Archos 604 review: Archos 604
The do-everything Archos 604 WiFi is completely stacked with awesome video playback, Web surfing, and other useful features, but the sluggish processor keeps the experience from being totally satisfying.
Of the numerous models in the new Archos 04 series, the 30GB 604 WiFi is definitely the most advanced. Basically, the 604 WiFi ($449.99) is the 604 (
I received the 604 WiFi and have been impressed with the touch screen aspect of the device, realizing that the sophisticated icon-heavy GUI was designed for touch screen use. The standard button interface is good, but not out-of-the-box intuitive and the touch screen does wonders for navigation.
I found that Web browsing worked well, though users should be aware that in general, sluggish load times make for click-and-wait surfing. I like this gadget a lot--on paper. It has a removable battery, a kickstand, the same gorgeous 4.3-inch wide-screen display, and overall excellent playback of a variety of media files types. But the performance hit on the processor--whether opening files or even navigating between menus--turns this able gadget into one that could run faster.
Here's my review of the 604 WiFi, which is almost physically identical to the 604. The focus will be on the new stuff and how it works. For more information on the 604's basic features and capabilities, check out the
A touchy-feely 604 on steroids
Barring the words "WiFi" on the front and the contoured little bump on the unit's upper right spine, the 604 WiFi from the outside is the 604's identical twin. Technically, though, the 604 WiFi is a hair wider (thanks to the "bump" that houses the Wi-Fi antenna), taller, and thicker, and it weighs about an ounce more (5.2x3.1x0.7 inches and 10.23 ounces).
The screen isn't as shiny as the 604's due to its thin touch-screen layer, which adds a measure of protection and antiglare, but also negatively affects sharpness and colors (blacks aren't as black). Regardless, the large widescreen is still a winner for viewing movies and photos, though imaging nerds will probably knock the screen.
The 604 WiFi is bundled with the usual sparse set of accessories: a proprietary USB cable, earbuds, and the docking saddle. In addition, it ships with a hard case (to protect that investment!) and two styli. There are numerous accessories that will expand the 604 WiFi's capabilities including the at-home DVR Station dock, the travel kit (with the smaller dock that enables A/V recording), and basics such as an AC adaptor kit.
The bundled styli are nice to use, especially when you're stationary. In most cases, you won't even need to hit a button to operate the 604 WiFi. Problem is there is nowhere to stash it unless you have the case. While we recommend using the case for this luxury gadget, I'll admit I wouldn't use it as often as I should. If you're bound to lose your styli, it's nice to know that the touch-screen works okay using your fingers. Minor interface updates such as scroll wheels that enlarge as you touch them help those using their fingers to navigate.
Overall, the body is just too big (and heavy) to go running with (for example), but it is pocket-friendly--just not with the case. The 604 WiFi is an awesome digital audio player/recorder, but I'd definitely use a smaller DAP for my mobile music needs. Also, I'd like to see an Archos 604 WiFi with a bigger drive. 30GB is puny these days for hard-core users.
Wi-Fi opens up some big doors
The 604 WiFi arrived with the latest firmware (1.5.53). It goes without saying that the 604 WiFi can do nearly everything a portable media maven would want, and it does most things well. Take video playback--the excellent screen, compatibility with most common formats (including MPEG-4, protected WMV, DivX, and H.264, and MPEG-2 with optional and downloadable codecs) and precise playback control. Add a digital camera or the cool helmet cam from Archos (plus the required DVR Travel pack), and you've got a hard-drive-based camcorder.
It's a nice MP3 player, too, with MP3, protected WMA, WAV compatibility, plus AAC and AC3 as optional codecs. It also supports album art, podcasts, gapless playback, useful playlist creation, and management. We'd love to see OGG, Audible, and decent equalizers, but the audio experience here is top rate. The voice recorder is fantastic, and with add-ons you can record line-in video and audio (as well as schedule TV recordings) into the 604 WiFi with ease and generally excellent quality.
