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Netbooks/Mini-laptops

Archos 7 review

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The Archos 7 Home Tablet is an inexpensive Android tablet meant for people who want to access (not create) media like video, audio, images, email and web content, but don't have high performance expectations. Aided by the easy-to-use Android 1.5 operating system, I found that the Archos 7 performed these tasks relatively well, but I had trouble navigating to, and controlling, these applications using the device's touchscreen.

The Archos 7 is the big brother to the earlier Archos 5, and while the screen is bigger, I could find little else to call an improvement over the earlier device. The Archos 7 still has the same 480-by-800 screen resolution, and the user interface looks and feels very similar to the earlier device. Connectivity is Wi-Fi only (802.11 b/g), as before. You must still rely on the limited Archos AppsLib market instead of the bigger Android Market to get new apps for the device.

Vitals

Bigger than a smartphone and smaller than a laptop, the Archos 7 is 8 inches wide, 4.2 inches tall, and 0.5 inch thick. It weighs 13.7 ounces (the Kindle is 10.2 ounces, the iPad is 24 ounces). The screen is 7 inches wide. On top of the device, you'll find the power switch and the micro SD card slot. The headphone jack, power connector, and USB port are located on the right-side edge (if you're facing the screen). On the back, you'll find the handy kickstand, for when you want to prop the Archos 7 up on a surface.

Questionable Battery Life

Archos says the device will play video continuously for 7 hours before the battery runs out. I became very skeptical of Archos's claim after I noted that a fully-charged battery became 30 percent depleted after watching video for about an hour. I'm also skeptical of the company's claim that the device can play music for 42 hours on one charge.

I also noticed that the Archos 7 had become surprisingly hot after that hour of watching video. This could be an issue with the battery, and could ultimately be harmless. But if I had just unboxed the device, it might be cause enough to worry about the longevity of my investment.

Media Playback Not Terrible

The 720p video I watched on the device didn't jump off the screen at me, but I found it watchable. As I viewed the animated video that comes preloaded on the device, the colors looked rich, and I could detect some dimensionality in the picture. On the other hand, the regular (not animated) 720p video I watched seemed a bit dull, and didn't have the sharpness and clarity I expect from true high definition video. The Archos 7 won't bring you a rich cinematic experience, but may work just fine if you are mainly interested in the content itself, not the quality of the content.

The audio amplifier in the device is a little better than expected. The quality of the audio I heard in the headphones wasn't stellar, but I heard sufficient bass and treble tones at sufficient volume to keep me listening. The external speakers (situated on either side of the touchscreen) were loud enough, but sounded small and plasticky, maybe okay for dialogue but not for music.

The widescreen on the Archos 7 proved good for looking at web content, especially news. I was able to see five of six of the columns at the New York Times Website. The text wasn't the sharpest I've ever seen, but it was readable. The full size images I saw at the New York Times displayed surprisingly well, with rich colors and decent image sharpness.

Transferring files onto the Archos 7 was straightforward. You just plug the supplied USB cable into your computer, then use Windows Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac) to move files into the folders of your choice on the Archos 7. The device supports a fairly impressive array of media file types. Video files supported include AVI, FLV, H.264, MKV, MOV, and MP4. You can listen to AAC, APE, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV3 and WMA (non protected) in the audio player. As for images, BMP, GIF and JPEG images are supported.

It's a good thing transfers are that simple because the USB cable would be your lifeline for getting music or video onto the device, not the web. The Archos does not support Flash, so no YouTube and no Hulu. The Archos 7 has 8 gigabytes of onboard memory, and has a micro SDHC slot if you need more space.

Touchscreen Trouble

While the Archos 7 performed its core tasks reasonably well, the unresponsiveness and sluggishness of the device's touchscreen made it tough for me navigate to those apps, and to control them once I got there. The device has no Home, Menu or Back buttons, so you're stuck with the touchscreen for navigation.

When I touched a button, the screen did not register my touch in a surprisingly high percentage of pushes, and there is no capacitive touch that causes a small buzz on the screen to acknowledge your touch. It was necessary to press the buttons slowly and forthrightly, and I found myself needing to repeat touches far too often. This made typing on the onscreen keyboard difficult. So searching, composing email, or even just entering usernames and passwords became a bit of a headache.

Archos 7

The Archos 7's touchscreen does not allow multitouch gestures (like pulling two fingers together on the screen to zoom in). So while reading the news or looking at maps, I had to use the onscreen buttons in the browser to zoom in and out. My fingers encountered a lot of friction and drag when I slid them across the touchscreen, making it hard to reposition the media I was looking at.

When swiping my finger across the screen to move a slider, I had some trouble grabbing the slider, or having done that, I had trouble holding onto it long enough to get it to where I needed it to go on the screen. This was especially bad in the video app, when trying to drag the handle of the progress bar in the video controls. I succeeded in moving it in about one of ten tries.

Apps Limitations

The Archos 7 comes preloaded with the Aldiko eBook reader, the Daily Paper news aggregator, the Deezer web radio client and the eBuddy IM client. The bad news is that you can't hit the Android Market for new apps. You have to get them (some free, some for-pay) at the Archos-created AppsLib store. After browsing the store, I saw a lot of apps, but no popular ones like Pandora or Facebook. Visit the AppsLib market page and the Android Market page to compare for yourself.

The Archos 7 comes with a USB cable and a power cable with various adapters and headphones. It's available at either Archos.com or Amazon.



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