NEW YORK – Sporting a brushed metal case, a crisp, wide touchscreen and wireless Internet capabilities, the latest portable media gadget from Archos sounds like a match for the newest iPods.
I had high hopes for the $300 Archos 605 WiFi, given the company's experience in the area (it released another lookalike player, the $450 604 WiFi, last year).
But the 605 was a letdown. It's still too clunky — with an overabundance of buttons and a difficult-to-navigate interface — to take the place of a standard video iPod from Apple Inc.
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Like its predecessor, the player has Archos' signature high-resolution 4.3-inch touch screen. Videos and images look great on the display, but lower-quality media — such as your average YouTube video — will look as pixelated on the Archos player as they do on your computer screen.
Watching the small screen for extended periods didn't bother my eyes. But I wouldn't use the included speaker to listen for long, as the sound was distorted when I raised the volume above the halfway mark — and it wasn't that loud on full blast anyway.
Transferring files onto the player from a computer is not difficult, but figuring out how the Archos organizes them is. Discovering where my files went required a lot more poking at the screen and scrolling through menus than I would have liked or expected.
In the end, I found it easiest to move things onto and around the Archos by opening the device up on my PC and organizing it there. An impatient user might find this overwhelming and might not search the "files" section for media that seems lost.
Like its older brother, the player includes a seemingly unnecessary row of buttons on the right side of its screen that serve as alternative controls to the touch screen.
The buttons are useful for fast-forwarding or rewinding, but I tended to forget they were even there — except, of course, when I accidentally bumped them.
As the name implies, the player can be used to browse the Internet. But unlike the earlier WiFi player, 605 users must pay $30 for the Opera Web browser.
An Archos spokeswoman said the company found that just over half of 604 users used Opera, so Archos decided not to include it free on the 605.
The browser, which now supports flash videos from sites like YouTube, was fine for reading online news in bed or while wandering my apartment, but the type was often obnoxiously small even when magnified.
Given increasingly easy Web access through smart phones, I'm not convinced this feature would be useful on a regular basis.
The player can download content from Archos' content portal, which the older WiFi model couldn't. There aren't many content providers available through the portal, but it does link to CinemaNow Inc.'s video download site, and from there I could, in theory, download movies and television shows.
But I had misplaced an included plastic stylus and found navigating the site tricky without it, so I settled on downloading the animated movie "Chicken Little" listed on CinemaNow's front page.
This proved to be a mistake. Even with my zippy home wireless connection, the movie had an estimated two-hour download time. I paused the download and decided to download an episode of "24" instead.
I thought the episode had finished downloading after 40 minutes, but apparently a Wi-Fi glitch on my end must have had caused it to stop halfway through. I downloaded the remainder later on, but that seemed like a lot of work for a one-hour video.
Using an add-on DVR station ($99) was more to my liking. It simply plugs into a user's cable box and can record TV and a variety of video sources, such as MPEG-4 files, that are stored right on the Archos player.
You dock the player on the station and either set it to record TV at a pre-chosen time or press "record" with the TV on and then flip off the set.
Users can plug external devices like USB memory sticks into the station and copy files from those sources onto the Archos player, as well. The station can also be used to stream media wirelessly to your TV from the Archos or surf the Internet on a TV through the docked device.
I tested the 30-gigabyte version of the 605 WiFi. It comes with hard drive capacities up to 160 gigabytes, and a frequent traveler or multimedia junkie would probably want a model with more storage space.
But don't expect the Archos 605 to keep you entertained through a long flight, unless you mostly listen to tunes.
The device is rated for 5.5 hours of video playback time or 17 hours of music playback, slightly better than the 604 WiFi.
Yet in tests using its various functions over a few days I got a little more than three hours of playtime before it shut down.
In the end, the crystal-clear screen and some tempting features make the 605 WiFi more attractive than the average personal media player, but I don't expect many potential iPod users to cast Apple aside for it.