Photo viewing is strong with a gorgeous thumbnail library where thumbnails magnify as you pass over them. Images look crisp (though not as crisp as on the 604 unit), and zooming, rotating, and skipping photos is quick and tidy (with the Docking adaptor accessory, you can even offload photos from a digital camera). We lauded all these features and more in the 604 review. But you'll buy this guy for its integrated 802.11g, which adds Web browsing (and Web-based e-mail), as well as the ability to use it as a file server on your Wi-Fi network.
Enabling Wi-Fi is a cinch. On the main-menu screen, you'll see an enable Wi-Fi option in the secondary set of menu options in the bottom-right corner. The 604 WiFi will scan for networks and give you a list with signal strength, WEP/WPA status, and mode info. Within each network, you can opt for Manual IP configuration. The unit also will scan when you hit the main menu's new Web icon (the fourth listed), whereby the Opera Browser will launch. In general, the wireless antenna has good range.
Surfing on the 604 WiFi is surprisingly intuitive and useful. The screen can be formatted to display an entire Web page (as well as zoom in) and though text is small, it's legible. The touch-screen truly helps in this regard. You can drag the screen up or down to scroll, drop-down menus work well (though the Flash graphics on CNET didn't appear--we couldn't find a plugin that would run), and a virtual keyboard pops up when you select a text-entry area such as your Yahoo username/password.
Common browser functions such as zoom, navigation (back, forward, reload), browser tabbing, search (via Google), home page, URL entry, and even bookmarking are based in the context submenu. Opera even allows for blocking pop-ups, and deleting cookies and history. The browsing setup is quite good, though performance is another story (more later).
Page two of the main menu features an additional wireless feature called File Server. This allows this "computer" to be seen (with write- and read-only access) on a network. Enabling the file server allows you to play files remotely off the device; or you can actually play network-based files on the 604 itself.
What's missing from the equation is a way to feed the device content in an easy way. You can download files or applications (they appear in your Downloads folder), but many standard apps don't open in this Linux environment. It would be cool to have a dedicated iTunes-like store for purchasing or streaming audio or video; streaming music (outside of streaming off a Wi-Fi network, or downloading a file and then playing it) so far doesn't seem possible (not compatible with PLS files). Visiting sites such as YouTube are a waste since it requires a Flash player. Rhaspody.com (where you get limited music streams for free) is not supported by the browser (and requires a plug-in as well). The Wi-Fi element is much more appropriate for browsing and e-mail, less for downloading. A dedicated Internet radio option could have been cool on this device. Also, there is no ad hoc mode so you can't connect directly with other Zunes, er, I mean 604 WiFi devices unless you do so via the network.
Close to great, but not great
The 604 WiFi is seemingly the answer to many mobile users' idealistic dreams. Video, music, and photos packed into a compact multimedia powerhouse, with a screen big enough to surf the Web effectively. The device is impressive. However, having used the 604, 404, and 504, I have to say processor performance on the 604 WiFi is disappointing, particularly for Web browsing and general menu navigation, where you'll notice one-to-two second delays across the board.
Video, music,and photo playback is nice and normal once you get into those operations--playback is always skip or stutter free. But you'll notice that for some functions (such as video scrubbing), there is a delay that's long enough for you to question the touch-screen's sensitivity (in most cases, the Archos has received your input). Web browsing can be a pain when the content hasn't fully loaded and you're trying to scroll up or down. If you're not a patient surfer, you'll get no reaction or a delayed reaction that is much worse than most of us are used to. You'll also notice the Opera browser options can take a second or two to register. Download speeds varied from fast to middling.
Battery life is probably the biggest performance issue outside of the speed of the processor. The unit is rated for 14 (or 15; two different numbers from Archos) for audio playback and five hours for video--not bad, but our experience with 04 devices shows that battery life can be a bit lower than rated. Indeed, our CNET Labs test proved that Archos overshot the ratings a bit, as we got just 11.4 hours for audio. Video times were more accurate--and pretty impressive, really--at roughly 4.4 hours. Using Wi-Fi seemed to do a job on the battery (you can set the power options in settings to not turn the 604 off while you're Web browsing), though we'll wait until we've used the device a bit more for surfing to make our final assessment.