In the world of portable video players, there are swift little cheetahs like the Apple iPod Touch, midsize workhorses like the Cowon A3, and then there are breathtaking mastodons like the Archos 705 WiFi. If you take your gadgets extra-large, the Archos 705 WiFi offers a boatload of entertainment in a sturdy design priced at $399 (80GB) and $499 (160GB).
With its 7-inch, widescreen display, the Archos 705 WiFi is an intimidating, metal-clad gadget that is equally useful for playing videos and clubbing assailants--seriously, this thing is enormous. Unlike its fifth-generation kin (the Archos 405 and the 605 WiFi), the face of the Archos 705 WiFi is utterly devoid of buttons, relying on its touch screen to take care of everything from menu navigation to volume control. Headphone output, power adapter input, and buttons for power and TV output are located on the left edge of the Archos 705 WiFi, leaving the right and top edges bare. The bottom edge of the Archos 705 WiFi is packed with ports for USB transfer, USB hosting, and Archos' own proprietary jack used for accessories such as the company's DVR Station, FM receiver, and battery extender. Flipping over the Archos 705 WiFi, you'll find a metal fold-out kickstand for hands-free use and a removable battery pack (replacements run $29).
The majority of the features found on the Archos 705 WiFi are identical to the excellent ones found on the Archos 605 WiFi (the recipient of a 2007 CNET Editors' Choice). Packed within the 705 WiFi's giant metal husk are a music player, a video player, a photo viewer, a PDF reader, a Wi-Fi video rental portal, and an optional Flash-enabled Web browser (Opera), as well as optional widgets such as games, weather, an RSS newsreader, and more.
It's tempting to call the Archos 705 WiFi simply an overgrown version of the 605 WiFi, but in truth there are some critical differences--both good and bad--between these two PVP powerhouses. Aside from its larger screen, the Archos 705 WiFi distinguishes itself from the 605 WiFi by including built-in TV output (composite through headphone jack), an outstanding QWERTY keypad remote control, USB hosting for transferring media from external drives and digital cameras, built-in stereo speakers, and a replaceable battery. On the downside, the 705 WiFi lacks the 605 WiFi's hardware controls (especially useful for quick volume changes), pocket-worthy size, and a crisp, more colorful screen.
The Archos 705 WiFi is a portable video player, first and foremost, and it does not disappoint when it comes to movie playback. Out of the box, the Archos 705 WiFi is capable of playing MPEG4, AVI, WMV, and DIVX video files up to DVD resolution. For an extra $20, you can also purchase a plug-in for H.264 video playback and a separate plug-in for MPEG2/VOB video playback. In a perfect world, the 705 WiFi would support all of these formats out of the box, but it's only a small inconvenience to buy the plug-ins a la carte. Once you're actually playing video, you can bookmark, resize, and skip through your movie with ease.
While its imposing size makes the 705 WiFi one of the least-portable portable music players available, its sound quality and breadth of music features equals that of most of our preferred MP3 players. For those of you pulling media files from both a Mac and a PC, you'll be happy to know that the 705 WiFi can boot in multiple USB modes, both MSC and MTP, allowing it to work as both a drag-and-drop hard drive and a Windows Media Player device.
For an extra $30 (money well spent) you can round out the Archos 705 WiFi's media features with a Web browser capable of playing Adobe Flash content (unlike the iPod Touch). Need to type in a password or a URL? The 705 WiFi's touch screen presents a responsive, iPhone-esque QWERTY keyboard. The Archos 705's Web browser also displays Flash-based videos from sites such as YouTube, Dailymotion, and CNET in full screen. Those of you who'd prefer not to buy the Web browser can still take advantage of online movie rentals using the included Archos Content Portal feature, which offers a great selection of mainstream movies from Cinema Now, that can be downloaded directly to your device for as little as $3.99.
While you're shelling out cash, for another $99, Archos offers a hardware accessory called the DVR Station that unlocks the 705's ability to act as a sophisticated digital video recorder. By docking the 705 in the DVR Station and connecting it to your television, the 705 effectively becomes your home entertainment system. Another benefit of the DVR Station is that it provides an easy way to display content on your television (over component, composite, or S-Video), allowing you to browse your music and movie collection, flip through photo albums, and even surf the Web from the comfort of your couch, using the included remote control. If you're not interested in using the 705 WiFi as a digital video recorder, you can probably content yourself with using the composite AV output built into the 705's headphone jack (a feature lacking on the 605 WiFi).
Whether you consider the Archos 705 WiFi big and beautiful or a monstrous absurdity, there's no question that it's a niche product. Its size alone makes the Archos 705 WiFi unsuitable for daily commutes, workouts, or any situation where you don't feel like carrying a separate bag for your PVP. During our time with the Archos 705 WiFi, our favorite uses included watching movies in bed and connecting it to a TV for browsing music and the Internet using the remote control. Archos also sells a headrest mount to transform the 705 WiFi into an in-car entertainment system for dreary road trips.
From an audio perspective, the Archos 705 WiFi doesn't dazzle, but it certainly meets our expectations. Both the customizable five-band equalizer and independent Bass Boost controls err on the side of subtlety, but we think they offer just the right amount of sonic sculpting without mangling the sound into an overprocessed mush. (The same sound-enhancement features apply to movie audio playback.) Considering that the 705 WiFi is aimed squarely at movie buffs, we would like to see a cinematic 3D sound-enhancement feature like the one found on the Cowon A3.
The Archos 705 WiFi's battery shares the same disappointing lifespan as the 605 WiFi, which is rated at 15 hours of audio and 5 hours of video. Unlike the 605 WiFi, however, the 705 includes swappable battery packs that you can stock up on for portable movie marathons. Considering that the 705 WiFi's screen size and processor demands nearly match that of a full-fledged laptop, we feel compelled to cut Archos some slack on battery performance.
The majority of people are going to find the Archos 705 WiFi's size to be complete overkill. Still, it's hard to reconcile the fact that we ranked the Archos 705 WiFi lower than the smaller, less feature-filled 605 WiFi. When it comes to portable devices, however, less is usually more, and the 705's substantial girth places it well beyond the pocket-size sweet spot. Despite its gigantism, we still believe the Archos 705 WiFi makes an excellent portable video player for those of you who like your technology plus-size.