What's not: Bulky, missing Google Maps and Google YouTube player.
Reviewed April 20, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Let's face it, the iPhone and iPod Touch have decimated the PMP market. Apple owns the majority stake in portable video and music players, and companies like Archos, who've been at it a long time, have been marginalized. That's a shame because they've made some truly excellent portable video and audio players with TV recording-- take the last generation Archos 5 and Archos 7 models. The latest version Archos 5 suffers from naming confusion; both the last and current generation Archos 5 models are called the Archos 5. Archos has tacked on "internet tablet" after the new Android-based Archos 5 to give a subtle hint and to reposition the device as an Internet tool. The last Archos 5 had a pretty decent web browser and WiFi too, but the new model runs on Android, one of the most Internet-centric mobile operating systems on the planet.
That's great, right? Everyone is hot for Android and our addiction to all things Internet seems insatiable. The Archos 5 delivers Android OS 1.6 Donut, though it's lamentably out of date since the first 2.1 OS smartphone, the Nexus One, shipped at the beginning of January 2010. Pretty much everything you can do with an Android phone, you can do with the Archos except make calls. And the 4.8" resistive touch screen is much more appropriate for watching videos and viewing web pages than on the Nexus One and Motorola Droid's 3.7" capacitive displays running at the same resolution.
The bad part? If you're familiar with Archos, you know that they generally release a pretty cool, cutting edge PMP at a nice price. They do this by nickel and diming you-- want plugins to watch certain popular video formats? You gotta pay. Want to record TV or charge the player via AC rather than USB? You gotta buy the accessories. Well, the same is true of the new Android version. You must buy hardware accessories to record TV, charge via the wall instead of your computer and get higher quality TV out (the proprietary ports are at least the same as last generation Archos players). The software plugin situation at first looks a little better; sure you have to register the device to use the H.264 MPEG4 playback feature, web TV and web radio, but you don't have to pay money for those. However, Archos has excised the standard Google Maps application because they want you to pay for the GPS navigation service they're pre-installed in its place. And the Google YouTube player is nowhere to be found. Though we haven't found an Archos replacement yet, we assume they'll be selling a Flash plugin since there's a placeholder for Flash games. If there are two apps you shouldn't mess with when delivering an Android device, it's our beloved Google Maps and YouTube player.
The Archos 5 has a pop-out stand on the back.
Unfortunately, the Archos 5 isn't bargain priced either. Our 160 gig hard disk model sells for $399. You might not find it for sale in many US stores since Apple products dominate retail floors and Archos, a French company, gets less and less retail presence here. We got our Archos 5 review unit from eXpansys USA; they're a reputable online retailer of smartphones and other cool gadgets and they have a strong European presence, putting them closer to Archos HQ.
The two connectors on the left are Archos' proprietary connections for the DVR station, and there's a micro USB port for file transfer and sync on the side.
There's plenty to like about the Archos 5 though, especially the top notch video player and large display that beat the 1GHz Snapdragon Nexus One, HTC Droid Incredible and even the HTC HD2 with its huge (by phone standards) 4.3" display. We tested the same high quality 800 x 480 MPEG4 H.264 video with stereo audio on each device, and only the Archos maintained audio sync throughout the flick. The HTC HD2 could only keep audio in sync when we installed the 3rd party CorePlayer Mobile application. Part of the video prowess comes from the impressive ARM Cortex-A8 CPU with a 430MHz companion DSP, but the rest is good software engineering. Archos knows their video, it's been their bread and butter for years. Beyond performance, the 5" display makes for a much more enjoyable video playback experience than a 3.7" display. Our only complaint? The Archos uses a resistive touch screen and that means you'll have to press harder and hold more firmly when scrolling lists. But overall, the display responds well to touch.
The sealed metal back loves fingerprints.
The Archos 5 supports a good range of formats including MPEG4, H.264, WMV including DRM protected WMV, MKV and Motion JPEG files. MPEG2 and WMV HD comes via optional plugins you must purchase separately. Audio support is also strong with MP3 up to 320kbps, AAC, AAC+, WMA including DRM protected WMA files, OGG and FLAC. You'll have to pay extra for AC3 stereo and 5.1 audio output (through the $139.99 optional DVR Station).
As with older Archos players, there's a Dailymotion video player, an Internet radio player and web TV player. The web TV player has a mostly boring selection of channels from around the world including the "Kelp Cam" from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, CSPAN and public service broadcasts. The last gen player had a more interesting list of channels. The Internet radio player has a good selection of stations and we found the audio quality was good.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. We compare it with a variety of other devices and show video playback and more.
