If I were Microsoft, I would politely ask Archos not to sell the Archos 9. This tablet doesn’t just make its creator look bad, it makes Windows 7 look like it doesn’t belong on touch-enabled PCs. Sure, this $549, 8.9-inch tablet has some features the iPad lacks, such as Flash support, a built-in camera, and a USB port. But its resistive touchscreen is frustrating to use (at least without the flimsy stylus); the device runs hot; and it’s slow—like takes-a-few-seconds-to-pull-up-the-volume-controls slow. Archos recently upgraded the processor on its slate, but that’s not nearly enough to rescue this dud.
The Archos 9 really isn’t that bad before you turn it on. The 1.8-pound device has a sturdy feel yet measures only 0.7 inches thick. Surrounding the display is an attractive brushed metal bezel, and around back you’ll find the stylus slot and a convenient kick stand—a nice touch for when you want to watch online videos or surf the web without holding the device.
On the left front side of the Archos 9 you’ll find a 1.3-megapixel camera, a shortcut button (Ctrl + Alt + Delete by default), and a button to launch Archos’ on-screen keyboard. The left and right buttons are stacked on top of one another beneath these controls. The left side houses the power button and a tiny optical mouse that we found to be sluggish and finicky.
The outer left edge of the Archos 9 has a single USB port and microphone and headphone jacks, while the right edge has a switch for replacing the battery. Rounding out the design is an expansion port for the optional port replicator on the bottom.
Touch Display and Software
This is where things take a turn for the worse. Because the 8.9-inch, 1024 x 600 display uses a resistive panel instead of capacitive, it doesn’t support multitouch gestures (like pinch to zoom). That’s why this tablet runs Windows 7 Starter Edition instead of the more touch-friendly Premium version. Worse, the LCD was woefully inaccurate when registering our finger taps, even after we calibrated the screen. For example, without the stylus it was too difficult to minimize programs. Surfing the web was also an exercise in frustration. Your first instinct is to scroll pages as you would on an iPhone by swiping your finger, but all that does is select text on the page. Instead, we had to use the scroll bar (which is more stylus- than finger-friendly) or resort to the optical mouse (which defeats the purpose of a touchscreen).
Typing was another disheartening experience. Although Archos includes a dedicated button to launch a full-screen keyboard, it had trouble keeping up with our fingers. As a result, we had to type much more slowly and deliberately than we wanted. Plus, the keyboard doesn’t automatically pop up when you click on a text field. You have to manually open and close it when you’re done typing.
Looking for touch-friendly software? Look elsewhere. The Configure Utility is pretty much it. Other bundled software was underwhelming. The only mildly interesting app is vTuner, which we used to stream alternative radio through the Archos 9’s decent twin speakers. It also streams TV, but local-access programs are not our idea of entertainment. You also got Lotus Symphony, but you’ll definitely need to attach a USB keyboard to use the Archos 9 as a productivity device.
Good thing the Archos 9 has a kickstand. After streaming Hulu for 15 minutes at full screen on the Archos 9, the device registered a disturbing 122 degrees on its backside toward the left—where you would hold it. The right back area was a more reasonable 91 degrees.
Do you like watching spinning circles? Then you’re going to love using the Archos 9. We didn’t need to see the lowly PCMark Vantage score of 729—about half that of the typical netbook—to know that the 1.2-GHz Intel Atom Z515 processor and measly 1GB of RAM wouldn’t be able to keep up with Windows 7 Starter. There was noticeable lag when opening and closing applications, and moving around web pages was sluggish. The Archos 9 particularly struggled on Flash sites like Hulu. Playback was decent once episodes started (not at full screen), but moving up and down the page with anything going on in the background brought things almost to a halt.
The 4,200-rpm, 60GB hard drive on the Archos 9 represents yet another bottleneck. Its transfer time of 6.7 MBps is nearly a full 10 MBps behind the netbook category average, and the 1:20 boot time is 20 seconds slower than the average netbook. To be fair, this device is a tablet and not a netbook, but if Apple can supply faster solid state memory for $50 less on the iPad, then users should expect snappier performance for more money elsewhere.
Surprisingly, the Archos 9 handled Skype video calls fairly well, and we could easily make out the other caller. They said we sounded good and that colors were accurate, but that the picture was dark and muddy.
Battery Life and Wireless
Although the Archos 9 is highly mobile, it doesn’t last very long on a charge. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), the tablet mustered only 4 hours and 1 minute of runtime. That’s 1:42 less than the typical netbook and a full 6 hours behind what the Apple iPad promises. At least the lithium polymer battery is removable.
The 802.11g Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter inside the Archos 9 delivered respectable throughput of 19.7 Mbps and 14 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet away from our router, respectively. Web pages loaded fairly quickly; for example, we loaded a New York Times article in under 6 seconds. At one point, however, the wireless adapter just stopped working.
The Archos 9 isn’t really a tablet. It’s just a cheaper version of an ultra-mobile PC, a category that died long ago. If you like the idea of owning a tablet that supports Flash and takes advantage of Windows 7’s touch capabilities, wait for the HP Slate. We know you—and Archos—can do better than this.