Archos 704 WiFi review
UMPC-like features and a spacious hard disk make the Archos appealing, but it's only good for entertainment.
Archos has produced some fascinating entertainment products of late, such as the 404 Camcorder (see issue 151, p65), and the Archos 604 WiFi (see issue 149, p64). But with its 7in, 800 x 480 touchscreen, 80GB hard disk and Unix-based operating system, the 704 WiFi appears to be edging into the territory of UMPCs like Samsung's Q1 Ultra (see pXX).
It isn't as versatile though: the operating system, although Unix-based, is locked down. So while there might be an enthusiastic community awaiting such products, it's unlikely that there'll be much in the way of third-party software for the 704, in spite of it being a natural choice for applications like GPS. It's also not a device you'll get much creative work done on - there's a PDF reader but no way to open Microsoft Word documents, for instance.
But it still has plenty of attractions for the traveller, as it's compatible with a huge range of video, audio and image files. The battery might only weigh 144g, but it proved ample in our tests. Playing back a succession of film-length AVI files encoded with DiVX produced a phenomenal 5hr 31m battery life - almost exactly the same as the optimistic-sounding claims from Archos. Playing back audio files was equally impressive, with the Archos lasting for nearly 24 hours straight.
The touchscreen is a mixed success. Prodding your way through the well-designed menu system, you'll see it deforms a little more than we'd like, with the icons becoming discoloured under your finger. We had little joy using the pad of a finger to control the 704 - a stylus is supplied, but there's nowhere on the device to store it when not in use. The screen itself is reasonably sharp, and images appear vibrant and detailed.
We appreciate the USB-in port, which allows you to plug in mass storage devices such as portable hard disks and digital cameras to either directly view or copy content across bi-directionally. It's a great way of backing up from a camera without needing a PC.
The eponymous WiFi is provided by an internal 802.11b/g transceiver, and there's also a mobile version of Opera built into the 704 WiFi. Web browsing is simple, and you can move around websites by dragging your finger around the page, but text entry is sufficiently difficult that to make moving to entirely new URLs a difficult process. It will behave as a PC on your network too, allowing you to stream media to and from other PCs.
The 704 WiFi is undoubtedly niche: it won't replace your laptop, as its restrictive operating system simply doesn't offer the flexibility, but as a way of watching video on the move it offers good battery life, as well as being a nifty way of surfing the net away from your main PC.