The new Archos 5 wants to challenge Apple’s army of media players with a dirty yet clever trick. It comes in the form of a beautiful, 4.8-inch HD screen that is so vibrant; it makes average features shine like rhinestones and completely blinds you from noticing the deficient ones. You know, it’s kinda like when China used the Olympics to divert attention from its human rights violations!
Okay, it’s not exactly fair to liken the Archos 5 to the People’s Republic questionable treatment of its citizens. What’s fair to say is that this is an outstanding music device and an even better portable video player. The screen is so glossy and gorgeous, I want to take it to Las Vegas and get married to it. You can watch 720p HD video clearly and it plays over ten types of movie files. When we scoped out A Scanner Darkly, the hallucinogenic color animation flowed vividly, like a paint truck crashing head on into an acid trip. Even blacks were sufficiently deep; shocking for a small screen on a portable device. But besides the screen, the broad range of extra features really is the player’s greatest strength.
Add the flash-enabled Opera web browser, and you have access to online videos sans squinting. We checked out YouTube via Wi-Fi, and when selected on the browser, the flash videos conveniently adjusted to the screen area. Super sweet.
There’s also a WebTv and Internet radio plug-in, a TV program scheduler, plus you can tweak the settings on nearly every feature — including child security (no youporn for Junior). It also records net video clearly with the optional $100 DVR dock.
But even we can’t sugarcoat the trio of flaws that ultimately hamper the player: Shamelessly embedded crapware, the mediocre UI, and a glitch-fest Linux-based operating system.
The prime offender of said crapware is called Media Club. This program directs you to Archos’ online media partners — which would be borderline permissible if the content wasn’t so overpriced. Do you like paying $20 to watch Caligula on Cinema Now? How about enduring the poor geek’s youtube that is Daily Motion? No? Yeah we don’t either.
Worse, each of the embedded apps come with a little demo that, when clicked, link to the Archos website through a URL labeled ‘up-selling.’ Seriously! It’s like having someone offer you a slice of chocolate cake but in exchange they get to kick you repeatedly in the junk.
As for the UI, the touch screen pales in comparison to the iPod Touch; it sometimes lags like Dom DeLuise running the Boston Marathon. There’s no multi-touch option either. No pinching for you!
The Linux-based OS is too simple for its own good. It’s easy to get lost in a myriad of transparent menus and muddy apps. In one instance, the player dropped the Wi-Fi connection and didn’t allow us to change the connection. Interestingly, transitions between programs weren’t a problem. When we failed to connect that particular time, we booted a video in a few seconds.
The Archos 5 isn’t a bad device by any stretch of the imagination. It handles virtually any media format you can throw at it, shows rich color detail, and even sports a sexy-slim profile. If not for the beautiful LCD, the imbedded junkware, pokey UI, and unreliable OS might serve to completely cripple this player. But in a way that big bright screen works a lot like beer goggles; it allows you to look past the player’s ugly shortcomings and makes you feel validated when you wind up taking it home.