The Financial Times love Archos 7 HT
C’est rare mais c’est bon !
If there was ever any doubt about whether there was a market for a multimedia tablet, the announcement earlier this week that Apple had sold more than 2m iPads in its first two months on sale would seem to have settled the argument.
The iPad’s success should also have been good news for the raft of competing tablets, many of which were unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. But only a few of these rivals have actually made it to market.
I have been testing one of them – the Archos 7 Home Tablet – for the past week. Paris-based Archos has actually been producing multimedia tablets that have been well-received, especially in Europe, for years. But as has happened before (with the iPod and the iPhone)Apple’s entry into a market tends to redefine it and establish its device as a benchmark against which others are judged.
So how does the Google Android-powered and WiFi enabled Archos device, which went on sale in Europe last month for €149 (£129 in the UK) and in the US this week for $199, stack up against its illustrious rival? Is it a worthy challenger or just a poor man’s substitute?
The most immediately noticeable differences between the iPad and the Archos are size, shape, weight and feel. The Archos 7 is the shape of a business envelope and measures 0.5 inches thick but is altogether much smaller and lighter than the iPad – it weighs 13.7 ounces compared with the iPad’s 1.5lb. The Archos 7 is also a lot cheaper than the iPad (which costs from $499, £429 and €479).
Its matt-black metallic case is sleek and elegant, although lacks the rock solid feel of the iPad’s aluminium enclosure. I also found the slide power-on switch on the top edge of the device small, sharp and rather uncomfortable to operate.
A small circular opening on the front right side of the screen bezel looks like it is designed for a video camera but is filled in with a bit of black plastic – a pity because that would have been another advantage over the iPad.
That said, it does come with one feature that the iPad should have: a foldaway kickstand that can be swung out from the back to keep the device upright while watching video clips or movies.
Archos 7 Home Tablet
Pros: Low price, convenient size, lightweight, good battery life, runs Android OS.
Cons: Older-style touchscreen, limited apps for download.
The device also does some things that the iPad cannot – for example, it can run Flash-based video clips, its 8Gb (Gigabyte) of internal flash memory storage can be expanded by up to 32Gb using a plug-in Micro SD card and it comes with a USB port that can be used to easily import files from a PC.
As its name implies, the Archos 7 is built round a seven-inch touchscreen and is designed to be held horizontally in both hands using your thumbs for typing on the on-screen virtual keyboard. While the 800×400 pixel screen is both bright and clear, one of my main complaints is that the older (and lower-cost) resistive technology it uses is not as responsive as that of the iPad and most current smartphones.
Once I calibrated the screen (by taping on X’s that pop up during the initial set-up) it worked well, but anyone who has become familiar with most smartphones will share my disappointment with it. While it would certainly have increased the cost of the device to use better screen technology, most consumers would be happy to pay the extra.
Pros: Sleek design, very well-made, great touchscreen, access to wide range of apps for download.
Cons: Relatively pricey and heavy, does not support Flash video or multitasking.
Dell Mini 5 (The Streak)
Pros: Pocket-sized Android tablet/smartphone, 5Mp digital camera plus front-facing camera for videoconferencing.
Cons: Bit big for a phone and too small for an e-reader. Expensive without a phone contract.
Curiously, the Archos 7 also lacks an accelerometer that would flip the screen from the standard landscape mode to portrait mode. This is a pity because the Archos 7 is actually a rather good e-book reader. Fortunately some apps including the pre-loaded Aldiko e-reader default to portrait mode without needing an accelerometer.
The widescreen format is, of course, ideal for watching movies and, as you might expect from a company with a rich multimedia player heritage, the Archos 7 excels at video and music playback. Despite their tiny size, the two mini-speakers flanking the display pump out good volume and movie playback is smooth and bright. Users can download new content using the Archos 7’s built-in WiFi networking technology or over a USB cable from a desktop machine. In video playback mode I got about seven hours out of the battery between charges.
Archos chose to build the Home Tablet round a relatively modest 600MHz (Megahertz) ARM 9 processor and 128MB of Ram rather than the faster 1Ghz Snapdragon processors found in the latest smartphones and the Dell Mini 5 tablet, or the custom A4 processor found in the iPad. But the only time I really noticed any lack of power was when I opened multiple applications at the same time – something that the iPad cannot do at present anyway.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, however, is that the Archos device does not have access to the full range of downloadable apps found in Google’s Android Market. Google restricts access to the 50,000 apps hosted by the marketplace to “approved” devices and the Archos 7 does not meet the required specifications for approval.
So Archos has created its own AppsLib store containing apps that have been written or adapted to work specifically on the Archos 7. At present there are only 1,000 apps in the AppsLib although Archos promises to add more by the end of the month.
The Archos 7 does ship with a handful of basic apps including audio and video players, photo viewer and e-mail. But many of my favourite Android apps including YouTube, Facebook and Gmail are missing. On the other hand, the Archos 7’s web browser is reasonably fast and loads pages quickly over a WiFi connection.
Overall, the Archos 7 Home Tablet is good value for money, but a handful of niggles and technology missteps mean that at least for the moment, it remains an also-ran in the tablet stakes