The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is a bit of a melting pot. Powered by Android, this portable-media-player-on-steroids takes features from devices across several categories and incorporates them into one gadget; it’s a mobile Internet device, mini game console, and GPS navigator. The Archos 5 (starting at $249, $379 as configured) doesn’t excel at the latter two tasks, and its app selection pales in comparison to Apple’s App Store, but it’s worth a look for those who want a big-screen PMP that can do a lot more.
The 5.6 x 3.1-inch Archos 5 fit comfortably in our hand. Bigger than a smart phone but smaller than most MIDs we’ve seen recently, the device sits in the Goldilocks zone: not too big, but not too small. At 0.4 inches thick, it feels a bit heavy for its size, yet weighs only 6.4 ounces. Holding it in landscape mode, we were able to reach all of the icons with just our thumbs. Holding it one-handed and in portrait mode also works, but it feels more natural to turn it lengthwise. You probably won’t squeeze this gadget into your jeans, but it fit nicely in a coat pocket.
Ports include a headphone jack and USB (for charging and connecting to a computer) on the left side of the device, and a microphone jack and microSD slot on the bottom edge. Here you’ll also find two accessory connector ports for the available docks and other add-ons. A much appreciated leg stand is accessible from the back of the device; pull it out to rest the Archos 5 on a stable surface at a good angle for video viewing.
Display and Audio
The beautiful 4.8-inch touchscreen display goes almost edge-to-edge, and has great horizontal and vertical viewing angles. We never encountered color distortion while watching video, though we did catch some reflection from overhead fluorescent lights while it was propped up with its kickstand. The screen isn’t too glossy, so glare isn’t as much of an issue as it was on the Microsoft Zune HD.
The Archos 5 touchscreen doesn’t show fingerprints as readily as the Zune HD, either. We did have to clean it from time to time, but smudges didn’t mar our viewing experience every time we swiped.
Thanks to its 800 x 480-pixel resolution, we were able to view many Web sites without having to scroll horizontally; apps and games have room for graphics and legible text, and touch elements were chunky enough to navigate with the pad of our finger. We were able to use the tablet as a decent eReader, too—the screen showed a good deal of text at a comfortable size, so that we didn’t have to turn the page too often.
Video looked great on the tablet’s display. While watching the 720p movie The Magic of Flight from the Windows Media HD Content Showcase, we were pleased with the smooth playback, bright, vibrant colors, and deep blacks. Standard definition video fared just as well, delivering smooth playback and good contrast in darker scenes.
Sound quality is good, but it didn’t blow us away. The Archos 5’s built-in speaker delivered loud, clear audio; when listening through earbuds, the distinct bass line in Superchick’s “One Girl Revolution” sounded a bit fuller than on the Zune HD and iPod nano.
Those familiar with Android phones will feel right at home on the Archos 5’s main screen. On the top left and right you’ll see the Home, Back, and Settings Menu buttons. Between them are various status icons: battery, GPS, notifications, time, and Wi-Fi. Multimedia icons line the bottom of the screen: Games, Media Club, Music, Photo, and Video. Featured apps, chosen by the user, take center stage with a tab on the right side for viewing all installed apps. Most apps keep the Back, Home, and Settings icons at the top of the screen; those that don’t at least provide a way to close the program.
Navigating the interface wasn’t always intuitive, and there were a few minor annoyances. In the browser address field, for example, we weren’t able to easily move the cursor among the letters to delete a mistake; we could only backspace over the last entered letters. Some icon taps don’t produce the expected visual cue that the device registered the input, causing us to tap again and produce undesired results. Once we became more familiar with the different apps and screens, that problem went away.
Tapping and swiping was almost effortless, as the Archos 5 responded quickly to our commands. We were impressed with the on-screen keyboard: individual keys were big enough for both the pad of our finger as well as the tip, allowing us to type as fast as we could on an iPhone with very few mistakes or repetitions.
Our configuration came with 32GB of internal flash memory; models with 8GB to 32GB of flash memory or mechanical hard drives from 160GB to 500GB are also available (and slightly thicker). The microSD slot can handle SDHC Cards. Depending on your needs and the size of your multimedia library, you can potentially carry all of your music, photos, and video in the palm of your hand. Pricing for the Archos 5 is as follows: 8GB ($249); 16GB ($299); 32GB ($379); 160GB ($399); 500GB ($499).
We like that the Archos 5’s Web browser automatically scales Web sites to fit on the screen. You can turn this off and use pinch and zoom gestures to find your optimal magnification if you encounter too many smushed pages.
Navigating with the browser took some getting used to; the Back button at the top of the screen is the only ever-present icon available. To access Stop, Reload, and the address bar (via the magnifying glass icon, which we first mistook for Search) we had to click the Settings button in the upper right of the screen. Once we got used to this, however, browsing was easy and seamless.
While the Archos 5 itself supports Flash Lite and Flash Videos, the Android browser does not, so while we could play Flash-based games on the device, we couldn’t stream movies from sites such as Hulu or YouTube.
It took less than 10 seconds to load Laptopmag.com and ESPN.com. Both CNN.com and NYTimes.com recognized the Archos as a mobile device and served up the appropriate version of their sites in about 5 seconds. When we switched the browser mode to Desktop Agent (under Settings) so it would read Web pages as a regular browser, both sites loaded in 11 seconds.
