Archos 5 Android Internet Tablet: First Impressions

When bored and having nothing to do, what do I do? Go to Best Buy of course. I went Saturday to pick up an Archos 5 Android Tablet. I was prepared to return it within 14 days and I just didn’t believe a tablet PC would deliver the user experience I need. I don’t think it’s going back.

I bought the $299 16 GB solid state version. After recently losing a laptop Hard Disk Drive while flying (knuckle headed security person dropped my laptop bag from about 2 feet throwing it on the belt to re-screen it), I don’t know that I would get a HDD for such a portable and pocketable device. If truly carrying it with yourself like a cell phone, you might be asking for troubles later getting a HDD. 16 GB running on Linux is fine for me. Linux unlike windows can have full memory capacity and run just fine. There is an expansion micro SD card slot as well on the 16GB and 32GB models. With a 16 GB micro SD card (32 GB cards due out soon) that gives 32 GB total. That is plenty of storage for my intended use. For example, I put the last Die Hard movie on the Archos 5 and that was just over 2GB.

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It truly is pocketable because it’s thin. The Archos5 is roughly the thickness of a G1 keyboard. The larger HDD versions, actually add considerable thickness to the device, all most doubling its thickness. They didn’t have one out at Best Buy for comparison. My sense is that it would no longer be pocketable in jeans. This version fit in my jeans pocket, albeit comfortably snug. Definitely works with slacks and other types of pockets. The Archos 5 has an overall great feel and build quality. It also sports one of the best kick stands I have seen on any device for table top viewing. Some devices are finger print magnets. This device must be a finger print “magnifier”. The clear plastic accent pieces that surround the screen and cover the back, show fingerprints terribly, even more so than the high gloss black plastic. I hate to use the word sexy to describe a device. My female neighbor, I kid you not, upon first look at the device exclaimed, “That’s sexy.”

It runs an Archos version of Android. This is significant for several reasons. There is no Google integration. None, nada, zip, zero, nunca. The only integration you get is going into your Google account in the very nice webkit browser. I didn’t have any issues because the browser is nice with nearly 5″ of screen, but if you are a fan of the Google Android OS apps like Gmail, Gtalk, or Calendar, be warned. This also represents one of my largest issues with the Archos 5. They have their own app market, AppsLib. Now I understand that this is needed because the regular versions of apps from the Google Android market are not formatted to run properly on a tablet. However, this translates to issues for the user. For instance, Archos 5 comes preinstalled with Twidroid. Great! I love Twidroid. In fact, I love it so much, I bought the Pro version in the Android Market. The lack of Google integration means that that app is not available to me in the  ARCHOS 5 AndAppStore and even if it was, AndAppStore does not recognize previously purchased apps. Meaning that the user must repurchase any pay apps he or she wants on the Archos 5.

The Archos 5 Android OS is based on Android 1.5. So you get all the foibles of this version of Android. For instance, Archos 5 has a terrible email app that can’t delete trash. As with early Android, these issues can be overcome with apps from the market, like K-9 mail. Although it’s maddening by how terrible the native AppsLib and alternative store AndAppStore is. AppsLib was completely unusable and AndAppStore is challenging to use. In their defense, they have just begun to develop this system and my Archos 5 did have an update as soon it was powered on. So they are continuing to develop their OS and app store. The ARM Cortex-A8 processor in the Archos 5 should sound familiar. It is the same type of processor found in the Verizon Droid and iPhone. It pushes the OS along very nicely indeed with an additional 32 bit DSP @ 430 MHz processor.

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The Archos 5 does have HD support, meaning it can render video at 720p. The screen is large, bright, and clear. Archos have created their own Archos 5 Media Center app that plays videos very well indeed. This was a downfall of Android and Archos has addressed the issue nicely. The resistive screen takes some getting used to. I think I have been spoiled by excellent capacitive screens on HTC and Motorola devices. However, after some get-to-know-me time, it’s very usable. Only one caveat, in the four corners of the screen, you must use some force to actuate the screen. Most likely because the resistive screen is supported on two sides near these points.     The use of this device is totally un-Smartphone like. The amount of real estate on the* *4.8″ screen renders full web pages and makes using the browser a joy. The screen size also allows for an excellent virtual keyboard experience. The key sizes in both portrait and landscape are excellent and my pudgy digits make very few mistakes. In fact, I can type so fast that the lack of multi-touch is noticeably slowing me down. There is no comparison that is valid to any Smartphone touch screen on the market just because of sheer size. In this case, size does matter.

One of my all time biggest pet peeves is purchasing expensive items and then being forced to purchase additional items. The Archos 5 does not come with an AC adapter for wall charging. It comes with a USB to proprietary mini USB for charging. I really do see this as an alternative to my Netbook. However, you are still tied to a computer out of the box. Not to mention that a quick search revealed $50 for a battery docking station from Amazon. No small chunk of change. If I keep the Archos, I would most certainly want an AC adapter for that additional freedom. However, it is interesting to note that battery time is excellent. I banged away on the Archos 5 for almost 11 and a half hours before I had to charge it. I don’t know of any situation that I would be using the Archos 5 that hardcore for that long. Maybe the next time I would go across the pond, but even that is about 9 and a half hours. On the downside, it does take roughly 7 to 8 hours to fully charge. However, charging times would improve with an AC adapter.

