The Archos 5 doesn't falter in the area where many previous Archos PMPs have fallen: sound quality. Even through the supplied earbuds the sound is vibrant and well balanced, with a nice line in instrumental detail and some power in the bass and mid range. Plug in some replacement earphones, like the Denon set I use for reference, and the sound rounds out nicely.
The mix of drums, strummed guitar and peculiar elfin vocals from Sigur Ros' Gobbledigook has sounded better, as has the strident bass in the second song from the same album (you'll forgive me for not even trying to type it) but only on players from Sony, iRiver and Cowon. Classical music and jazz are handled with finesse, and the choppy beats of Radiohead's 15 Step had plenty of impact. If this were your main portable audio player you wouldn't have anything much to complain about in terms of the output.
That said, you might have a little moan about other things. Given the high specification and big screen of the Archos 5 a little bulk and weight are acceptable, and 250g is the price you have to pay. However, battery life isn't hugely impressive. Archos quotes 22 hours of music playback and 7 hours of video playback, and I'd put this a little on the optimistic side. My sample unit runs down after about 6 hours of mixed use, though that has included regular WiFi connections, which always drains cells. Personally, I don't think a daily recharge is a big issue for a device of this type, but if you're out on the road a lot without a charger (and note that one is not provided in the box) then you might want to consider something else.
All in all, the Archos 5 is very nearly a great product; a potential iPod Touch killer, if you will. You lose the wonders of multi-touch and the App store, trading off portability for a bigger picture, but you also get a higher capacity (between 60GB and 250GB depending on the model). Unfortunately, it's all the little niggles that have run through this review that - taken together - give me pause before boosting the scores and slapping on awards.
The touchscreen GUI isn't perfect, the need to pay for add-ons is irritating and what you gain from the big screen for browsing and email in, you lose in ease of use. What's more, the software seems a bit less reliable than I'd ideally like. I've had several freezes while working on this review, including one that could only be cured by a proper reset, not to mention intermittent problems with WiFi and USB connections. The most recent firmware fix didn't sort these teething troubles out entirely, but I have hopes that future releases will.
Come on Archos, you've got a great piece of hardware here. Just iron out the bugs, polish the interface and stop charging for those vital plug-ins, and you might just have a winner on your hands.
A beautiful piece of hardware let down by a range of minor issues. If Archos can sort these out then it will have a great big-screen alternative to the iPod touch.