If you ever want to excite a gadget fiend, just walk up and whisper these words into their ear, "Touch screen...WiFi...high-resolution...Mac-compatible..." If remotely human, your friend should be salivating on himself just as we did when we read the specs for the Archos 605 WiFi. Starting at just $229, the Archos 605 WiFi refines the screen resolution and usability of its previous effort, the 604 WiFi, and sets a new standard for affordable, exceptionally designed portable video players (PVPs).
Only a few companies can compete with Archos when it comes to both product and interface design. The 605 WiFi is as elegantly conceived as anything we've seen from Apple or Sony. Measuring 4.75 inches wide, 3.25 inches tall, and just a hair more than a half-inch thick, the 605 strikes that front-pocket sweet spot; it's big enough to do video justice, yet small and thin enough to comfortably fit in your pants pocket. The recessed 4.3-inch TFT LCD screen is not only bright, colorful, and glare-resistant, but it displays at a resolution of 800x480, making it one of the highest-resolution PVPs on the market. We're also happy to see that the screen valiantly resists smudges despite its dual-duty as a touch screen.
While screen quality alone puts the Archos 605 ahead of the pack, small touches such as a built-in kickstand and an internal speaker really put this player over the top. Our only disappointments with the 605's design are the scratch-prone metal panel on the front, the lack of a universal USB connection, and the choice of white buttons that will surely pick up grime and discolor over time.
With most portable media players, what you see is what you get. But with any Archos product, the gear you buy is a base to which you can add additional features, for a price. Some accuse Archos of skimping on features to maintain an artificially attractive price, but you can also think of it as Archos allowing their customers to purchase only the features they want. Either way, the out-of-the-box 605 comes with most of the features people want in a PVP, and plug-ins--such as high-definition video playback, Internet radio, and others--cost only $20 a pop. Unfortunately, to truly take advantage of the 605's Wi-Fi, you need to spend an extra $30 for the Opera Web browser plug-in.
For your $30, thankfully, the Opera browser is Adobe Flash-enabled (unlike a certain iPhone) and works exceptionally well. Need to type in a password or a URL? The 605 WiFi's touch screen presents a responsive, iPhone-esque QWERTY keyboard. If you need one good reason for paying the extra $30 on the Opera Web browser, it's that any Flash-based video from sites such as YouTube, Dailymotion, and CNET is automatically detected by the 605 and presented in full screen.
Even if you don't intend on giving Archos a single extra penny for plug-in features, you'll still love the player. The 605 WiFi comes with an MP3 player, a video player, a photo viewer, a PDF viewer, and the Content Portal feature, which uses the Wi-Fi connection to grab content directly from a handful of providers such as YouTube, Cinema Now, and BurnLounge. In particular, Cinema Now offers a great selection of mainstream movies that can be downloaded to your device for as little as 3.99. (It's worth mentioning/warning that Cinema Now also offers an exhaustive selection of adult-video content.)