As this is just first impressions, there are still things I have yet to do with the Archos 5. It comes with a 7 day trial of a turn by turn 3D GPS. Will it work going 70 mph down the highway and not miss an exit? I haven’t attached the Archos 5 to my DVR or Flat Screen yet via HDMI. I will get into more detail later. It is interesting to note that the Archos 5 does have a microphone and speaker, making VoIP totally possible. In fact it’s been noted by others that you can. I just can’t seem to find the app that makes this a reality. Lending more proof of the challenges users face with the AndAppStore. I took Chicago Sun-Times writer Andy Ihnatko’s advice regarding the Archos app store. On A Fox News tech segment, he basically said it was much easier to Google search for Archos 5 apps and download them from developers pages, than to work with the Archos 5’s app store. He is very correct on this point.

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Can I do everything on the Archos 5 that I purchased my Netbook for? The answer is a resounding yes. I can message, use social media, email, and keep track of news feeds. When I first heard of Android being used on a netbook in a traditional computing sense, I was and am undecided as to how well that would translate to a quality user experience. Android on the Archos 5 tablet PC has opened my eyes and made a compelling argument for Android running on another platform besides cellular phones, in fact, a compelling argument for the entire concept of the tablet PC. I really do believe after my short time with the Archos 5, that some Netbook buyers would be perfectly happy with a Tablet PC alternative.

The ongoing joke this weekend with my neighbor was that my Netbook was using its power chord to make a noose for the Archos 5. Reality is that normally I will take my netbook upstairs to bed and wind down for the night doing some messaging or emails. My Asus Eee PC 1000 spent the whole weekend gathering dust by itself in the cold, dark corner of the kitchen.

Update: I originally had stated that AndAppStore was the native App Store for the Archos 5. KBlack correctly pointed out that that was incorrect. AppsLib is the native App Store.  However, from the start, I couldn’t download one app from AppsLib and had to search out an alternative. I have revised the post to reflect this. Thanks KBlack.

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  • Nate

    the fact that it has a resistive touch screen sounds almost like a let down to me. almost

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  • John Ashton Edgar

    There was a learning curve. Not sure if it’s myself now used to capacitive or that it’s just because it’s resistive. Lack of multi-touch is a bigger issue for me on the Archos 5.

  • http://phandroid.com DannyDarko

    I am on the fence between purchasing the tablet or the waiting on the dell mid which I think will be much better than expected

  • John Ashton Edgar

    Dell produces more linux machines than anyone, except the company that makes the One Laptop Per Child PC. Considering their history, I would expect a great device from Dell.

  • http://www.frandroid.com arnouf

    For android developers : Archos is making a big proposal providing you a coupon of 228€ to buy an Archos IT 5. To get it, just publish an application on their Market place appslib.com. This coupon works only on their web shop. conditions of this operation are described on my french website (frandroid.com use google translate, waiting the english version) and should be present at the appslib.com website soon (before end of this week).
    So with this coupon you can buy the Archos IT 5 8Gb for only one euro (We’re waiting the amount for the US payment).

  • http://archosfans.com Charbax

    Although they cannot yet confirm it, Archos is hopeful that Google will allow Archos to include the full Google Marketplace and Google Apps with the 1.6 and 2.0 firmware updates to come in the next days or weeks, see http://archosfans.com/2009/11/11/archos-ceo-marketplace-within-weeks/

    You can see especially in the Android 2.0 SDK that support for different resolutions, including Archos 800×480 medium density (much different from Droid WVGA high density), including also the fact that Archos doesn’t use hardware buttons for Home/Back/Menu buttons but uses software interface buttons for that, and the fact that the new Marketplace for Android 2.0 is logically built to support filtering of apps according to screen resolution supported, and according to which apps are designed for using the integrated camera and compass.

    For fast wall charging, there is also the 20 dollar Mini Dock that can be used for that, or the HDMI Mini Dock though we don’t know yet at what price it will be available for.

    Even though it’s a resistive screen, capacitative screens at 4.8″ 800×480 do not yet exist in any other product on the market, and multi-touch I think still could be possible, it’s only a software question if Android will implement it. Although I think multi-touch is overrated.

    For typing fast, I like using a foldable Bluetooth keyboard, one that is the full size of a laptop keyboard and folds to fit in the other pocket. That is the only way I would really want to type a long blog comment like this one.

  • John Ashton Edgar

    arnouf, Great info! Thanks

  • HamilSt

    I saw this in Best Buy and I was surprised that it didn’t have a camera of any type. I am waiting for them to adapt there Arcos 7 or 9 to an Android-based device. Hopefully they will have a camera by then.

  • KBlack

    “Reminder to all this is their own app store specifically for this device.”