Android and Software
As noted, Android 1.6 powers the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, and though there's no Android Market, Archos has included their own AppsLib that works much the same as the Android Market. You can download a large selection of Android apps (the same as you'd see on your Android phone), plus Archos' own recommended software. But not all Android apps are there-- notably missing are Google Maps and the YouTube player. However, popular Twitter clients, Facebook, Office viewers and plenty of others are there. If you're an Android fan, the Archos is definitely fun. If you just want an Internet and media player that won't get boring with stale software, the Archos has a great deal of appeal.
Unlike prior Archos devices, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is quite thick.
Our unit tended to crash with alarming frequency but the folks at Archos are always cranking out new firmware versions. In 10 days we got two firmware updates and the Archos 5 became fairly stable. For those who like to develop software or hack Linux distros onto devices, the Archos is designed to comply with available special developer edition software and Angstrom Linux for dual boot.
Most standard Android settings are here, though the wipe to factory state option isn't. When we needed to clear out the Archos we read the manual to discover you instead must hold the volume up and power buttons to get to a maintenance screen if you want to check the drive's file structure or wipe it clean. If you do wipe it clean, everything goes! There's no booting into the OS and no using the device until you download and install firmware again. Yeegads.
The web browser and email client are Google's standard Android fare. They work as well as on any other non-multi-touch Android phone, though there's no mobile YouTube integration in the browser. Twidroid is included and it's a good Twitter apps and there are Android social networking apps to keep those most popular of you happy. The on-screen keyboard is large and easy to use.
The consumer electronics market is brutal and the trend is toward apps and ease of use. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet has the apps part down, but ease of use isn't quite there compared to the brain dead easy iPod Touch and iPhone. It's not that Android is hard to use; in fact it's easy and more customizable than Apple's products. But the initial instability with earlier release firmware versions, manual media syncing if you're an iTunes rather than Windows Media person and difficulty involved in resetting the device back to the factory state can be daunting for the plug n' play crowd. And with products like the Dell mini 5 Android tablet looming, the competition is only getting stronger.
The hardware is solid and the Archos 5 is a good looking, though very thick tablet. It's too thick for a pocket and despite the clean modern design, looks dated because of its thickness. We prefer the metallic, slim last gen Archos 5 and 7 for looks. Both old and new generations are fingerprint magnets, so keep the included cleaning cloth handy. The display is very sharp and has good color, though we know some of you will be turned off by the resistive rather than capacitive display. Audio quality through headphones is excellent and both movies and music sound better than on smartphones and the iPod Touch. But the pricey Archos 5 Internet Tablet lacks the special sauce or alternative low pricing to captivate us.
Price: $399 for the 160 gig model, other capacities available at a variety of prices
Display: 4.8" resistive touch screen, 800 x 480 resolution.
Performance: 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU with companion 430MHz DSP. 256 megs RAM. Flash drive models: 8 to 32 gig (also has a microSD card slot). Hard drive models 160 to 500 gigs.
OS and Software: Android 1.6 Donut. Archos video and music players, AppsLib (replacement for Android Market), Dailymotion player, Twidroid, Quickpedia, Craigsphone, GPS management and navigation and all standard Android applications except YouTube, Android Market and Google Maps.
Audio and Video formats: Video: MPEG4, MPEG4 HD up to 720p, H.264 (must register to use this codec), WMV including DRM protected WMV files, MKV and Motion JPEG. Optional downloadable plugins for WMV HD and MPEG2. Audio formats: MP3 up to 320kbps, WMA, protected WMA, AAC, AAC+, OGG and FLAC. Optional downloadable plugins for AC3 stereo and 5.1 sound that's output via SPDIF on the optional DVR Station. Supports streaming Dailymotion video, Web TV stations and Internet Radio.
Audio: built-in speaker, 3.5mm stereo jack (stereo earbuds included). Has built-in mic and voice recorder. Has FM radio and an FM transmitter.
Photo formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG and GIF.
Networking: WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR with A2DP, ARCP, HID and DUN profiles.
Ports: micro USB, Archos proprietary connectors.
Battery: Lithium Ion battery (not user replaceable) of unspecified rating. Claimed music playback time is up to 22 hours. Claimed video playback time is up to 7 hours. Can charge via USB or optional charger.
In the box: Archos 5, USB cable, stereo earbud headset, DVR Station adaptor and cleaning cloth.