Archos 5 Internet Tablet Review

Nov 3, 2009 by

ARCHOS 5 Internet Tablet ambiance BD I’ve been checking Archos’ website frequently.  The company has been producing interesting portable media players (PMPs) for awhile now and until recently I’ve never had the opportunity to try one.  Recently the company announced that they would be releasing a series of devices aimed and bridging the gap between PMP and UMPC.  The first to do this is the Archos 5 Internet Tablet.  Archos was able to achieve this combination device by utilizing the Android OS.

Overview

Much like the iPod Touch, the Archos 5 provides access to all of your media: music, video and pictures.  Using the Android OS also turns the device into a full featured net tablet, albeit a small one.  Before we go any further we might as well take a look at the full spec sheet.

With a 4.3” TFT LCD Touch screen, the device is controlled completely through the screen.  No slide-out keyboard here.  The only buttons are the volume control and power button located on the top of the device.  The 5 also comes with several storage options.  The one I had a chance to use is the 32GB flash version so we’ll stick with that when talking about it.  Reviewing an item like the Archos 5 is hard for me due to the sheer number of things it wants to be for you.  Media player?  GPS?  Internet device?  Because of this, my review is going to follow exactly that pattern.  Because each function has it’s good and bad points, it’ll be easier to talk about each one separately.  First up though is the hardware.

Hardware

The first thing I noticed about the Archos 5 was its heft.  It’s not that it’s bulky or unwieldy, but more that I felt like it wouldn’t break if I set it down too hard.  While heft is the best word I could come up with above, the device is anything but bulky.  Even with a larger screen than most other PMPs, it easily fit in my back pocket.  It does take up a good bit of space in your hand but I certainly wouldn’t have any trouble keeping it on my belt if I wanted to walk around for the day.  Overall, it just felt substantial, something I actually like in this day of smaller/lighter is better.  The one comparison I can make is to the Zune.  The Archos 5 is certainly bigger and I liked it.  Particularly for video.  PMP starts with portable and it seems to me like Archos has struck a good balance between screen size and portability.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like in regards to hardware was the touch screen.  It seems to me to just not be as smooth as other touch screen devices I’ve used.  There were several occasions where I had to slide my finger two or three times to get the screen to slide.  That being said, overall navigation was easy.

The device does include b/g/n Wi-fi which makes browsing and apps that require the internet very quick.  I run a “g” network in my home so testing the “n” functionality wasn’t a possible.  But even at “g” speeds, websites load quickly and app updates happen fast.  I mention this under hardware because I had an interesting issue with the 5.  It seems that I had to turn off my WPA2 security in order to get the device to connect to my network.  It connected with security turned on, but couldn’t actually connect to anything.  No websites, no twitter, nothing.  As soon as WPA2 was turned off, the device worked flawlessly.  Something I hope Archos remedies with a firmware update as soon as possible.  I shouldn’t have to go without security on my home network to get devices to connect.

Software

The Archos 5 ships with the Google Android operation system.  This seems like a good choice for a media player as it allows the company to add applications without having to write their own OS.  It also seems like Archos has thought about what people use the internet for at this time and have pre-loaded some applications for buyers which will get them started right.  The web browser included is great.  Navigation, zooming, etc. are all extremely smooth and intuitive.  This was also the first place I had a chance to use the on screen keyboard.  Perfect.  Again, very responsive.  It took me some time to get used to but that has more to do with my inability to thumb type than anything that has to do with the Archos.  Shipped, the device also included a Twitter client, Facebook app (which basically loaded Facebook Mobile in the browser) and an IM client than handles multiple accounts and logins.  There’s also an email client included.  All of these apps, as well as the collection of those available from the Archos marketplace, makes for an enjoyable experience.  You’re not going to find the sheer number of apps that you’ll find in the iTunes Marketplace, but I didn’t find myself lacking basic internet functionality.

Another piece of software that Archos provided me was the N-Drive GPS software.  While the 5 did a great job hardware-wise with tracking my location, the software was a bit different.  I found it hard to navigate and general usage wasn’t as smooth as the Archos itself.  This isn’t really something to blame Archos for since it’s not their software but I do with they would have picked a better solution.  The GPS software isn’t included and will run you $39.95 to add the functionality.

