Review: Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet is almost good enough

Archos, known for its multi-talented portable video players, has just busted out a new one: the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet. The shiny player can be equipped with attachments that turn it into a digital video recorder, TV set, or GPS navigator. In its default form, its 4.8-inch 800 x 480-pixel touchscreen does justice to a variety of video formats.

It's also adept at Web surfing thanks to Wi-Fi, letting you let you browse the Web, watch YouTube video, or answer your e-mail wherever you can find a wireless connection. There's an optional 3G modem attachment on the way, too, letting you connect over a cellular network. We took the 60GB version of the Archos 5 ($350) for a spin, flexing its versatility to the limits. Here's our rapid-fire review:

Form Factor: A
The player is simply beautiful. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but it’s a shiny light gray pewter or gunmetal color. Slightly larger than palm-sized, it's too heavy at 8.9 ounces. It almost feels like it's filled with lead. Plus, that shininess gets annoying after the first impression has faded, attracting fingerprints all over it.

Connectivity: A
Hooking up to our Wi-Fi network was easy, with the Archos 5 recognizing both our wireless networks immediately and giving us a choice of the two. Its reception and transmission were clean, and as good as any laptop we've tested.

Touchscreen: D+
The glossy screen has a mirror finish you could use to check for spinach between your teeth if you needed to, but it's a little distracting for watching videos. Its touch isn't as sensitive as we'd like, feeling more like you must push harder to register a touch, rather than that light, capacitive touch we've grown accustomed to. Many times we'd need to touch three or four times for it to register. Weak.

Video Viewing: A+
Standard-def videos look crisp and contrasty on the screen, with deep blacks and an almost 3D quality. Excellent. Flash 9 is supported, so you can watch tons of web videos with ease. Yeah!

Navigation: C-
Its user interface is OK, but we've seen better. Many times you must select an item first and then touch it again to activate it — we'd rather just touch once. In the long menus, you can swipe with a finger to scroll down the list, and it's graceful and looks organic. Not so when scrolling with the included Opera browser, which feels slow and cumbersome when scrolling. But its Linux underpinnings and two processors inside make it react quickly to your commands. Too bad it takes a frustrating 24 seconds to boot.

Sound: A
Listening to the Archos's music player with high-end headphones was a pleasure, with clean sound quality from lows to highs. Its single tiny on-board speaker didn't fare as well, sounding as tinny as an old Victrola. At least they could have given us two for stereo (How was the food? Terrible, and the portions were too small).

Hot Under the Hood: D
The thing gets hot as a two-dollar pistol when playing video; it's almost too toasty to hold it in your hand. At least Archos could have included a stand to prop it up. [Correction: I see there is a stand after all — a spindly, wire-like protrusion embedded in the back. Thanks for the heads-up, commenters.]

Nagging: D
There are a lot of accessories available for the player, and Archos reminds you in numerous places in the user interface that you can buy them any time. This is no place for advertising. And really, is an AC adapter really an accessory? Sure, you can charge the player via USB, but Archos touts the $20 adapter as "faster charging."

Compatibility: B+
Handling MPEG-4 files easily, it can also play back DivX files without even breathing hard. Load up a software plugin, and it makes 720p HD files look gorgeous. Impressive. You might even want to watch them until the battery runs out at around the quoted four hours' worth.

Verdict: C+
Maybe we're spoiled, but the Archos 5 feels awkward to use because of its slightly unresponsive touchscreen. That said, its playback performance is stellar, and videos look excellent on its sharp wide screen. The web access is a useful feature, but we wish the browser's web pages were more easily scrolled. Overall, this is a highly capable player, and if Archos would further refine its touchscreen, this Internet Media Tablet would be a winning combination of form, function and performance.

Archos 5 product details