The music player of the Archos 5 is essentially identical to the 605 WiFi, although the design is more elegant. By default, the music player supports MP3, WMA (including DRM-protected files), FLAC, Ogg, and WAV files (with format support for AAC available as a $20 plug-in). You can also set up the Archos 5 to stream music over Wi-Fi from nearby computers or stream conventional Internet radio stations (sorry, no Pandora). During playback, the Archos 5's music player displays album artwork, allows for your music library to be sorted by ID3 tags, and gives you the ability to bookmark long files such as lectures and audiobooks. A five-band graphic EQ is included, but the 605 WiFi's independent bass boost setting is not.
The Archos 5 is clearly more than a portable video player, but it is no more deserving of the Internet Media Tablet moniker than Apple's iPod Touch. Like the Safari Web browser used on the iPod Touch or iPhone, the Opera Web browser included on the Archos 5 provides an above-average mobile Internet experience, but there are some blind spots. Because the Flash 9 support on the Archos 5 exists outside of the Opera Web browser as an independent application, many Web sites and services are incompatible. During our tests, we found that simple Flash video sites such as YouTube worked fine, while sites such as Hulu, CNET TV, ABC, and Comedy Central, stalled the browser or played only the preroll advertising associated with the video.
Flash-based interactive online radio stations such as Pandora, Slacker, and Last.fm suffered similar fates, loading incompletely or not at all. For all of the complaints laid against Apple for not offering Flash media support on the iPhone or iPod Touch, Apple's use of dedicated applications offers users a workaround for streaming content from many of the services mentioned above.
An e-mail application is also included with the Archos 5, however, at the time of this review the e-mail program launches with a disclaimer that it is still in beta development. Beta may be an understatement, considering we could never successfully send or receive e-mail without witnessing an error message or complete crash of the application. We easily setup our POP and Gmail accounts using the Archos 5, however, sending and receiving e-mail is a little slow and browsing large volumes of e-mail isn't pretty. That said, if the Archos 5 wants to earn a reputation as an Internet tablet, it shouldn't ship a product with an admittedly half-baked e-mail application.
Video playback on the Archos 5 is stunning. The 800x600 resolution display on the Archos 5 is bright and crisp, rivaled only by the Cowon A3 when it comes to clarity and color. We're not thrilled with the decision to ditch the matte, reflection-fighting screen of the 605 WiFi, however, the glossy screen does make the Archos 5 a more attractive-looking product.
Audio performance is improved slightly over the 605 WiFi, with noticeably better detail, volume output, and stereo imaging. An assortment of EQ presets are included, along with a custom five-band EQ and balance controls.
The overall snappiness of the Archos 5 user interface is much better than previous efforts, because of the 600MHz ARM Cortex processor at the heart of the system. Applications launch faster and the lag time of the touch-screen keyboard is noticeably better than the 605 WiFi.
Unfortunately, the increased processor speed and screen size of the Archos 5 could take a toll on battery life. Archos originally estimated the Archos 5's battery life at a pitiful 12 hours of audio and 4 hours of video, however, a firmware update (version 1.1.01) promises to nearly double battery life up to 22 hours of audio and 7 hours of video. We'll update this review with battery drain results from CNET Labs once testing is complete.
In the end, the Archos 5 is burdened by the same problems we found on the equally ambitious Cowon Q5W: the product promises more than it can deliver and it's expensive (especially after investing in software and hardware add-ons). Granted, the Archos 5 is much prettier than the Cowon Q5W, but compared with Apple's iPod Touch, the Archos 5's larger screen and deeper capacity aren't enough to recommend it over the iPod's superior interface, accessory compatibility, and Web browser.
If you're just looking for a portable video player with a large screen, broad file support and plenty of storage, don't overlook Archos' own 605 WiFi simply because it's a year old. The comparable Cowon A3 is also worth a look, if you can live without Wi-Fi in your PVP.