Media

Using media (video, music and pictures) with the Archos 5 was a pleasant enough experience.  Again, to me, navigation is key and Archos ensures that it’s easy to find your media.  With dedicated media buttons on the home screen as well as an easy to navigate menu, you’ll be playing your favorite content in no time.

Out of the box, the Archos 5 supports:

MPEG-4 HD (up to 720p)
• MPEG-4
7
(ASP@L5 AVI, up to DVD resolution)
• H.264 HD (up to 720p)
• WMV (MP@ML, up to DVD resolution) including WMV protected files
• M-JPEG (Motion JPEG Video) in QVGA resolution
  • MPEG-4 HD (up to 720p)
  • MPEG-4 (ASP@L5 AVI, up to DVD resolution)
  • H.264 HD (up to 720p)
  • WMV (MP@ML, up to DVD resolution) including WMV protected files
  • M-JPEG (Motion JPEG Video) in QVGA resolution

If you want to add support for MPEG-2, WMV HD (720p) or VOB, it’ll run you an additional $20 or so.  Having to pay for codec support is a little cheap.  I think this is the first time I’ve heard of having to pay extra to unlock all of a device’s potential and it’s not something I’d want to have to do.

Video playback was good however.  The device handled both HD WMV files and AVI containers that I threw at it without a hitch.  The device did seem to have some trouble with the HD MKVs I tossed however.  These contained h.264 video at 720p resolution.  The ended up being choppy, laggy and provided an all around bad experience.  It’s my understanding that Archos has released a firmware update which is supposed to address this issue, but I hadn’t seen it by the time I sent the unit back.

Music was however, a seamless experience.  From selecting artists or tracks, to creating playlists, it was an all around easy and enjoyable task.  The supported formats are:

  • Stereo MP3 decoding @ 30-320 Kbits/s CBR & VBR, WMA, Protected WMA, WAV (PCM/ADPCM), AAC(except protected content), AAC+ stereo audio files, Flac and OGG Vorbis.
  • With optional software plug-ins (downloadable from your tablet or on www.archos.com):   AC3 stereo audio and 5.1 sound files (via SPDIF output of DVR Station )

There really isn’t much else to say about music playback except for one thing.  I wanted to try out the GPS software which was included with my review unit.  I brought the device along for a drive and put some music on, then entered the GPS software.  While my music indeed continued to play, I had no control.  In order to change tracks, fast forward or rewind, I was forced to exit the GPS.  Not exactly optimal while driving.  There really needs to be an audio control overlay at the bottom of the screen.  That or put the buttons to control skip on the unit as opposed to being on the screen at all.

The one glaring thing the Archos 5 did lack was any sort of sync software, instead opting to use Windows Media Player to handle sync.  While this is a good solution for owned content, it’s not optimal for podcasts and other episodic content.  The one thing I love about my Zune is that when I plug it in to update, all of the podcasts I listen to get updated as well.  With the Archos, I was forced to either add them manually through WMP, or use the included RSS reader.  While the RSS reader could be a good solution, I found that it streamed the content as opposed to downloading it which meant I had to have an wi-fi connection.  Again, not the best thing to use while driving.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, the Archos 5 is a nice little PMP that’ll handle a lot of other tasks for you.  The 5 will get you online, give you access to your music and other media as well as let you tweet, Facebook, or any other internet related activities you’re looking to take care of.  While the Android interface does have some “clunk” to it and just isn’t as smooth as other touch screen devices on the market, overall I was happy with my time with the 5.  All that being said however, the Archos 5 is currently selling for around $379 for the 32GB flash version.  When you compare that to the current generation of iPod Touch at $279, the differences get a little more glaring.  For that price you can get double your storage space and get access to sync software as well as a marketplace full of apps.  Taking all of that into account, Archos seems to have stopped short of creating a piece of hardware that will challenge or even put a dent in the iPod’s dominance.

The Archos 5 Internet Tablet in this review was provided by Archos as a review unit.  This unit was returned to Archos within the time requested.  Please see The DMZ policies and terms of service for more information.

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