Archos has been in the tablet game for a while now, and its latest 7-inch slate, the 70b, looks to challenge market leaders such as the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. Unlike Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's devices, the $179 70b accesses the Google Play store, giving users a wider selection of apps. The device also has a powerful set of speakers and a built-in kickstand. Is this tablet really a bargain?
Like other Archos tablets, the 70b is dark gray in color, with a black brushed metal bezel surrounding its 7-inch touch screen. The back is plastic. The 70b's two short sides are slightly curved, making the tablet more comfortable to hold in landscape, rather than portrait mode. The Archos' speakers are also located on either side of the display in landscape mode.
The 70b measures 7.9 x 4.5 x 0.46 inches, making it almost a half-inch taller than the Kindle Fire (7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches) and closer in line with the Nook Tablet (8.1 x 5 x 0.5 inches). The Archos 70b beats the competition in terms of weight, coming in at 11 ounces, a full 3 ounces lighter than the closest competitor, the Nook Tablet.
Keeping with a minimalist aesthetic, the only buttons on the Archos 70b are a power button and volume control resting on the right side of the device. They're poorly placed, though, as you have to remove your hand from the device in order to change the volume.
The other side of the 70b contains a mini HDMI port, a headphone jack, microUSB port and a microSD slot that supports cards up to 32GB. The only missing feature is a charging light to show when the battery is fully juiced.
A built-in kickstand helps the Archos 70b stand out against the competition. When opening the kickstand, it felt flimsy, but it supported the slate just fine. This feature is perfect for setting on a desk to watch a movie or YouTube video.
We also noticed that the 70b runs hot. Even while it was idling, the back left side, where you rest your hand, reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
The 70b's 7-inch screen has a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels, same as both the Fire and Nook. When we watched an HD YouTube trailer of "The Great Gatsby," all the bright lights and colors were vivid, sequins shined and 1920s New York City came to life.
However, like the Toshiba Excite 10 LE, the digitizer grid lines were noticeable, which proved distracting when watching something with a dark background. Viewing angles could be improved, too. While decent from side to side, when we tilted the 70b back, we saw the gridlines more than the trailer itself.
The Archos 70b scored 380 lux on our brightness test, better than the 354 category average but falling behind the Nook Tablet (392), Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (409) and the Kindle Fire (460).
The Archos 70B also has a 5-point multitouch screen. This is a unique feature that may make the Archos 70b more appealing than the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, both of which only support 2-point multitouch.
The Archos' two front-facing speakers are located on either side of the screen, and volume maxes out at a level high enough to fill a small room. The tablet pumped out Rhianna's "Where Have You Been" with enough bass to be present. The sound quality was tinny at higher volumes, although not significantly worse than other similarly priced tablets. There was a big difference between the highest volume setting and the second highest, which was frustrating when wanting something right in the middle of those two.
The biggest audio drawback arises when connecting the Archos 70b to an external monitor using the HDMI output. Outgoing audio is converted to a mono stream, rather than remaining stereo, so sound becomes flat when sent to the big screen.
The keyboard on the Archos 70b leaves a lot to be desired. When holding the device in landscape mode, we had to stretch our thumbs to reach the middle keys. Conversely, the keyboard in portrait mode feels cramped. We often found ourselves accidentally pushing the wrong keys.
There are a few different keyboards that are preinstalled on the Archos 70b: English (US), English Voice, OpenWnn (like an old telephone input) and Japanese. Unfortunately, the button to switch between keyboards is in an inconvenient place: right below the spacebar. Much to our frustration, we accidentally pushed this button when we typed, though it was more of an issue in portrait mode.
Software and User Interface
No Ice Cream Sandwich here. The Archos 70b runs Honeycomb, the previous generation of Android's operating system for tablets. There are five home screens that the user can fill with applications and widgets, customizing the device to suit their needs. There's no home or back buttons on the Archos 70b, so all navigation is handled on-screen. There's a bar on the bottom of the screen with a back button, home button, and a shortcut to navigate back to recently opened applications.
Unlike past Archos tablets, the 70b has full access to the Google Play app store, opening up an ecosystem of more than 450,000 apps. This is great news for anyone unhappy with, for example, the keyboard.
As a Google certified tablet, the Archos 70b comes preinstalled with Google's suite of mobile applications, including Google Play, Google Talk, Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Calendar.
The Archos 70b includes a few other applications preinstalled on the device. The first is a top-rated news aggregator called News Republic. Launching the app immediately puts you in touch the top news from around the world. It's a cinch to customize topics and news categories based on your interests.
Also included is Brief Me, which connects to Facebook and Twitter to bring you the latest news from your friends. We easily connected our Twitter and Facebook accounts and the app worked smoothly. It's a great way to see what news articles your friends are sharing and talking about.
When the 70b is connected to a TV, the Archos Remote app lets you control the tablet from your smartphone, which could be handy when, say, streaming a movie.
The Archos 70b is powered by a 1.2-GHz ARM Cortex A8 Processor and 512MB of RAM, which fall short of providing a seamless experience. The delay when switching between landscape mode and portrait mode was a mind-numbing 4 seconds. That's way too long.
This weakness became especially frustrating when put the device to sleep in one orientation and woke it in another. The swipe-to-unlock screen would freeze mid-swipe and then move to the other side of the screen. We also noticed a bit of lag when navigating between home screens, and we often saw a loading pinwheel when flipping through pages quickly on the Kindle app (although it was never a problem when reading at a normal pace).
On the Benchmark CPU test, the Archos 70b scored 1,857, well short of the category average (2,770), the Kindle Fire (3,069) and the Nook Tablet (3,057). Things weren't much better on the An3DBench, a graphics test. The Archos 70b scored 5,873 to the Amazon Fire's 7,006. The category average is 7,223.
There is 8GB of storage built into the Archos 70b, which can be expanded an extra 32GB with an optional microSD card.
Situated on the left side of the 70b is a 0.3-MP (VGA) webcam, which provided barely passable images when chatting with friends via Skype. The lower resolution of the webcam, as well as the performance limitations of the tablet itself, definitely showed. The video stream switched between mediocre and poor resolution throughout the video chat. The microphone, however, worked great, easily picking up our voice (as well as other voices in the area).
Also, the location of the camera means that you'll want to hold the 70b in portrait, rather than landscape mode, while chatting; otherwise, your face will be off center.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
On the LAPTOP battery test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the 70b lasted 5 hours and 43 minutes, 1:11 shorter than the category average. The battery on the Kindle Fire, in comparison, lasted 7:34, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 lasted an even longer 8:32.
In addition to the battery shortcomings, the internal Wi-Fi was unreliable. There were a few times where the device lost Wi-Fi signal, both at the office and at home, right in the middle of using an application. We tried to pinpoint a cause, but there seemed to be no actions on our part connecting the incidents. Navigating to the settings and switching the Wi-Fi off and back on solved the issue, but this was a major annoyance.
Amazon is currently selling the Archos 70b for $179 and, at this price, it seems tempting. However, there are a number of flaws that keep us from recommending this device. The most glaring deficiencies are the maddeningly sluggish accelerometer, mediocre screen and short battery life. At this price, your money is better spent on either the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, which are both available for just a few dollars more. Or wait for the rumored Asus Nexus tablet, which promises to pack Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 chip for $199.