The Archos 5's Web browser is based on Opera, and features the sort of easy scrolling, zooming and - best of all - Flash support you might expect. Complex, Flash-enabled sites were reproduced accurately, though our own TrustedReviews homepage showed up some oddities. The Archos 5 also feels pretty nippy over my 802.11g connection. Maybe it's the ARM Cortex processor and 128MB of RAM, but pages load rapidly and Flash content plays smoothly. Browsing on a screen this size should always be a pleasure, and that very nearly is the case.
Why nearly? Well, the Archos 5's 4.8in, 800 x 480 TFT touchscreen has its good points and its bad points. On the good side it's big, bright and really quite sharp. Definition is very good, and the reproduction of colour excellent for a portable device. Photos, when viewed, are as crisp and vibrant as you might hope for. Viewing angles are surprisingly wide. On the bad side, the actual 'touch' part of the equation needs some work, as the screen isn't quite as accurate or responsive as (I hate to say it) that on the iPod Touch.
After a while you get used to the fact that the Archos needs a little more time and/or pressure than its rival, but it's still a bit annoying. It's also a shame that Archos hasn't looked more carefully at Apple's innovations in the touchscreen GUI. There's little in the way of gesture recognition, even when there should be, and the onscreen keyboard - while perfectly decent - could really do with Apple's little key-zooming trick to make typing that little bit faster. Hopefully Archos can deal with these complaints in future firmware updates. Doing so would make the Archos 5 every bit as nice to use as it is to look at.
Of course, when you're watching movies the 'look at' bit is more important, and in this respect the Archos 5 is 90 per cent of the way towards being an excellent player. With good, well-encoded material it shines, the relatively high resolution and big screen meaning this is one mobile device you'd be happy to watch a whole movie on. The flipside of this is that it can show up the inadequacies of poorly encoded or low-resolution material, but you can hardly blame Archos for that.
MPEG-4 and WMV files up to DVD resolution are supported out of the box, but Archos has adopted a rather miserly policy regarding H.264, ASP, MPEG-2 and 720p WMV files; to play them you'll need to pony up 15 Euros each for the Cinema, HiDef Video and Video podcast software plug-ins, or pay 30 Euros for the lot.
Archos' defence is that users don't pay for codecs they don't need, but charging extra for what should be core functionality seems a little bit rich to us. At least format support is better on the audio side, with FLAC and OGG Vorbis added to MP3, WMA and WAV in a recent firmware update. It's still a shame, though, that you'll have to pay extra for an AAC and AAC+ in the event that you want to use those.