I love tablets. I used a Windows Tablet PC for years and have been chomping at the bit for the Apple tablet. The iPhone and iPod touch have been and are awesome, but I have been longing for something a bit larger. When the Archos 5 Internet Tablet with Android came along, I thought it just might be the ticket. Here was a slick slate tablet with a 4.8“ touchscreen with 800*480 resolution. The 32GB model is just thin and light and… it runs Android. I bit.
It is an impressive device. But is it a “keeper”?
The device came, and it was immediately impressive. It is as thin and light as I expected, but it is also well built and solid. It feels good in the hand, and has a built-in kickstand. Nice! Starting it up the first time, I was more than impressed by the screen. The quality was good, the colors vivid and, by comparison, the iPod touch screen looked small and soft. Web pages render quickly and look great. Reading the NYTimes on it is fantastic. The onscreen keyboard,while not as good as the iPhone or iPod touch’s is certainly usable and, over time, I am getting better and better with it.
One of the aspects of the device that I really don’t like, that is apparently is a mainstay of the company, is that the actual purchase price of the Archos 5 isn’t really the end of the story. It’s much more expensive than that. If you want to use its advertised high definition capability, you need to spend an additional $40 to get the plug in. If you want to use the DVR capabilities that Archos is so proud to advertise, you need to spend about $140 for the DVR dock. That means that this sub-$400 device is more like $550 or $580. That’s rather expensive for a 5 inch android device with just 32 GB of storage.
I’m also not a huge fan of the current lack of access to the Android Market. Many of the best apps aren’t available on the Archos 5. This includes the entire suite of Google apps. Thankfully there are a number of workarounds available that provide access to some apps that are otherwise off-limits, but the lack of full integration, and the reliance on Archos for new apps is a major concern and limitation.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the device overall. I love the large big, bright screen. I love the fact that it allows me to access the Android platform without having to have yet another phone. I like how slim it is and how good it feels in the hand. I like the way the screen rotation works quickly, yet somehow limits accidental rotations just because you made a little tiny movement. But the device is rather quirky. I’m used to using an iPhone which is remarkably stable. The various Android phones I have used have been, too. That isn’t the case with this device. It has a tendency to lock up and has a problem with opening YouTube videos which is something it is supposed to do with ease. If you have issues with the Android Market not having the wide variety of applications available for the iPhone, you are going to be even more disappointed here, since you can’t access the Android Market directly and the company’s own app store is quite limited. There are some workarounds, a few different pathways to access applications that you might otherwise not have, but those are just that, workarounds.
In addition, if you have used any of the Android devices coming from HTC you’re also going to be disappointed. When using the Archos device you’ll realize how amazing HTC’s SenseUI is. By comparison, this device has only three screens rather than the six or seven and a small number of available widgets. I would love to see HTC get their hands on this form-factor!
Here are the real points of comparison and competition for this device…
First up is a comparison with the iPod touch.
Both this and the iPod touch are Internet tablets. Since both devices are good for web browsing and for media, it seems to make a lot of sense to compare the two. In addition, since neither device has a built in 3G connection and both rely on WiFi only, it is a logical comparison to make. (It makes no sense to compare this device to the iPhone or to any of the android phones since they are used for different purposes.)
The iPod touch is easy to use one-handed; in addition, it is fully pocketable. Advantage iPod Touch.
On the other hand, if you want a big beautiful screen that is great for browsing and reading, the Archos is a dream. In fact, after using the Archos for a bit, going back to the iPod touch’s screen was a bit of a challenge. Advantage Archos.
Since the Archos 5 is running Android, it is able to continually monitor applications such as Twitter in the background. Advantage Archos.
Unfortunately only the iPod touch has multi-touch. It’s a function that I didn’t think I would really be interested in, but I really miss on any device that doesn’t have it now. Advantage iPod touch.
If you like apps, with over 100,000 apps in the iTunes App Store, the iPod touch is awesome. The number of Android apps that are available is much, much smaller. But that’s not the worst of it, since the selection for the Archos 5 is even worse than it first appears. While the Android Market is far smaller than the iTunes App Store, only a subset of the applications available for Android devices are available for this particular device. As a result “small selection” becomes “even smaller selection”. Advantage iPod touch.
So which device is better? It depends on how you’re planning to use the device. If you want a gaming device or something you can keep with you all the time, then the iPod touch is the clear choice. If you want something that makes web browsing simple and can also carry media and movies, then the Archos 5 might be the better choice.
There is, however, another comparison to make.
That is, the Archos 5 needs to go head-to-head with netbooks too.
While it might seem an odd comparison to make since the Archos is so much smaller than a netbook and doesn’t have a physical keyboard, it is actually a worthwhile one that really needs to be made. Why? Because while the hardware is lightyears apart, the actual use scenarios are not. Both types of device are made more for consuming information than actually creating it. Both devices are intended for surfing the net while sitting on the couch or lying in bed. Both devices are good for light work but not for heavy-duty graphics.
The netbook is going to be more powerful and (for now) is going to have a far greater selection of available applications whether it is running Windows or Linux. On the other hand, the Archos doesn’t get too warm, is far smaller and therefore easier to carry and it is also easier to hold and use while lying on a couch or in bed. It seems unlikely that any normal person would have both a netbook and this device, so a choice needs to be made. So which is the better choice? If you are in the market for a netbook and plan on using it to surf the web, to check your e-mail to check twitter and Facebook and update your status, then this might be a far better choice. It’s light, easy to carry, and it easily fits in a large pocket. Try that with any of the netbooks available today. Yes, it gets a little bit warm when you’re using it for an extended period but it is nothing compared to the netbooks I have used. It’s easy to hold, and there’s no fatigue if you’re holding it for an extended period of time. And you can hold it with one hand if need be — something you can’t do with the net book. So if you are looking to consume Internet information, do some light work and value being able to ALWAYS have the device available, the Archos might be great.
