Archos 5 Lightning Review

Archos 5 Lightning Review
The Gadget: Archos 5, the touchscreen “internet media tablet” with HD video viewing, game support and web surfing, is poised to take on the comparatively puny-in-screen, puny-in-storage iPod touch.

The Price: $US450 as tested ($US350 60GB model with optional $US100 DVR station add-on).

The Verdict: The Archos 5—actually the company’s sixth-generation handheld—is nice, but it’s not the iPod touch killer I was hoping for after the initial demo.

On one hand, the touchscreen interface is a fantastic upgrade over their last gen. The UI is more modern looking and the touch controls are responsive and more intuitive than their button counterparts. The 4.8-inch screen—a slight upgrade over the previous model’s 4.3-incher—is a great size for watching videos without straining your eyes. (The iPhone and slimmer iPod touch have 3.5-inch screens.)

But despite its better look, the menu system is a pain to navigate. Certain options are lumped in categories where they don’t fit, and there’s an entire menu devoted to selling accessories and software function add-ons. Archos is known to sell barebones players that you have to amp up with software and hardware add-ons. But this one already has a web browser and a capable media player, so it’s pretty annoying when the unit begs you to buy it upgrades. Worst of all, there’s no way to turn the ads off.

Web browsing is as much of a pain. It only runs in landscape, and code-heavy sites such as Giz and ESPN never seem to fully load. The e-mail program is not clean or simple enough to be useful as a true on-the-go replacement.

While the DVR station streamed video from Archos to TV over HDMI—and did it in good detail—it uses an S-Video input to record shows onto the unit, so they look garbled, with the wrong aspect ratio and out-of-sync sound. The TV guide itself is serviceable, though slow and unattractive when compared to a TiVo or a standard cable box guide.

The Archos 5 is an improvement and brings Apple-like features to an otherwise standard PMP. However, beyond size and capacity, there is a distinct difference between the Archos 5 and the iPod touch. When it comes to quickly hitting the web, checking e-mail or listening to music, the iPod touch is smooth, and looks good, begging to be held. The Archos is far more clunky in its execution. Despite being the hands-down winner when it comes to watching video, it simply isn’t as touchable. [Archos]