El Reg reviewed the Archos 705 yesterday. They only gave it 50%, which I think is a little harsh. I bought one of these back in November when they first came out, as something to help easy my daily commute by train. I have to say I don't regret the purchase; while there are various niggles that annoy me it basically does what I want.

My main drive was the size of the screen. There are plenty of options available if you want in the region of 4", but I wanted something bigger that could still be shoved in a bag without any hassle. The 705's 7" screen is great. I can sit it on the tray table on the train and it gives a clear viewable image that doesn't leave me squinting trying to see it. The second concern was the battery life. At 7" you start to get into the UMPC area. However there didn't seem to be anything around that both offered enough battery life and had the grunt to decode DivX. I need a guaranteed 2hrs (ideally a bit longer) so I can watch something without being interrupted. I've certainly had over 3hrs on the Archos and various reviews claim it'll do 5hr for video without problems.

Archos call the 705 a DVR. I've no idea why; I certainly wouldn't consider it one. I have the DVR station, but I've only used it to connect the Archos up to a hotel room TV and never for actually recording anything. There's no tuner (neither analog nor digital), so you need a Freeview/cable/satellite or similar box to provide a signal. Plus it seems pointless to convert a digital TV signal to analog and then for the Archos to have to re-encode it. Much more sane to record TV on your PVR and pull the file off that and onto the 705. Except there you hit a bit of a problem. By default the Archos supports DivX and WMV. To get MPEG2 or H.264 support, or indeed AC3 audio, you need to pay extra for a license that will enable the appropriate codec. This is annoying and I've ended up just using mencoder to convert Freeview records to an Archos friendly format rather than shelling out more for the codecs. Archos do seem to have dropped the ball here. The MPEG2 license fee seems to be $2.50 per device. The TI licensing seems to be about $2 for MPEG2 + AC3. Archos sell the plugin for €19.99. I doubt AC3 licensing is over $15, which rules out Archos merely keeping the cost down for customers by allowing them to pick and chose which codecs they want to avoid paying license fees.

The 705 also comes with a web browser. Which, of course, you have to pay for. I ended up getting this thrown in with my 705 + DVR station bundle. It's powered by Opera and reasonable enough. The only time I've really made use of it is while staying in a hotel; it was quite nifty to have the 705 hooked up to the TV and be able to lie on the bed with the keyboard remote control and lookup film times or interesting places to go. Internet access is provided by wifi; if it had bluetooth as well then I might make use of it on the train, but as it is it's not really something I use much.

As I said at the start I'm still happy with my purchase. It's not a cheap item, but it has the screen size and battery life I wanted and there wasn't a lot else out that offered both. Having to pay for codecs is a bad move on Archos' part, but I've avoided doing so by re-encoding. If you want something that's a decent media player of this size then the 705 is definitely worth considering; if you're not sure about the size aspect you may be better off with a 605 (the 4.3" screen version) or even something from Cowon (who unfortunately don't seem to have anything in the 7" range).

Finally, if you already own a generation 5 Archos device, you might be interested to know that shell access has been obtained. The device is pretty locked down (signed kernel modules, no /dev/mem, signed root cramfs filesystem), but there's an arcwelder exploit to get an ssh login over wifi and an Archos Hacking forum on Archosfans.