    This info is erronous, John. Andappstore is an online alternative to the android market. Archos just included an app for it on the tablet.
    http://andappstore.com/AndroidApplications/apps/!index
    See the “Apps for every android device” under the title?
    That would explain why you couldn’t install that app.

  • John Ashton Edgar

    KBlack, you are correct and will update it. However, their app store was even harder to use. In fact, so much so, that I found it unusable. The same issues discussed about AndAppStore apply to AppsLib and are even magnified. I stand by my saying that the easiest solution for me was to go to developer pages and download there. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • KBlack

    John, good. Just doing what I can to help, you know ;)

    It’s true that this knowledge can’t change what difficulties you experienced. It just helps to understand the problem because in the end it’s a result of the way Android is in itself for good and bad.

  • John Ashton Edgar

    KBlack, You are correct Sir! *Ed McMahon voice*

  • mboothe

    Will charge using any standard micro-usb wall or car charger.

    • John Ashton Edgar

      No it’s not a standard. It’s proprietary. I have a ton of cables. Not one fits or charges it. HDD versions are a little different than the Solid State ones. Might be the difference. That is just a guess. :-)

  • Hunter

    So if you want to make free calling on this device, I think you can, as long as you have a wi-fi connection and an app called guava. You can’t download the app from any app store so here is a link: http://gizmo5.com/guava.html?loc=guava

  • Hunter

    also you need google voice, whoops.

  • John Ashton Edgar

    Hunter Lol! the lack of Google integration is difficult and I hope GV app for Archos comes along shortly. Great thought though. Thanks!

  • http://phandroid.com Breon

    Nice write up.

    Stupid question…Do you have an Android phone? You can use Astro to backup your phone apps to the SD card. Then transfer them to the Archos. Not all of them will backup and some of them probably won’t install. But it’s worth a try.

    Does Archos offer an SDK to develop apps for this device?

  • fjmustak

    I tried installing Appslib on my G1. It installed fine, but then was just stuck there telling me to please wait (neither worked over 3G nor WiFi)…. I was trying to see their selection of apps. Oh well.

  • Mark

    As beautiful as most Archos devices usually are, the support for them from Archos is abysmal. The 5 was very tempting but I couldn’t face Archos’ infamous lack of technical support and customer service.

  • John Ashton Edgar

    Breon, I have 5 Android phones. :-) The APK’s are really hit or miss and most that are stored in Backups from ASTRO, have issues on Archos. My hope rests in Android 2.0. As Charbax said, Android now has the plug-ins for adaptation of apps.

  • Joshua

    I got one yesterday morning and will be returning it today. The touch screen is very lagging and not exact. I love the android platform, I have a mytouch 3g, but many of the native apps are not intuitive. The Bluetooth also does not connect easily with products, this is an Android problem from the beginning. Finally , the GPS takes a while to find a connection, this is, I consider, one of the best features in teh phone if it would work right. The screen is bright and beautiful.

  • http://andappstore.com/ Al Sutton

    If you want to send me more detailed feedback of you experience of AndAppStore then please do as I’d be happy to look at addressing any problems you encountered.

    Purchasing apps from AndAppStore requires a purchase per-device, hence why if you bought it for, and downloaded it to, your ‘phone you won’t also be able to just download the app again onto another device.

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  • Greg Bridwell

    I have AppManager on my Droid. I install stuff on my Droid from the marketplace, back it up to SD with AppManager, then forward it as an email attachment to myself. I just pick the email up on the Archos 5IT Android install.

  • http://none NyteRavyn

    Has anyone seen or know of a site where dust boots can be acquired for the 2 connector slots at the bottom of the Archos 5 IT? seems like an oversight on their part to leave such an open vulnerability to the device… I must admit that a minimum wait time on their tech support lines is a bit overwhelming at times, I have been greeted with a great group of techs willing and able to work around any problem that I’ve thrown their way. I, as many of you, am always looking for the next best tech tool/toy but this time I believe I have found not a replacement so much as a bridge. I can now easily pull out my Archos 5 IT and do what I need rather than take out and set up my Netbook for those quick fixes. Like many, my brain is already planning ahead… no built in camera, ok, who wants to pan with the tablet when with an attached web cam with a cord of what ever length can be easily maneuvered… no one has mentioned the helmet cam already available… how kewl is that? I’m not likely going to strap my phone, tablet or anything else of that sort to my head but a helmet cam… now that’s another story. The micro usb cable is not proprietary as many might think… it is of a less than standard type but many are using it now for a slimmer adaptation, CallPod has a battery backup in its “fuel cell” that comes with adapters that work well with this and can recharge the tablet 3-4 times in one charge of the “fuel cell” and is small enough to leave attached and flipped around behind the tablet and add considerable time to any use or left on a desk to charge… With the advent of the android os and its linux base the ability to create apps is something to look forward to imho rather than a contention for those who balk at other closed OS’s.
    Now… if OtterBox and Invisible Shield would come online.

  • domax

    i would rather get an archos 5 android over a ipod touch or droid.