Archos 604 review: Archos 604

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. (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.

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