What's hot: Android in a tablet form factor. Slim and attractive.
What's not: Slow, runs ancient Android 1.5, no Android Market, missing standard Google apps.
Reviewed August 5, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Tablets are a hot topic these days, particularly Android tablets. We reviewed the Archos 5 Internet Tablet running Android 1.6 in April 2010, and it was a pretty decent product. It was a bit thick and expensive, but it had its charms. The Archos 7 Home Tablet surprisingly runs an even older version of Android and is remarkably inexpensive at $199 for the 8 gig version. It has a 7" display, 8 gigs of flash storage, WiFi 802.11b/g and a microSD card slot. Sounds like a deal, right? Well, yes and no. You do get a large 800 x 480 pixel display but it's at times maddeningly insensitive and doesn't support multi-touch. There's no phone-- sure you wouldn't want to hold a 7" tablet to your head, but more importantly there's no 3G. It doesn't have Bluetooth, it doesn't have the Android Market and there's no camera. It has much less storage than the pricey Archos 5, but we do prefer the 7's flash-based storage since there are no disk drive heads to crash. The Archos 7 is available at online retailers but very few bricks and mortar stores. Expansys USA supplied our review unit, and they sell the tablet at a very reasonable price.
The Archos 7's display runs at the same resolution as Android superphones like the HTC EVO 4G and Motorola Droid X. It's a lot easier on the eyes at 7", and the display is bright and reasonably sharp. It looks good, though not jaw-dropping when playing video, and the built-in photo frame app does a capable job of standing in for a dedicated digital photo frame, with one caveat: viewing angles are very narrow. The display is resistive rather than multi-touch capacitive (there's no way you'd get that capacitive display on a device priced this low). It requires a hard press and at times multiple presses to make a selection. Menu scrolling can be tedious and there's no pinch zooming since there's no multi-touch. The tablet has a pop-out stand on the back that's great for movie watching and photo frame fun. All tablets should have this feature!
Build quality and fit and finish are good. The sides are gloss plastic and the device's design is very similar to the Archos 7 from 2009 that ran Archos' own Linux build. The back is a fingerprint nightmare (just like the old Archos) and it has a stippled metal finish. The back flexes, and we assume it's thin metal (think mylar) rather than plastic.
Since the Archos 7 aims to be affordable and slim (it is indeed very slim), the battery isn't user replaceable, and there are few hardware controls. Volume is controlled on-screen (odd for a media-centric device), and there's a micro USB port that supports USB host (though it's hard to find the required cable adapter to make use of it). You can transfer files to and from the Archos using the included USB cable, and charge the device using USB or the included charger. The Archos has a 3.5mm stereo jack and a set of earbuds are included.
The headphone port, charger port and micro USB port.
Here's our video review of the Archos 7 Home Tablet where we demo video playback, web browsing, photo viewing and more.
Archos is a company that knows multimedia since they've been making multimedia handhelds and tablets for years. Until recently, their media players ran Archos' own Linux build, and 2010 marked their entrance into the world of Android with the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. The Archos 5 and 7 Android tablets are still strong multimedia devices, though the bigger Archos 7 supports fewer video and audio formats than the 5 (again, the bargain price reduces the feature set). Notably missing are copy-protected WMA and WMV formats, and there's no 5.1 sound via SPDIF and no TV out or AV dock.
The player has stereo speakers that are adequate for short bouts of personal listening, but you'll want to use the included earbuds or your own headphones for truly good sound. The video player handled our test MPEG4 H.264, 800 x 480 test video encoded at 2Mpbs well, though we noticed occasional frame drops (watch our video review to see it in action). The music player looks good and supports album art, and it has organization for sorts by title, album and artist. We like the Archos 7 Home Tablet best when wearing its media player hat.
To load media you can mount the Home Tablet as a USB drive on Mac and Windows computers using the included cable, and copy media to the device. It automatically scans for new multimedia files each time you unmount it from your computer and when you power it up.
The microSD card slot and the power/hold slider switch.
