The Archos 5
For a device as hefty (price- and size-wise) as the Archos 5, it has a lot of deficiencies.
My biggest gripe is that there is no out-of-the-box support for playing h.264-encoded video. This is a major limitation. It's not a question of ability, because there's a plugin you can purchase to enable it (which I did reluctantly). The plugin bundle to enable h.264 video, AAC audio, HD video support and MPEG-2 video support costs 30 euros, which worked out to about $43 at the time I purchased it. The three plugins separately are 15 euros each, so I guess I'm getting a good deal, but it just feels like Archos is trying to fleece me. On top of that, the HD plugin is not yet available.
I can understand paying extra for physical hardware that provides the Archos with new abilities. The helmet cam, the GPS and the DVR station are good examples of this. But to cripple the main unit out of the box deliberately by not playing h.264 video seems greedy on Archos' part—especially considering that the base unit costs $350–$450 (depending on the model).
A related gripe is that the Archos 5 will play only video that is smaller than the size of the screen (800x480). As a test, I cropped the 480p version of Big Buck Bunny so that it was exactly 800x480 pixels in size, and the Archos refused to play it. The largest files I have been able to play are in the neighborhood of 720x460. The HD plugin supposedly will allow the Archos 5 to play up to 720p-size video when it is finally released.
Another video-related issue is that the Archos 5 has trouble with h.264 .m4v files that are longer than 1.5 hours. It will report that the file is corrupted, even when it is not. Lengthy non-h.264 .avi files do not have this issue.
Moving on to audio, the Archos 5 is frankly disappointing. There are no technical reasons that I can see why the Archos 5 cannot play FLAC and Ogg files, but it can't. They don't even show up in the list of files. The Archos also had trouble with my example .m4a audio files. They could be viewed in the music browser, but they would not play. AAC audio plays fine when part of an .mp4 video file, so it can play it.
The Archos comes up short in regard to media playback, but I knew some of that going in, thanks to the specs on the Archos Web site. What was not anticipated were the number of hardware issues I had, and they bear mentioning here. At the top of the list is that the Archos 5 comes with a proprietary USB cable that is used for connecting the Archos 5 to your computer and for charging.
This cable is inadequate for several reasons. First, it takes eight hours to charge the Archos 5 via this USB connection. Battery life for the Archos 5 in my testing was about three hours for video and about double that for audio, so the included charging “solution” can't even keep up with normal use! This contrasts with the 50+ hours of audio playback I regularly get out of the Cowon D2 in between chargings.
The long charge times for the Archos also mean that once I watch about 1.5 movies, I am done for the day. Second, the cable is not a standard USB cable. One end is USB; the other is a proprietary docking connector. I don't mind docking connectors, but when that is the only connection to the outside world, I get nervous and annoyed.
My first hardware accessory purchase for the Archos 5 was the $30 mini-dock. Although it looks strange when plugged in to the Archos 5, at least it provides a real power adapter and recharge times of less than three hours. The mini-dock also gives the Archos 5 component A/V and S-Video out, as well as USB host and client support. The mini-dock adds so much functionality and utility to the Archos 5, I wish the company had incorporated the ports on it into the main unit.
On the software front, some of the widgets—the newsreader and weather widgets in particular—need a network connection to run, but if the network is turned off, they will give you a “No network available” message, instead of starting up the network like the browser and mail applications do. To use them, you first must activate the network manually and then run them. Compounding the frustration of this is that the Archos 5 attempts to save power by shutting off the network automatically if it hasn't been used in a few minutes.
I also ran into some out-and-out crashes when using the Archos 5. I can't count the number of times the Archos has rebooted itself during what I consider to be normal use. It happens at least once a day, often more.
The first time I powered up the Archos 5 and connected to my home network, it said there was a firmware update available. That was all well and good, and it downloaded and applied the update like I expected, except that after the update, the wireless settings were erased, and then the Archos decided that it also could not see my, or any other, access point. Not cool. A reboot fixed it, but the update could have indicated that an additional reboot was required on top of the one it did during the update process.
The biggest error I ran into was when trying to copy a bunch of pictures over to the Archos 5, it froze, and I had to force unmount the device and reboot it. Then, when mounting the device, on multiple computers, it would mount only read-only. I ran fsck on the drive, like so:
sudo fsck.vfat -a /dev/sdf1