The gargantuan Archos 705 WiFi’s attention-grabbing features include a 7-inch touchscreen, 160GB hard drive, integrated WiFi and digital video recorder functionality. What’s more, because of its size, the device often gets compared to an ultra-portable PC, only minus the productivity features and processing speed that would make it truly deserve such categorization. But remember: Archos’s goal – emblazoned on the front of the metal casing – was to make a large-screen mobile DVR for traveling video junkies. Extras like WiFi are meant more to provide greater access to content than to enable the 705 as a laptop replacement, and because it has less lofty ambitions than Cowon’s overburdened Q5W, the gizmo achieves its goals fairly well. We just wish Archos had aimed a little higher with the most important feature of all: Audiovisual quality.
Design and Features
Sitting next to our MacBook Pro, the matte gray aluminum 705 WiFi looks like it could have been designed at the same shop. This beast measures 7.05 x 4.96 x .75 inches and weighs a pocket-unfriendly 1.4 pounds, but it does slip easily into a backpack or briefcase. Eschewing physical buttons, the 705 has a 7-inch touchscreen (800×400 pixels) with a pair of speakers and an infrared sensor below it and nothing else on the front.
There are only two buttons (power and LCD output) on the left side, as well as a power jack and a 1/8th-inch headphone port that doubles as a TV output. A battery release catch lives on the right side, and a series of connectors (dock, USB, USB Host) line up for duty along the bottom. The removable battery is located on the back, along with a kickstand for propping the device up on a tray table or desk.
Under the hood is a 160GB hard drive (an 80GB version is also available), a reasonably responsive processor and an 802.11g WiFi transceiver – sorry, there’s no GPS, no FM tuner, and no Bluetooth in sight. Included in the package as well comes a soft case, 2 styli, a wireless keyboard/remote, earbud headphones, a USB cable, USB Host adapter and a power adapter. You also get a saddle for the optional DVR docking station ($99.99), which is required for AV recording. Spare batteries are additionally available for $29.99 USD. Note that the $69 travel adapter, which also enables recording on other models, is not compatible with the 705.
Image Courtesy of Archos
Setup and Operation
Startup time isn’t too bad at about 35 seconds, and when you power the device off subsequently, it goes into a suspend mode, which boots in a much faster 5 seconds. The first thing we noticed is that the touchscreen isn’t calibrated right out of the box and couldn’t seem to figure out where we were pressing it. After running the calibration utility from the display settings menu though, the screen’s performance became much more accurate.
We used our finger (or fingernail) for most functions, though we generally had to press pretty hard on the soft LCD, and we got much better results when we used the stylus. Unfortunately, despite the inclusion of an extra, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll lose both styli quickly since there’s no storage slot on the device. (You can stick it in a sleeve on the side of the case, but ours frequently dropped on the floor and rolled away.)
The main screen’s user interface is driven by large, animated icons and text, making navigation a breeze. Each icon launches a mini-app for things like music, video, photos, the Archos Content Portal and a built-in file browser. The individual applications are easy to use, and you can get an impressive amount of information on any file by selecting one and hitting the Info button in the contextual menu found in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.
Loading the 705
There are several ways to get content onto the 705. It supports both the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) and USB Mass Storage Class, so you can use Windows Media Player (or other MTP software like Rhapsody) to sync up, or simpy drag and drop files in Mac OS’s Finder or Windows Explorer. You can also stream content from a Windows computer connected to the same wireless network via UPnP apps like WMP. The Archos Content Portal further lets you wirelessly purchase and rent videos from a (slowly) growing list of content partners like CinemaNow and Vodeo, as well as Dish Network. And finally, there’s the DVR feature, which lets you record video from any analog source, though you’ll have to shell out extra for the DVR Station.
Out of the box, the 705 can handle AVI (MPEG-4) and WMV (including protected files) video formats. Also, it’s important to note that the maximum resolution in terms of video files that the 705 can read is 720×480 – 800×480 content won’t play. As for audio, you get MP3, WAV, WMA, and protected WMA compatibility, which should satisfy most users. For an extra $19.99 USD, you can also add support for H.264 video and unprotected AAC audio; another $19.99 USD will further get you VOB, MPEG-2 (what many of those illegally downloaded files you have are) and AC-3 audio.
