos 5 is a bit awkward to hold because the headphone jack is on the side, jabbing into the palm of your hand. There's space for a jack at the top and bottom of the player, so this design flaw could easily have been avoided. Luckily, Archos includes a handy tabletop kickstand with the player for hands-free viewing. The Archos also has a small but powerful built-in speaker on the opposite side of the jack.
The touchscreen is responsive for the most part, but it was difficult to flick through the media library. Scrolling wasn't always smooth; we found ourselves flicking repeatedly to get a response. This proved frustrating when we were trying to navigate through a large music collection. Music is displayed like a typical file browser with a window showing album art and information about the selected item.
The Archos 5's menu system is easy enough to navigate, but it includes unnecessary menu options for the various accessories you can buy for the player. For example, the second main menu option is for recording and scheduling TV programs via the Archos 5's DVR station, which is an added extra. Another menu option is for add-ons, which are basically advertisements for more accessories: GPS, Remote FM, a 3G + Modem, and more.
We wish Archos allowed you to customise the main menu to declutter some of these unused options, or only make those options active when the accessories are connected.
Out of the box, the Archos 5 supports AVI, WMV, MPEG4, and Flash video. An extra $20 adds support for h.264, a standard for high-definition video compression. And for another $20, you can buy a high-definition software plug-in to allow 720p playback from WMV HD, MPEG4, or MPEG-2 files.
Video looks great on the Archos 5's big, glossy screen, but we did get a bit of glare in certain environments, such as bright indoor lighting and outdoor daylight. The 800-by-600 resolution is bright and clear, and colors look accurate. Video plays back smoothly with little evidence of ghosting or interference.
The Archos 5 music player supports MP3, WMA (including DRM-protected files), and WAV files. AAC support is available if you purchase another plug-in. The music player displays thumbnail album art during playback, lets you sort your library by ID3 tags, and allows you to bookmark long audio tracks, such as podcasts and audiobooks. You can tweak audio quality to your liking using the 5-band graphic equalizer. Also, you can easily create and manage playlists directly on the device - something we found very useful.
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