Apps and Android Market
The Archos 5 is preloaded with N-Drive GPS software and several Android apps, including Craigsphone, Deezer, Quickpedia, ThinkFree Mobile Office Suite, and twidroid. Users can add more apps through the AppsLib icon, which connects to the Android Market. The entire apps library is searchable, but not all of them will work with the tablet. AppsLib gives you the ability to filter listings and search results by Archos 5 compatibility. There are about 800 compatible apps available under the Free tab in AppsLib, arranged by category (paid apps aren’t available yet). Users can read comments on apps before installing them, and return to give their own rating from within AppsLib.
Installing new apps is as simple as it is on Android-based phones. Hit the Download icon, verify that the app can access certain services and data, and the Archos takes care of the rest. Click the Update tab to install the latest versions of your current apps.
We’re comforted that Archos claims to be adding about 20 apps daily, but the overall number is still small compared to the 10,000+ apps available on Android phones.
Multimedia and Games
Media mavens will appreciate the broad range of supported audio, photo, and video formats the Archos 5 can handle. It can play H.264 HD, M-JPEG, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 SD/HD, WMV (including protected) SD/HD, and VOB video; AAC (non-protected), AAC+, FLAC, MP3 (CBR and VBR), OGG Vorbis, WAV, and WMA (including protected) audio; and BMP, GIF, JPEG, and PNG photos. HD content up to 720p is also supported.
Users aren’t limited to the media stored internally: Streaming audio is available via the Deezer Android app, plus users can access Web Radio and Web TV channels through the Archos MediaClub.
MediaClub also gives access to downloadable movies, music, and TV shows right from the tablet. Users won’t need to connect to a computer to download purchased or rented media, though the option is available for PC owners. Right now MediaClub has only about 85 movies from Paramount. Through the service users will gain access to CinemaNow with a library of more than 5,000 movies, TV shows, and music videos.
The Archos 5 comes loaded with more than two dozen Flash and PlayinTV games, and more are available through the Android Market. None of the games that we tried took advantage of the built-in accelerometer, and were mainly simple Bejeweled-style puzzle games. We would have liked to see more complex games, given the size of the screen and the HD video properties. If mobile gaming is your thing, the iPod touch is a better choice.
The Archos 5 comes with a built-in GPS chip; in order to utilize it you’ll need the preloaded N-Drive GPS app. Once we opened it, N-Drive took between between 2 and 15 minutes to find a GPS signal, depending on the location. It was able to find a signal in about 5 minutes in midtown Manhattan on a cloudy day, but took up to 15 minutes while in a moving vehicle in Queens, NY. Once the signal was acquired, we had access to the points of interest database and turn-by-turn navigation (with or without voice prompts).
The main drawback of the GPS function is its inaccuracy. While driving up FDR Drive on the east side of Manhattan, the device read us as being in the middle of the East River, and consequently kept attempting to redirect us across each bridge we passed. When walking in midtown, the tablet placed us anywhere from half a block to three blocks away from our actual location.
The 6-million POI database was comprehensive enough to find a pizzeria and a drug store in our area. Though turn-by-turn isn’t very useful, even while walking—the device doesn’t pronounce street names.
A 7-day free trial of N-Drive is included; after that users must purchase the app from the Update tab in AppsLib for a one-time fee of $40. Based on our experience, we’d pass.
The Archos 5 has a wide array of available accessories to expand its functionality, particularly in the media arena. The Mini Dock ($30) allows for faster charging than the included USB cable provides, plus USB 2.0 transfers from flash drives, cameras, and other portable players, and lets you watch videos from the tablet on a television via composite or S-video output. The HDMI Dock offers hi-def output, replacing the S-video with an HDMI port. The Battery Dock ($50) adds extended life to the standard Mini Dock’s features.
You can use the tablet as a digital video recorder with the DVR Dock ($140), which includes RCA A/V, S-Video, and YPbPr in and out, plus HDMI and SPDIF out ports. With this dock you can not only schedule and record television shows, but also stream media from your PC and browse the Web on the TV. The less-robust DVR Snap-On ($80) will record media from analog sources (VCR, camcorder, etc.) and digitize it.
Connections, Battery Life and Heat
The 802.11b/g/n wireless radio showed two out of three bars when we were up to 50 feet away from our access point, which is good. The Archos 5 also comes with Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, and allows tethering to phones with data plans so you can get connectivity when you’re out of Wi-Fi range; an app assists users in connecting to the Internet via cell phone.
The rated battery life for music and video playback is up to 22 and 7 hours, respectively. That trails media players like the Zune HD (33 and 8.5 hours) and iPod touch (30 and 6 hours). Plus, with all of the available services and apps, the battery can sometimes drain very quickly. While using the tablet periodically to surf the Web, check Twitter, watch downloaded and streamed videos, and listen to music, we found that the tablet lasted around 4 hours with Wi-Fi turned on. This beats the Clarion MiND’s 1.5 hours, but still trails when compared to some other MIDs, like the Viliv S5 (6:49).
Like a smart phone, this tablet continues to search for connections, run apps, and access data even when the screen is off. When connected to Wi-Fi, apps such as twidroid and e-mail checked for updates every few minutes, even in suspend mode.
After 20 minutes of constant use, the Archos 5’s underside became very warm. The temperature measured between 90 and 100 degrees on the bottom left side of the device (near the USB port), which was uncomfortable.
We like the Archos 5 Internet Tablet’s wide array of features and the fact that you can access a growing array of Android apps. As a media device, it offers more screen size than its closest competitors, and a decent array of content options. However, we wouldn’t recommend this gadget as a GPS navigator or gaming device. If you’re willing to live with these drawbacks, the Archos 5’s excellent display, media playback, and surfing speed will satisfy.