Mind you, we’re not crazy about the idea of paying extra for codecs, though it does help keep the device’s initial cost down (avoiding licensing fees) for those who don’t need the extra format support. This is an example of the complexity added when licensing costs aren’t built into a device’s price – much the opposite of what’s happening with products like the Amazon Kindle and Nokia’s “Comes With Music” initiative.
Moving along, recordings made via the optional DVR Station are done in AVI format (MPEG-4 Simple Profile) with ADPCM stereo sound, but you’re limited to 640×480 video resolution, which sucks for widescreen content. You can also line in audio in WAV format. As for photos, shutterbugs will dig the USB host for direct image transfers from compatible digital cameras, but those files have to be in JPEG, BMP, or PNG format – sadly, it’s a no-go on TIFF or RAW images.
We tested our review unit’s audio and video capabilities using a handful of popular movie clips in MP4 format at 720×480 resolution as well as some 320Kbps MP3 files. Although music and video playback are the 705’s primary functions, some bad news here: We were disappointed with both.
The stock earbuds prove fine for what they are, but since this is primarily a traveler’s device, most people will want headphones that don’t let in lots of ambient sound from planes and cars. We plugged in our Shure SE530 headphones and could clearly hear system noise including hard drive whine and hiss as we browsed the menus.
In addition, when we watched clips from The Lord of the Rings and 2 Fast 2 Furious, fine details got lost and dark scenes looked muddy. Colors weren’t too far off, though. We tried jacking up the screen brightness, but that didn’t help much. The videos were certainly viewable at arm’s length, but graininess was apparent with the device sitting on an airline tray table in front of us. When we output videos to our 40-inch Samsung HDTV however, the image looked more like we expected, with better clarity and color.
Once you pay the $29.99 USD for the optional Opera-based Web browser, the 705 really opens up. YouTube works well, while accessing Google Docs makes it possible to use the 705 for more than just entertainment, though the experience isn’t quite as smooth as we would have hoped, and we often experienced hang-ups. The virtual keyboard is a little tough to get used to because of the LCD’s softness too. On the bright side, with the browser, you also get several widgets for things like weather info and unit conversion, notes and RSS.
Most sites came up quickly in the browser, with Digital Trends taking about 25 seconds to load fully on a public WiFi network in New Orleans. CNN’s site was usually pretty slow, but GMail and Google Reader loaded consistently at about 20 to 30 seconds.
We were unable to access the Archos Content Portal on our review unit, but Archos assured us this isn’t a normal occurrence. Thankfully, we had no trouble locating our Windows machine running WMP 11 and streaming media after setting it up according to the instructions on the device. Wireless range easily spanned our two-bedroom apartment with only the occasional hiccup.
You can install Adobe Flash games you download from sources like Shockwave.com, or you can purchase packs of 4 games from Archos for $9.99 USD each. Games include Sudoku, Mah-Jong, Solitaire, Poker, Golf, and the incredibly addictive Bejeweled-like game Tactic 2 Vitamin. The built-in PDF reader worked smoothly with test documents as well, though files loaded far more slowly than they would on most laptops.
The 705 WiFi’s battery is rated at 25 hours of audio playback and 5.5 hours of video, but those specs are both with the WiFi features turned off. The truth is that we had to charge the battery every 3.5 to 5 hours depending on how much web surfing and video game playing we did. When we just watched videos, the 705 had enough juice for about 3 full-length movies. You can always purchase a spare battery, though. Still, we really wish the device could charge via USB since there’s no room in the carrying pouch for the bulky AC adapter.
We love the 705’s huge hard drive and WiFi capabilities, but lacking physical control buttons, it should offer a better-feeling and -looking touchscreen, even if it adds cost. The device should also either come with wider support for various formats, and built-in recording (like the Cowon A3) would be nice too – we’d even be willing to pay a bit extra for it.
Out of the box, the 705 isn’t sure what its core feature is: AV quality isn’t great, the browser and DVR features are sold separately, and you have to pay extra for widely-used codecs like AAC and MPEG-2. But load units up with all the extras (including an extra battery or two and some games), and the 705 can be a satisfying companion on long trips.
As far as replacing your laptop is concerned, however, the Archos 705 may boast an entirely different set of flaws than the Cowon Q5W, but neither is quite ready for that responsibility… yet.
• Plenty of storage space
• WiFi enables browsing and streaming
• Excellent DVR features
• Supports Flash-based games
• Great wireless remote
• Screen isn’t sharp or well-contrasted enough
• Subpar audio quality
• Too many features require extra money
• No USB charging