If, however, you’re looking for something that is far more powerful and that has far more flexibility, then you’ll probably want to pick up a netbook. It is a good device, and if you are in the market for a netbook it is worth a look at prior to making your purchase.
Two days later…
So what do I think of this device? Over all I’m rather impressed. It seems great in the hand, it looks good, and for those functions that work well it excels. At the same time, the lack of true access to the Android Market, combined with a significant degree of bugginess in the device — which prompts restarts and freezes — creates a user experience that feels just a little bit rough around the edges and not fully ready for prime time.
After using it for one day I was ready to return the device. I decided to give it a second chance, and as I’ve played with it a little bit more and found ways to work around the lack of some applications, it’s grown on me. At this point I may give myself a few more days to decide if it stays or goes but if I had to make a decision at this moment I think I would likely be keeping it.
END PART 1
The day after I got the Internet tablet. I was ready to return it. I contacted Amazon.com and made the arrangements. A few hours later I decided that I would give it one last chance. After all, I really liked the hardware. I liked the 5 inch screen. And I really enjoy using the Android platform.
I took a second look and… it started to grow on me. Using Twitter on the device was quite nice. I found a good RSS reader that syncs with Google Reader. It too was quite good. The difference between the 5 inch screen on this device and the far smaller screen on the iPhone and iPod touch cannot be fully described in words. It makes a tremendous difference. Seriously, this was the best RSS reading experience EVER.
Then I began running into problems.
I found the device locking up on occasion. A few times it simply crashed and needed to be rebooted. The worst, however, was YouTube. No matter what I tried every time I went to play a YouTube video the device locked up and needed to be rebooted. The only way to get it working again in fact was to reboot the thing.
I formatted the device and reinstalled the firmware. That didn’t help. I tried formatting it again and once again found that, yes you guessed it, it didn’t work.
I thought it might help if I were to buy the HD plug-in for the device. $40 for a plug-in to get basic functionality that should have been included. That is just ridiculous, but I thought I would give it a try.
Making the purchase of the plug-in was difficult in itself. I had to use the device, then go to the e-mail confirmation, and then put in more information, and then download the plug-in, and then added to the device once it was connected to my computer. As much as I may complain these days about Apple — they do a superb job of making a seamless and easy process of updating and adding various things. Also, when you buy an Apple product you get the product. There are no hidden fees to get full functionality. You simply get what you buy. Not here. Annoying!
I got the plug-in loaded. I went back and added one of the demo videos that came on my Windows 7 netbook. It was gorgeous. Maybe things were working out with this device after all.
I moved a movie over to the handheld device. Did you play? Yes it did. But the sound was out of sync with the video. I tried reinstalling it, and the movie was out of sync once again. And this is a video device?
Then I went to try YouTube once again. I went to the website for YouTube, selected one of Larry’s videos, and waited for it to play. It began to process the video and then — it locked up once again the way it had been doing from the beginning. At long last I got some help thanks to a call Judie put out on Twitter. Taxman45 told me about an app you need to watch YouTube on the Archos device. Funny, but Archos’ site doesn’t mention it. So I loaded the app and… YouTube videos started to play. Great! Right? Nope! The videos looked terrible and the sound was completely out of sync… on every single video I tried.
I’m done. I’ve had it. The excellent form factor of the device isn’t nearly enough to make me want to keep this thing. Seriously. I don’t want to have to work this hard to get basic ADVERTISED functionality.
If it’s already giving me headaches. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in a few months. I will end up spending close to $400 on the device, plus another $40 for the plug-in, plus another $140 if I want the DVR functionality and I will have something that suits in the door because you never works quite right.
I will certainly buy the first 5 inch tablet that’s running android and actually works. But this one — this isn’t it.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet 32GB is available from Archos and other retailers.
MSRP: Currently available from Amazon for $379.99.
(Plus, the DVR Station has an MSRP of $139.99 and is available from directly Archos, plus the HD Plugin for $39.99)
What I Like: thin, light, well made, great screen, runs Android apps on a 4.8″ screen,auto-rotate function works great
What Needs improvement: Archos’ piece-meal pricing practice is not only annoying but makes the device much more expensive than it originally appears, buggy and crash-filled, basic functionality not available out of the box, no access to Andros Market, the inability to play YouTube videos out of the box without a plugin, and to play them improperly with it
Update added by Judie 11/10/09: And now it seems that Dan’s Archos YouTube woes are anyone with an Archos’ YouTube woes. Just posted by Mike Cane on his site The eBook Test -
Yesterday I tried to help someone with that very problem. I mistakenly — as it now turns out — concluded the Archos unit he had was defective.
It never, ever entered my mind that YouTube — owned by Google, which created Android! — changed something on its end.
Maybe now Dan can stop answering questions about whether he updated to the latest firmware or whether his unit was defective. It’s evidently YouTube’s fault … or maybe after the latest firmware update the Archos does something differently that doesn’t play together well with YouTube. It will be interesting to see if this is a permanent issue or not.