For movie watching those are obvious. This is about as big a screen as you can handle in two hands and it fits the supra-DVD 800 x 480 resolution perfectly. The image is bright, crisp and generally magnificent, the display handling rapid movement and vivid colours without any sign of ghosting or smearing. With a 600MHz ARM Cortex processor, a 32-bit DSP and 128MB of SDRAM, slowdown and poor frame rates are no problem, provided files are properly encoded. Normally, I’d watch a DVD rip of a blockbuster film like Iron Man on a mobile device with the feeling that I wasn’t even getting 50 per cent of the experience, let alone something approaching mobile home cinema. With the Archos 7, I can forget about the limitations of the screen and just enjoy the film. Decently encoded movies are a must, and if I was feeling really picky I might say that the black level response could be better – darker scenes lose detail and some impact – but this is still hugely impressive stuff. With a decent set of headphones the sound is equally immersive, with a nice, wide soundstage and power and clarity to spare. Admittedly the output from the built-in speakers is too tinny to be of much use, especially when you pump up the volume, but at least this gives you options if you want to share a film or TV programme with others. Nor do you have to worry about the batteries running out before the movie ends; Archos quotes a ten hour battery life, and we achieved a little under nine in tests.
There’s more good news if you just want to relax and listen to music – the Archos 7 will handle your audio files in style. As with the Archos 5, the bundled earbuds aren’t actually that bad, but if you want to get the best from playback then you’re still advised to plug in some replacement ‘phones. Do so, and you’ll get a clean, warm tone with plenty of detail that can handle complex classical music, stripped-back fifties Jazz or thumping, bass-heavy pop with equal aplomb. From the sweet, high violin of Ralph Vaughan William’s ‘The Lark Ascending’ to the tense, rock-hard beats of Justin Timberlake’s ‘What Goes Around, Comes Around’ and through the ragged-edged guitar and vocals of Kings of Leon’s ‘Revelry’ the Archos 7 sounds superb. Only a handful of players I reviewed last year could better it. The quality of the output is backed up by strong format support. On an HDD-based player with a 160GB hard disk there’s room for the odd uncompressed FLAC file, while OGG Vorbis support is always popular with those who have adopted the excellent MP3 alternative. iTunes users should beware, however, that AAC playback demands an optional £12 plug-in.