In Touch with the Archos 5 Internet Tablet
An all-purpose portable media player welcomes Android apps.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet occupies the niche between smartphones and netbooks. Its 4.8-inch screen has an eye-pleasing resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, and it's a touchscreen to boot. The wide display is ample enough to view a high-res slide show, read The New York Times, or enjoy a video. Like its screen, the Tablet's capabilities fall somewhere between app phone and computer. Though it isn't a phone and it lacks a physical keyboard, the Archos Tablet offers a multitude of entertainment and information delivery functions that are all touch-controlled. The only real buttons are for power and volume.
The Tablet comes in three versions. I tested the one with 32 Gigabytes of flash memory. Two hard drive-based models (160- or 500GB) fill out the family, not counting the add-ons.
At its heart, the Tablet is a personal entertainment player/viewer/storage device. Multimedia content can be copied to the Tablet's internal memory, plugged in on a microSD card, streamed wirelessly from a computer on your home network, streamed or downloaded from the Internet, or – with an accessory – recorded from a video source component such as your cable TV box. If you follow Archos, you know that the company has delivered this variety of functionality on some of its previous media players.
So, what's new about the Archos 5 Internet Tablet? Most significantly, this is the first model from Archos to use Google's Android mobile technology platform. The Tablet's predecessor, the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet, was based on the company's proprietary software. Some Android Apps are included. Others can be downloaded for free or a fee. Among the included applications are eBuddy instant messaging, Twidroid for sending and receiving tweets, Craigsphone for posting or reading classified ads, Daily Motion for viewing and sharing videos, and Quickpedia, a version of Wikipedia. The Tablet now integrates a GPS receiver, Wi-Fi-N , Bluetooth and a Micro SD slot. There's still a one-time purchase of maps for GPS use.
The Android interface is simple to use. Apps are arranged on multiple screens, but at the bottom of the home screen is a choice of playing video, music, photos, or games, or switching to the Media Club. The latter provides access to free Web TV and radio streams as well as the ability to download paid content from Archos and its partners. When you tap video, music, or photos, dual icons appear, allowing you to retrieve the content from the Tablet's internal memory or your network.
If you call up photos from internal memory, holding a finger in place drills into the image with the touch point as bull's-eye. With the browser, you tap the screen to bring up a +/- icon and tap again to resize the view accordingly. This is not a multi-touch device, so don't be disappointed when you spread your fingers apart and nothing happens. Still, if I can do with one finger what it takes me two to do on an iPod Touch, which is really the more advanced device?
The Tablet integrates 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. At home I touched the Settings icon to find my network, which the device quickly did. I touched the Browser icon, and Google, the default home page, popped on screen. Web pages loaded quickly. The Tablet discovered my computer in another room and wirelessly let me access its stored photos, songs, and videos.
Bluetooth connectivity is included. So, if you carry a Bluetooth-enabled phone using a 3G-type carrier, you should be able to get on the Internet wirelessly when Wi-Fi isn't available. Bluetooth-enabled headphones and speakers are also supported.
The most retro thing about the Tablet is the inclusion of an FM radio. The earphones serve as the antenna. The tuner's performance at receiving stations in New York City was mediocre, but the Tablet does offer a couple of tricks not found in most radios. You can record the program to internal memory as a WAV file. Also, since the Tablet is capable of displaying text inserted in a broadcast, when I went back to play a song I'd heard earlier, the name of the band, Nickleback, appeared in my list of recordings, making it easy to locate "Never Gonna Be Alone."
When you attach the Tablet to your computer with the included USB cable, you're prompted to "mount" (meaning copy) files to the device's memory or to simply charge its lithium polymer battery. (Archos estimates video playback will last up to 7 hours and music up to 22 hours.) As with earlier Archos players, you use the Windows Media Player to manage files. Android hasn't usurped Windows on the desktop – yet.
Without a computer or Wi-Fi connection, it's not easy to add media to the Tablet. If you're in the field, you can't just attach your camera to the Tablet to transfer your pictures and videos. There's no slot for an SD card – only a microSD slot. You'd be stymied if you tried to plug in a flash memory stick or a camera usings its USB cable. All you'll find is the mini USB port meant for connecting the Tablet to a computer.
That's why I found the Archos 5 Battery Dock (above) to be an indispensible accessory with multiple uses. It sports a PC-type USB-A receptacle into which I plugged a flash drive containing scenes from my summer vacation in Bermuda. The mix of standard-def video taken on a Canon PowerShot camera and high-def video from a DXG camcorder looked enticing on the Tablet. With the Tablet attached to the Battery Dock and its AC adapter plugged into a wall outlet, charging is about twice as fast as a USB fill-up. More importantly, the dock embeds its own rechargeable battery. So, though the Tablet's own battery isn't removable, at least you can attach an extra battery. The Battery Dock contains S-Video, composite video, and stereo outputs – plus all the cables required – for connecting the Tablet to your TV. Alas, you'll need a different accessory to showcase photos in high resolution and videos in high definition on an HDTV set.
An accessory that contains HDMI and component video outputs – both types are high-def capable – is the Archos DVR Station (above). It plays videos up to 720p from the Tablet to your TV. But more than a TV display adapter, the DVR Station can capture video through its A/V inputs including component video for best quality. You can record programs live from your cable box or satellite receiver or copy them from your main DVR or another video device. Using the downloadable electronic program guide customized to your zip code and system operator, you'll be able to schedule timed recordings. So, if you can't stay up for Nightline, in the morning you can snap the Tablet out of the Station and take it with you on your commute.
At 6.4 ounces, my Archos Tablet weighs 2 ounces more than my iPod Touch– not a bad tradeoff for a nearly 5-inch display versus the iPod's 3.5-inch screen. Also, unlike my iPod, the Tablet comes with a built-in kickstand for hands-free use once you set your entertainment in motion. (Can you believe that I paid $29.95 for a plastic easel that's only function is to prop up my iPod?) One thing I don't like about the included earbuds is that the wire lengths don't match. Call me Mr. Monk, but I obsess over symmetry. An Archos spokesman couldn't explain why the imbalance, but he didn't disagree with my wife's theory that the longer bud is for sharing music with a friend.
Archos media players have always had Geek-appeal. Now, with the introduction of the Android-based Archos 5 Internet Tablet, the company may finally lay claim to being a smooth operator, too.