The Archos 5
For the past couple years, I've carried around a Cowon D2 media player. This little device has 2GB of onboard memory (there also are 4GB and 8GB versions). It also has a built-in SD slot for storage expansion. I purchased it because it plays every audio format I care about: MP3, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC. As a bonus, it also can play 320x240 MPEG 4.2 AVI video files.
This little player has served me very well, but lately I've become interested in getting a portable media player that is as good at video as the Cowon is at audio. Specifically, I'm getting tired of converting videos just so I can play them on my D2. I'd like a player that can handle unmodified versions of all of my media, and a lot of onboard storage would be a nice perk.
Cowon has some higher-end devices that look like they might make compelling replacements, but they run Windows Mobile, which I don't want. There also is the ubiquitous iPod from Apple, but I'm not really interested in getting one of those either. With Cowon and Apple out of the running, I went searching for alternatives, and the first possibility I encountered to replace my D2 was the Linux-based Archos 5.
Physically, the Archos 5 is quite a bit larger than the D2. The 5 in Archos 5 refers to the screen size, which actually clocks in at 4.8 inches. Measurements aside, the screen feels more than twice as large as the 2.5" screen of the D2, partly due to the higher resolution (800x480) display, which is a good bit more than twice the D2's 320x240 resolution (at least in width).
The screen is very glossy—a trend in screens I am not very fond of—but it is quite viewable under most conditions, even though it is a little too shiny for my tastes.
The thickness of the Archos 5 varies based on which model you get. The 60GB version appears (from the images on the Archos Web site) to be thinner than the D2, and the 120GB and 250GB models appear to be about twice the thickness of the 60GB model. I picked up the 120GB version, and part of me wishes I had the thinner model, despite the smaller drive size.
Rounding out the exterior of the Archos 5, there is a power button, volume control button, a reset hole, a headphone jack, a pair of docking ports on the bottom and a sturdy foot that pivots out the back to prop it at a nice viewing angle.
In addition to the base device, you can purchase several add-ons for the Archos 5 that give it new functionality. These include a TV antenna, a DVR, a helmet-mountable video camera, an FM radio and a GPS. Although I don't foresee myself purchasing any of these add-ons, they certainly prove that the base hardware is capable of a great many things if attached to the right accessories.
The GPL'd portions of the Archos 5 source code are not available from the Archos Web site at the time of this writing. The source code hopefully will be posted by the time you read this.
Archos bills the Archos 5 and the larger Archos 7 as “Internet Media Tablets”. As such, they include many features one doesn't necessarily associate with a simple media player, such as a Web browser, e-mail client and various widgets.
The Web browser on the Archos 5 is Opera-embedded. It is a little slow, but renders most pages well. AJAX-heavy sites, like Google Reader, seemed to give it the most trouble. It has Flash support, and for video sites like YouTube and Google Video, it will offer to play the video full screen, which is a nice touch. The Web browser has tabs that allow you to have multiple sites open at the same time. You also can zoom in (and out) on pages by double-tapping on the screen.
When downloading large files, the download screen takes over the interface and does not let you queue other downloads or continue browsing. That annoyance aside, it will try to put files you download into the proper folders automatically (Video, Music and so on), which is nice. If the Archos 5 doesn't recognize a file, such as zip or tar.gz files, it places the file in a Downloads folder that you can access the next time you connect the Archos 5 to your computer.
Overall, I am quite pleased with the built-in Web browser. It's not something I plan to use often, but it works well enough for light browsing when I am away from my desk.
The mail client can connect to both POP and IMAP mail servers. The client is functional, but a bit clunky, and it is not something I'm likely to use unless it is the only choice I have.
The photo viewer is nice and turns the Archos 5 into a decent digital photo frame. In the photo viewer, a vertical top-to-bottom swipe will rotate the picture clockwise, and a vertical bottom-to-top swipe will rotate the image counter-clockwise. Horizontal swipes will move to the next and previous pictures.
The audio player lets you sort music in all the standard ways: by genre, artist, year, album, title and so on. The Web radio section of the audio player is powered by vTuner and has a nice selection of stations. Local music (not streaming music from over the local network or Internet) can play behind the slideshow or Web browser.
The video player is pretty basic. You simply navigate the folders of the Archos 5 and choose the video you want to play. Once one video has finished, the next one starts, just like in the audio player.
If you have to interrupt local audio or video playback, the Archos remembers where you were, and you can resume from where you left off when you next access either mode.
Thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi and the appropriate software, the Archos 5 can connect to UPnP servers on the local network. This has turned out to be one of my favorite features. It turns the Archos 5 into a sort of roving satellite television for the house. Both my file server and my Popcorn Hour media player are set up as UPnP servers, so the Archos has access to all my media. Well, it would, if it could play all my media (more on that later).
Some pieces of software on the Archos 5 are missing. One of these is the File Sharing item in the tools menu, which reports that you need to update your firmware to gain access to the feature (even though I'm running the latest firmware).
Rounding out the software on the Archos 5 are several widgets that provide such things as a simple newsreader, a currency converter, a note-taking app and a weather widget. They're not terribly useful; the newsreader contains only seven preconfigured entries that can't be changed, for example, but they're there to play with if you want. The widgets actually run in a special mode of the Web browser, and the newsreader feeds open stories in tabs of the browser.
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