Android and Internet
Things start to fall apart when we consider the Archos 7 as an Android tablet and Internet tool. It runs the very first release of Android: 1.5 Cupcake. Ancient. Archos makes no mention of an OS upgrade and we haven't seen any firmware updates at all for the product yet. This is vanilla Android, and you'll be at home if you've used an Android phone. You can put shortcuts and widgets on the desktop and use Google's excellent Webkit web browser. Alas, a slew of standard Google apps are missing. There are no PIM apps, no Google Maps (and no GPS), no YouTube player and no Gmail client though the standard POP3/IMAP client is on board. The Archos 7 seems to totally lack Google's blessings, and there's no Android Market. As with the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, you get Archos' AppsLib instead. It has only a fraction of the applications you'd find on the Android Market, and none of the tier one popular apps like Pandora, Google Maps or Flixster. There are quite a few apps in other languages (this is an international product and Archos is a French company), and alas, quite a few of the apps we downloaded from AppsLib didn't run well (if at all). AppsLib itself was unstable on our Archos, though the other built-in applications ran well.
As a web browsing tool, the Archos 7 is decent, and we like the large display that makes for readable text without zooming. There is no pinch and zoom, and the browser features are basic compared to recent smartphones running Android OS 2.1. The WiFi 802.11b/g didn't have stellar range, which is surprising for a device this large with plenty of room for an antenna. The Archos occasionally failed to reconnect to our network after it had been sleeping (toggling WiFi off then on remedied this). The Archos 7 couldn't play YouTube videos embedded in web pages, and even the YouTube mobile site's videos wouldn't play. Archos does list FLV (Flash video) as a supported format but we suspect FLV only works for Flash-based applications.
Archos doesn't disclose the capacity of the Lithium Ion battery used in the Archos 7, and it's not removable. Claimed battery life is 7 hours when playing video and music playback time of up to 42 hours. Those numbers were optimistic in our tests, though background applications and screen brightness can change those numbers. In our tests with brightness set to 50% and no apps running in the background, the Archos managed 4.5 hours of video playback when playing an MPEG4 video encoded at 2Mbps. Lower resolution and lower bitrate movies may hit the battery less, but why get a 7" video player only to play low res videos?
Archos includes a charger with the Home Tablet and you can charge via USB as well. The tablet has configurable sleep settings and you can completely power it off if you won't be using it for a day or more.
We'd love to adore the Archos 7 Home Tablet, we really would. A 7" Android tablet for $199? Wow. But so many concessions were made to achieve that low price, that we have a hard time recommending it unless you're on an extremely limited budget and just have to own an Android tablet. Otherwise, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, though more expensive, is a better choice, and likely more tablets will follow in the coming months. The Archos makes a decent video player and a mediocre photo frame thanks to extremely limited viewing angles. It's passable for web browsing, though data speeds seem oddly slow and of course there's no Flash (bye bye Hulu and YouTube). The fact that it's running the first ever release of Android, 1.5, doesn't help matters and there's no promise of an upgrade. Lastly, several staples of the Android platform are MIA: Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Gtalk.
OS and Software: Android 1.5 Cupcake. Archos video and music players, Archos photo frame app, and AppsLib (replacement for Android Market). Other apps include: Global Time, Daily Paper, eBuddy IM client, calculator, Files (rudimentary file manager) and sound recorder. No Google Maps, PIM applications or YouTube player. Has the Android email client but not the Gmail client.
Audio and Video formats: Video: MPEG4 up to 720p, H.264 MKV and AVI at 30fps, 2.5Mbps encoding. Audio formats: MP3 up to 320kbps, unprotected WMA, AAC, OGG and FLAC.
Audio: built-in speaker, 3.5mm stereo jack (stereo earbuds included). Has built-in mic and voice recorder.
Photo formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG and GIF.
Networking: WiFi 802.11b/g.
Ports: micro USB, microSD card slot.
Battery: Lithium Ion battery (not user replaceable) of unspecified rating. Claimed music playback time is up to 42 hours. Claimed video playback time is up to 7 hours. Can charge via USB or optional charger.
In the box: Archos 7, USB cable, stereo earbud headset, charger.