Archos 5 Internet Tablet
At a Glance
Archos 5 Internet Tablet
This Android-powered tablet crams a ton of Internet and multimedia features into its slim frame, but it still needs some refinement.
Editor's Note: This product's rating was revised on September 16, 2010, to more accurately reflect the Archos 5's position in the market. Due to the launch of the Apple iPad earlier this year and the recent emergence of newer Android-based tablets, it is the opinion of PCWorld's editorial team that the revised rating is a fair assessment of the Archos 5's standing relative to similar products.
Though Archos has been cranking out innovative portable touchscreen media players for years, to consumers, its devices have scarcely managed to stand out from the crowd. One reason for that has been a lack of compelling software. But with the release of the Archos 5 Internet Tablet (a flash-drive, 8GB model is $250; a hard-drive, 160GB model is $430; prices are as of 11/2/09)--which sports Google's Android operating system for mobile devices--that limitation is disappearing.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is a revamp of its predecessor, the Archos 5, which was powered by Archos's somewhat confusing proprietary software. Encased in a 5.6-by-3.1-by-0.4-inch chassis, this sleek little tablet weighs in at a scant 6.4 ounces for the 32GB flash model and a slightly heftier 10 ounces for the 160GB and 500GB hard-drive models.
The new moniker "Internet Tablet" is handily earned by the Web-centric Android operating system, which includes a powerful Flash Lite browser. Be aware, however, that this is a mobile browser, so it will default to a Web site's mobile version if one is available. In addition to its browsing and media playback features, the Internet Tablet comes loaded with free apps for Twitter, IM, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and other online services.
The Android interface, which we've tested thoroughly in mobile phones like the Motorola Cliq, shines on the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. In the previous version of the Archos 5, PC World's Ginny Mies noted issues with its software interface, particularly its poor scrolling in menus. These problems don't afflict the Internet Tablet. In fact, Android proves highly responsive here, and the large (4.8 inches), 800-by-480-pixel display is well suited to navigating a wide variety of applications, from Web browsing to media playback.
As a media player, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is more than competent. HD video looks beautiful on the glossy screen, and the internal speaker makes for comfortable listening when viewing video content. For music, however, the built-in external speaker is less than stunning, so headphones are still a must. The on-screen controls make it easy to pause, rewind, or jump forward in a movie intuitively, without interrupting the entertainment experience.
The player supports 720p MPEG-4 HD video, as well as MPEG-48 AVI, H.264, WMV, MKV, and M-JPEG. You can also download a plug-in to support formats like MPEG-2, 720p WMV HD, and VOB straight from the device. For music playback, it includes native support for stereo MP3, WMA (including DRM-protected files), WAV, unprotected AAC, Ogg Vorbis, and Flac. A downloadable plug-in supports playback of stereo AC3 files.
You have multiple options for getting content onto the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. You can download videos, music, Web radio, and Web TV directly from the Archos Media Club store over the device's built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, or you can sync the unit to your Windows multimedia libraries with Windows Media Player 11 or higher. The Internet Tablet also works on Linux systems with Mass Storage Device support.
While the Internet Tablet includes a Bluetooth 2.0 module for synching to mobile phones, this feature will appeal to only a minority of users, and turning on Bluetooth will further degrade the device's battery life, which is listed at 22 hours for music and 7 hours for video under ideal conditions.
One of the Archos's most compelling features is its DVR capability, but using it requires a separate DVR kit that sells for $140. The kit allows the Archos 5 to record scheduled TV content, and you get a one-year subscription to the DVR program guide.
Another good option, the $50 Battery Docking Adapter, lets you play content from the Archos on your TV. It also includes a USB 2.0 connection for your PC, and can allow the player to serve as a USB host for cameras and other mobile devices. This comes in handy for quickly transferring photos onto the player.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet also houses built-in GPS, which is quickly becoming a must-have feature on high-end portable devices. Unfortunately, in my hands-on tests, the Archos 5 frequently failed to pinpoint my location with a useful degree of accuracy, even in its new pedestrian mode. GPS start-up time and satellite acquisition is sluggish, and generally placed me about a block away from my actual location, even in wide-open suburbs. The tracking is somewhat more functional when driving than on foot, as the faster movement and the fact that you're confined only to roads allows the software to make better decisions about where to place the tracking icon. But overall, I've had better navigation experiences from GPS-equipped smartphones than with this device. More troublingly, the GPS feature requires a subscription.
This requirement, along with the cost of some useful add-ons, may discourage some potential buyers. Nevertheless, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet remains an intriguing choice as a media player and mobile browsing device.