You are getting nerdy…

A New Toy For The Trend Resistant

I was a latecomer to the Mp3 bandwagon. My first gizmo was a generation 2 iPod Nano, purchased for me in September of 2006. Even then, I didn’t wholeheartedly join the flock. What use had I for these newfangled video iPods? 4 gigs was plenty of space for my music, and I saw no reason to venture into the territory of those multimedia monstrosities.

More than a year later, my iPod was starting to show its age. Battery life was gradually getting shorter, and 4 gigs didn’t seem like that much to me anymore. It was around this time that a friend of mine introduced me to a little-known brand called Archos. I was immediately interested. Not only was this product cheaper by the pound than an Apple product, it was shiny. I immediately resolved to acquire one as soon as possible.

“As soon as possible” proved to be several months away. I am not renowned for my affluence, nor for my money managing skills. And so it wasn’t until I got my tax return for 2007 that I could get my hands on one of these shiny gizmos. Three hundred and some-odd dollars at Best Buy later (Best Buy jacks the price of the Archos for some reason), and the Archos 605 Wifi became mine two weeks ago.

Technologically speaking, this thing is pretty much a handheld computer. I got the 30 gig model, but the 605 goes up to 160. It still blows my mind that they can make a pocket sized device with a hard drive the size of my computer. It comes with all the bells and whistles, too. Music player, file storage, wifi, video player, browser….okay, most of the bells and whistles. Here’s my first complaint about the Archos, and really the only major one. After buying the device itself, I had to shell out another $50 for a video plug-in and web browser. It made the original price of the Archos seem deceptive. The added cost, however, wasn’t a deal breaker.

Price is a big selling point for the Archos, if one is comparing it against its most obvious competitor, the iPod Touch. Even after the above-mentioned software costs, my total cost for the 30 gig Archos was about $420 after tax, or $375 without tax. That’s only about $6 more than Best Buy charges for the 16 gig version of the iPod touch. To get an iPod with the same functions and hard drive space as my Archos you would need to spend $500 plus tax. By sacrificing brand-name appeal, I got nearly twice the bang for my buck. For a poor bastard like me, that’s a big deal.

Aesthetically speaking, the Archos isn’t going to make everyone happy. It’s big, about 4.5 x 3.5 inches, and it’s got some weight to it. The good news is that most of this surface area is taken up by the 4×3 inch screen. The downside is that it’s not that easy to carry around if you don’t have a bag or a jacket pocket to stick it in. This doesn’t bother me all that much, since I tend to wear a jacket no matter what the weather’s like, but some people might pass it up for a more conveniently sized device. The Archos’s design is very techno-traditional. Shiny silver metal and plastic in a shape that makes it look like a tiny television. I know I’m not the only one who finds the simple, substance over style approach appealing. With the Archos I feel like I’m holding an actual piece of technology, whereas the iPod feels like a slick, expensive toy.

Where it fails to beat the iPod is in the controls. Apple has something of a reputation for intuitive, easy to use control interfaces. The Archos doesn’t quite meet that standard. It’s easy enough to get used to the button layout, but the touch screen interface could be better. The touch screen controls are, in most cases, a bit on the small side. I might just be unaccustomed to the whole touch thing, but I found some of the buttons hard to select even with a stylus. When I have a choice between the touch screen and the buttons on the side of the device, I tend to go with the buttons.

This review takes an unexpected twist in the face of circumstance, as my Archos decided it was too beautiful for this world a couple of days ago. The operating system has gone kerfucken, and as a result I was granted an opportunity to give the company’s technical support and customer service a cursory evaluation. I chose the email route for tech support, and got a response in less than two hours. Not bad, but let’s see how many hoops they put me through. Rather than make me go through every possible combination of troubleshooting methods (which I had already tried), Tony the friendly tech support guy took the information I gave him and drew the obvious conclusion: my shiny gizmo had transmuted into a shiny brick. He immediately hooked me up with the necessary RMA information to get the thing repaired or replaced, as needed. All I need to do is find my way around the returning process (my two and a half years working for FedEx will prove helpful here), and probably pay for the return. Could be worse.

As I was going through this process, an unsettling thought occurred to me: what about the software I paid for? Will I still have that if the device needs to be replaced, or will they take the opportunity to fleece me out of another $50? Time to give customer service a call.

A relevant digression: I spent three years working at a customer service call center (See above, re: FedEx), and as such I am intimately familiar with the inner workings of that industry. In other words, I know exactly how bad customer service can be. Any time I have to call a customer service line, I brace for the worst. This time, my suffering was minimal. I was only on hold for maybe three minutes, and the gentleman who finally took my call didn’t give me any kind of runaround. If my device is repaired or replaced, any software I bought will be loaded onto the new/fixed product, and I should give them a call when I get it back just to make sure. I asked, he answered, no unnecessary bullshit.

To summarise, the Archos 605 is a better-than-decent product. It earns high marks for technology and price, but gets dinged for unnecessary extra costs and less-than-perfect interface. Aesthetically, you’ll either love it or hate it, but I love it, so it gets points there. Tech support and customer service are surprisingly good, based on first impression, but time will tell how that all works out. In the end, if you’re looking to buck the Apple trend, but still want a quality product, I would definitely recommend the Archos.

April 17, 2008 - Posted by | Technology


  1. Are we talking Canadian dollars or American dollars?

    Comment by Amy | April 22, 2008 | Reply

  2. This’ll be Canadian dollars, but that’s not going to make much difference if you’re shopping online.

    Comment by zenbomb | April 23, 2008 | Reply

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