First impressions of the Archos 5

Archos_5_imps

Though it’s been nearly a week since I hunted down and unboxed the 250GB Archos 5, today was the first day I really got to sit down and play with it. Issues with my travel router, a mild case of jet lag, and the process of getting settled back at home after three weeks out of town prevented me from spending quality time with the Internet Media Tablet earlier, but everything is as it should be now.

While I put together feature-specific reviews and some other stuff to post over the next few weeks, here are the notes I took while using the Archos 5 for the first few hours.

Hardware

  • Gorgeous. I’m really glad I didn’t opt for the slimmer 60GB model because the shiny metal bezel on the 250GB, which is used on the entire back of the 60GB unit, quickly becomes dulled and "blackened" by fingerprints and smudges that don’t wipe off without a bit of polishing.
  • The Archos 5 charges via a proprietary USB cable that plugs into the accessory connector port, which is inconveniently located at the bottom of the device. This placement renders the built-in stand useless and forces the player to lay on its back when plugged in.
  • Though the 250GB hard drive is very quiet, you can definitely feel it spinning/whirring. I don’t know if it’s shock-mounted, but feeling it spinning makes me hold the player gingerly and try to keep it very still.
  • The high-resolution (800 x 480) screen is beautiful and displays 16 million colors. Colors are vibrant and accurate. Viewing angle are also very good.
  • The touchscreen is responsive but can’t seem to make up its mind about whether it likes finger pads. Sometimes "full" presses of buttons/icons/links are ignored in favor of fingernail/stylus-like taps.
  • Too bad there isn’t a physical scroll wheel.

Software

  • Although the user interface is mostly finger-friendly, I wouldn’t mind if Archos had included a stylus (and a place to store it on the device). I have a lot of styli laying around and actually preferred using it sometimes for better accuracy and easier scrolling.
  • There’s an appalling amount of self-promoting ads for Archos accessories permanently installed on the home screen.
  • You can save a frame from a video while it’s playing as wallpaper.
  • I like that four media shortcuts can be added to the desktop/home screen.
  • Opera widgets don’t appear to be directly-installable on the player. The one I tried was a .zip file, which the Archos could download but wouldn’t open without the use of a computer.

Keyboard

  • The virtual keyboard is good and much better than expected.
  • There’s no audio or haptic feedback and the individual keys don’t "pop up" and enlarge the way they do on the iPhone, but it’s very usable. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to thumb-type at a decent speed on it, but I’ll practice and report back later.

Multimedia

  • Video playback is superb. Archos has always been at the top of their game in terms of digital video, with outstanding codec support, very "loose" file requirements (versus players that are very strict with particular resolutions, etc.), and the ability to play just about anything that’s dragged onto it.
  • Audio quality has been improved since previous generations. It isn’t on par with something like the Sansa Clip, but it’s pretty good and should satisfy most listeners’ ears.
  • The player stays very cool when playing videos. I watched two full-length movies and didn’t notice an increase in temperature. The unit does get a tiny bit warm during web browsing, but it always remains comfortable to hold.

Archos_5_imps_final

Web browsing

  • Opera on the 600MHz ARM Cortex A8 is fast. This is the best ARM-based browsing experience around right now and definitely the one to beat. I’ll do some load time comparison tests soon.
  • Flash 9 support isn’t built into the Opera browser. Similar to the way embedded YouTube videos are handled on the iPhone and iPod touch, where clicking them opens and plays them in the native YouTube application, the Archos 5 handles some Flash videos in its video app. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as YouTube plays very well and is treated just like a video stored on the hard drive (same playback features and controls), but other popular sites don’t work. Hulu, for example, is a no-go.
  • I want kinetic/flick scrolling.
  • Navigation in the browser is overly complicated. Just to type a URL, for example, you need to tap the context menu button, tap "Go to" in the menu, tap "Enter URL," and then type the URL. That’s three taps for an action that is normally done with just one.
  • The on-screen keyboard doesn’t always automatically launch when a data-entry field is clicked. Only the keyboard icon appears, which needs to be tapped (another extra tap!) to bring up the actual keyboard. This doesn’t make sense. If I click on a search box or password field, it’s because I want to input something.
  • Zoom-mode switching (Fit Width, 100%, Enlarged) is almost instant. There’s virtually no waiting time while the browser redraws the page. Very nice.
  • The full version of Google Reader on the Archos 5 is unpleasant. The iPhone-optimized version, however, is quite nice. Clicking on a headline to view the entry is a little buggy, as you’re automatically taken to the top of the page (even if the entry is at the bottom), but it’s fine for looking at headlines and starring items for later reading.

Other

  • I can’t access the Archos Content Portal because of an "unknown error." How specific and easy to troubleshoot.
  • Archos is shipping these out with beta firmware. Even the latest update is still in beta. This is shameful. The good news is that the system performs pretty well and is relatively stable, which suggests that the final firmware should be lovely.

Stay tuned for more on the Archos 5 . . .

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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