Advantages Stunning HD screen, Familiar interface
Disadvantages WiFi a bit unreliable, No access to FULL Android market
It is rare these days to find a product which still has something different to offer in the technology market. The area I am thinking of at the minute is that of the Portable Media Player or PMP. Now that mp3 players are redundant as standalone units we now look to devices which serve a myriad of functions but still more than fulfill the requirements of the original purpose. Essentially the market has only one choice that being the Apple iPod with it's massive popularity and cosmopolitan image. There are a few also rans perhaps most notably in Sony's rebranded Walkman and Creative's X-Fi PMP.As well as being an established and innovative computer brand Apple has been there from the birth of the mp3 player and played a pivotal role in it's genesis. These days mp3 players are generally referred to as 'iPods' as we naturally assume that is what people are using given their ubiquity. The release of Apple's iOS4 has seen the PMP in the headlines again and now offers more features on the iPod touch, the flagship model of the Apple range.
So are there really any true alternatives to Apple's dominance? Well several units spring to mind but not many offer the same level of useful interaction as the Touch.One company that does make a decent rival is Archos, a French computer engineering company founded in the late Eighties. They have a huge range of PMP's of which some of the recent had huge 500gb drives and large touchscreens. The problem with Archos is that it products tended to be expensive and use proprietary add ons which also had a premium. The expense did make them more exclusive but also the units were known to be weighty. That means big. What you want from a PMP are top spec features in a case of reasonable size and weight. Now Archos have learned a lesson a released something of equal style and beauty that also conforms to the requirement of a slim profile.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is available in 8, 16 and 32gb versions using flash memory for weight reduction, stability and speed. HDD versions are still available up to 500gb. The first thing you notice about the Archos 5 IT straight out of the box is the thin low profile the unit has despite still having a very large 4.8" touch screen. The native resolution of the TFT is 800*480 and looks truly stunning with a palette of 16 million colours and capable of playing HD video at 720p.Looking around the unit there are 2 docking ports and a MicroSDHC slot on the bottom edge, the left edge has a 3.5mm headphone socket and a proprietary usb slot and the top edge has a volume rocker and the on/off button. The front fascia has nothing other than the screen and a small speaker and the steel underside has a recessed stand arm. The stand actually looks like a stylus which would have been a useful (and cheap) inclusion.
So rightfully the Archos is dominated by the screen which is of the resistive variety. I have to say screen is a real treat coming pre-loaded with various app icons and shortcuts for various forms of media. The colour is faithfully represented with good clarity and very easy on the eye for long periods. Video playback is excellent and runs very smoothly in both standard and high definition. It plays MPEG4, WMV and MKV with WMV HD and VOB available as a download.Audio playback is very good also with the killer feature being the large number of codecs it natively supports which saves a great deal of time if you like to edit your collection. It supports mp3 up to 320kbps, WMA, WAV, AAC, OGG and FLAC. The bundled headphones are quite good but as with any audio product personal choice rules and invariably it is best to upgrade.
Like the iPod Touch WiFi is available at 802.11 b/g/n for speed and good bandwidth and it also supports Bluetooth. There is a FM radio receiver integrated and you can also transmit FM but this requires an add-on module.
The internet set up is very quick and easy to do requiring a quick scan and the entering of your WEP key or similar protocol code and it is then just a case of touching the appropriate icon to start browsing. The large screen makes web surfing an easy and comfortable experience though on some sites you will need to scroll around and use zoom features much as you would on any other device.
Of course having Android as an operating system makes available the Market for 50,000 plus apps. Except that it doesn't. The Archos uses an app called AppsLib which I assume means Apps Library? but from what I gather you need to use a third party app in tandem with a specific firmware version to get access to the 'proper' Android Market. The pre-loaded ones are okay though some don't actually do anything. It seems from scouring the net that Google didn't want the Archos 5 IT having full market access as it doesn't have a camera or compass.The Android OS has probably got you thinking of making calls on the Archos but that is not an option. You see the unit uses a mobile phone OS but it is NOT a mobile phone! It's a strange concept and not one I am sure truly works properly. Obviously you can connect to your mobile to use a 3G signal when out of WiFi range but calls over the 3G network are supported. I am left thinking 'What is the point?' but hopefully updates will make better use of downloadable content though I did expect it out of the box....
Inside there is a GPS unit which comes only as a 7 day full trial with the accompanying mapping DVD. The software is impressive with full 3D and street photography and maps covering Western Europe and the US. It seems that GPS is available to use on other apps so you are not required to make an expensive payment to use this facility. Again the problem is the lack of apps to make good use of this feature which Android does so well on mobile phones.The best of what is available in terms of pre-loaded apps are as follows:
ThinkFree allows the viewing of Microsoft Office documents and a later update will allow editing also.Twidroid is a client for sending and receiving tweets to Twitter and it is the officially supported version.
eBuddy allows IM instant messaging across multi platforms including AIM, Facebook chat and MySpace.Quickpedia is a scaled down Wiki which saves some text for fast recall for repeat searches.
There is a DVR docking station available which allows you to display your Android content on your HDTV and play media at 720p. This is a great feature but again yet another case of buying another add on. An alternative to this is to stream media from your PC to your Archos and don't forget that TV and Radio are also available as web content. Sadly the official Archos dock weighs in at a staggering £150 which is a lot considering it's an add-on. Yes it does a lot but do you really want to spend that much if you have already paid £180 for the 'base' model?My impressions:
In terms of media content the audio and video playback are both excellent and in this purpose the Archos excels. The screen is particularly good and a primary selling point. The internet experience is good but I often find the connection can be unreliable which detracts from the experience. In comparison my iPod Touch never loses it's connection.Thanks to a speedy ARM Cortex CPU running at 800mhz the whole interface is quite nippy but the major flaw is the crippled apps catalogue. Not having the full Android Market available by default is a major error and Archos should have worked harder on this point. Fingers crossed that a further update will fix this!
As a PMP the Archos is excellent but ultimately the features which are unavailable or even worse unreliable make this inferior to the iPod Touch. With some time spent configuring this device meticulously then perhaps it could equal Apples finest but it will never actually beat it. As a gadget lovers alternative it is certainly a viable option and you probably won't see many others about. Ultimately it is simply not as good as the market leader and that is sad as it has so much potential.Tech Spec:
Conclusion:Solid performer but not the best PMP on the market. The iPod Touch retains it's crown but this is still a worthy purchase.
Published on Dooyoo as Icetsunami - original work
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