Archos' new touch-screen, fourth-generation media player can surf the Web as well as display photos and play videos or music files. Is this enough to warrant an upgrade?
First, let's look at the touch screen. It's fun and simple to use. You can access the Photos, Videos, Music and the Web sections easily by double-clicking the relevant icon on the desktop. You can use your fingertips, but that doesn't seem to work too well.
It's better to use a long fingernail (if you have one) or the supplied PDA-style stylus. Annoyingly, there's nowhere to store the stylus when it's not in use unlike, say, a Palm PDA, so you're bound to lose it sooner or later
The seven-inch TFT screen is a decent size for playing video. One of the real strengths of the Archos is that it pays a variety of video file types, including MPEG-4 and WMV.
We also tested it with Xvid, the preferred compression type for Internet movie downloads and it worked fine. If you want to be able to handle DVD video files (MPEG-2) without conversion or play AAC music files then plug-ins need to be purchased from the Archos website.
Cut the cables
It's easy to connect to an open network: just click Web and it starts scanning for available networks. You can browse with surprising ease because the Archos comes with a version of Opera. Normal Web pages load larger than the screen size, but you can scroll around the page with the touch screen to see everything without a problem.
For general Web browsing the device seemed to work fine, but elsewhere we experienced two problems. First, we couldn't find a way to play YouTube videos, and second the Wi-fi connection seems to occasionally disappear and reset the whole unit intermittently without any explanation.
For music, a streamlined browser enables you to navigate music folders and you can connect it through Windows Media Player as a Windows Media Device. It plays MP3s fine even through the tiny built-in speakers, but as you'd expect, switching to headphones gives a better result.
We achieved about 4.5 hours of continuous video playback and about 20 hours of music playback out of the Archos. One smart feature about the battery is that it's removable, so you could buy an extra one and simply pop it in if your original battery runs flat mid-trip.
The ace in the hole for the Archos is its ability to record TV, but for this you'll need to purchase the DVR station, which is sold for £54. It enables you to connect the Archos to your TV using S-Video or composite cables.
We can think of several uses of the Archos: keeping the kids amused in the car, watching a movie on a train or plane, or some casual Web browsing, but for everyday use it's just too bulky and the Wi-fi drop-outs bothered us.
Ultimately, the Archos occupies that strange middle ground between a proper laptop and a handy pocket-sized media player such as the iPod. However, if you really must have a touch-screen device that can play pretty much anything you can download from the Web, then the Archos fits the bill.