While most Android tablets are still months away from launch, Archos is getting a jump on the competition with its Archos 7 Home Tablet, a low-cost device for family members to casually access news, weather, and other web content. At $199, this slate costs less than half the price of the Apple iPad. So what are you giving up? The Archos 7 doesn't support Flash, it lacks a webcam, and the Android Market is off limits. On the other hand, this device provides an inexpensive way to browse the web and check e-mail, and it supports a ton of media formats for playback. The kickstand is also a nice perk. Is the Archos 7 worth a look, or do you have to set your expectations too low?
The 8 x 4.2 x 0.5-inch Archos 7 is too big for a pocket, but certainly more compact than the iPad. The design is essentially the same as the Archos 7 Internet Tablet (7.5 x 4.3 x 0.6 inches), yet much lighter--13 ounces vs. 1.4 pounds, respectively. The Archos 7 has a similar profile to the 12.8-ounce Camangi WebStation, which measures 7.9 x 4.7 x 0.6 inches.
Two small speakers flank the 7-inch screen, while headphone, power, and micro-USB ports line the right edge. On top there's a power/screen lock switch and a microSD Card slot. Unfortunately, the Archos 7 Home Tablet doesn't include a docking port like the Archos 5. Though this tablet has a larger screen, we would still like the option of connecting it to a television or using it as a DVR as we could with the Archos 5 tablet or even the Archos 7 Media Player. Archos did keep the built-in kickstand, which props up the Home Tablet at a good angle for watching videos.
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Unlike most Android phones, the Home Tablet doesn't have physical Home, Menu, or Back buttons. Instead, these appear as on-screen options.
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For a handheld device, the Home Tablet got very hot on the bottom. Even with just the browser open and idle, the back right of the slate reached 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
Display and Audio
Like its predecessor, the Archos 7 has a resistive touchscreen, but this time the company went with a matte display. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the screen look somewhat muted and dull. We were also disappointed that the 7-inch screen only has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels--the same as the Archos 5. At this resolution, the browser couldn't fit all of Laptopmag.com on the screen without zooming out, though this wasn't a problem with all websites.
Click to enlargeHorizontal viewing angles were very wide; three people sitting side by side could view the Home Tablet without noticing color distortion. Vertical angles were a little narrow, but we were able to sit with the tablet in our lap or set it on a table and still see the screen without any issues. A 720p video of "Big Buck Bunny" played smoothly on the tablet when there were no other apps running in the background. Once we'd opened four or five others, the motion wasn't so smooth.
The small speakers on the Archos 7 delivered a surprising amount of volume. At 75 percent, we could hear audio clearly even with a loud air conditioner going at full blast in the room. We noticed some distortion when we upped the volume to 100 percent. While listening to Sarah Solovay's "Gone" we noted that audio was on the tinny side, but adjusting the equalizer settings improved the quality a little. The distinctive bass line in Superchick's "One Girl Revolution" wasn't booming, but it was still present and fairly strong.
Touchscreen and User Interface
The resistive touchscreen wasn't as responsive as we'd like. It didn't register taps about 25 percent of the time, and scrolling wasn't always smooth; sometimes the screen stopped responding to our finger partway through a motion. We like touchscreens that react to both finger pads and fingernails, but using the tip of our finger wasn't very effective on the Home Tablet; we ended up using our fingernails for almost everything. If the Home Tablet came with a stylus, this wouldn't be as frustrating.
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The Android 1.5 interface is almost completely unchanged from what we saw on the Archos 5, though the company no longer includes the Media Club for finding and viewing new content. The standard non-phone Android apps are all here--browser, e-mail, gallery, video player, and more--and Archos also preloads the Aldiko eBook reader, Daily Paper, Deezer streaming audio player, and eBuddy IM service. There are no maps apps nor multitouch support.
Users familiar with Android phones will have no trouble finding their way around the Home Tablet. One major difference is that the Home, Back, and Menu buttons are only found on-screen. Most apps keep these buttons ever-present, but since the screen isn't always responsive, neither are these buttons. When the slate freezes--which it did once while we tested it--the only option is to restart.
Aside from the touchscreen issues, the Archos 7 Home Tablet was a bit faster than the 7-inch Camangi WebStation. Still, it's no speed demon. While typing on-screen we couldn't go as fast as we normally would because the keyboard was about half a second behind us (if not a little more). As mentioned previously, video playback suffered when there were too many apps running, and apps took longer to load than we're used to.
The Home Tablet is only offered with 8GB of flash memory. However, the microSD slot will read cards up to 32GB.
Apps and the Android Market
Since the Archos 7 Home Tablet isn't a phone, it can't access Google's Android Market and its 50,000-plus library of apps. However, Archos is trying to make up for this with its AppsLib market. While it's grown to more than 1,500 apps--up from 800 when we reviewed the Archos 5--it's still missing most of the programs consumers use. The ten most popular free apps in the Android Market--such as Facebook, Pandora, and the Weather Channel--aren't in AppsLib, and neither are any of our top 20 favorites. There are ways to install these apps without AppsLib, but most consumers won't want to jump through these hoops.
Sadly, the Home Tablet's browser does not support Flash, so that means no Hulu (of course, the iPad suffers from this same issue). Since there's no standalone app, say goodbye to YouTube. Also, PlayinTV is also omitted on the Archos 7. Games are available via AppsLib, though none appear to be Flash-based. The lack of Archos Media Club wasn't a shock--the company discontinued the service a few months ago--but this leaves users to fend for themselves when searching for new content. And there are no options for streaming video or television.
Thankfully, Archos preloads several codecs not included with Android by default, so users can play a wider range of video formats out of the box: AVI, FLV, H.264, MKV, MOV, and MP4. Users can also listen to AAC, APE, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV3, and WMA (non protected), along with viewing BMP, GIF, and JPEG images.
Wi-Fi and Web Browsing
The 802.11b/g wireless radio wasn't very strong at about 50 feet from our router, and it dropped the connection every now and then at this distance. But at 15 feet from the router we saw 2 out of 3 bars most of the time. At 15 feet it took the browser 19 seconds to load Laptopmag.com, 6 seconds to load m.CNN.com, 3 seconds to load m.ESPN.com, and 4 seconds to load m.NPR.org. Though this is a little slower than the Archos 5, the difference isn't significant.
The stock Android browser on the Archos 7 doesn't make it easy for you to enter new addresses. You must first click an option at the top of the screen and then hit Go to bring up the address bar; other Android devices let you just tap the top of the display and start typing. Worse, towards the end of our testing the browser starting crashing, forcing us to close the app every time we attempted to open a new page. A factory reset fixed the issue.
Though the Archos 7 is rated to last up to 42 hours when playing music and up to 7 hours when playing video, our anecdotal experience was quite different. Even when idling with the screen off, the tablet didn't last more than 7 hours. That's pretty reasonable given that the device is designed to be used around the house.
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The $199 Archos 7 Home Tablet is not a case of "you get what you pay for." That's because we'd expect even a cheap Android-powered slate to recognize our touch input most of the time and to offer a larger selection of apps. Yes, this device has a bigger screen than the smaller and pricier Archos 5, and it's a decent media player (if you bring your own content). But the finicky display, sluggish performance, and dearth of apps add up to lackluster experience. Some will be tempted by the low cost of entry, but we say save your money for the iPad or wait for more compelling Android tablets to hit the market.