Now that we've seen the new Archos 5 Android and the old non-Android Archos 5 Internet Tablets face off in photos, let's take a look at how the two ARM Cortex A8-powered devices compare in terms of their web browsing experiences.
Both handhelds feature a 4.8-inch WVGA resistive touchscreen and render web pages accurately, but do their WebKit and Opera 9 web browsers or 800MHz OMAP 3440 and 600MHz OMAP 3430 processors make one unit better than the other? Read on to find out.
But first, here's a quick look at the system specifications (as reviewed) that are most relevant to web browsing.
|Archos 5 Android
|Archos 5 IMT
|800MHz TI OMAP 3440
(ARM Cortex A8 core)
|600MHz TI OMAP 3430
(ARM Cortex A8 core)
(other capacities available)
(other capacities available)
|4.8" resistive touchscreen (800 x 480, 16M colors)
|Non-removable lithium polymer
It's clear from the comparison chart that the Archos 5 Android is already a cut above the original Archos 5 because of its 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.0 support. In addition to the A2DP, EDR, ARCP, and HID profiles, dial-up networking is also supported, which means the tablet can be tethered via Bluetooth to select phones with mobile broadband connectivity. The list of compatible phones is very limited at the moment (iPhone, BlackBerry, Window Mobile, and even Android handsets don't work), but being able to tether to some phones is obviously better than nothing.
Last year's promised 3.5G Ready plug-in that was supposed to allow 3G USB modems to be plugged into the mini dock and battery dock was never released, so neither Internet Tablet can take advantage of HSPA dongles. With 3G alternatives like the MiFi, CradlePoint routers, and various phone applications, however, the lack of built-in 3G and USB modem support aren't major shortcomings.
Along with improved connectivity options, the Archos 5 Android offers improved browser launch times and therefore quicker access to the internet. While it takes about 5 seconds for Opera 9 to launch on the non-Android Archos IMT after connecting to a wireless network (already a slow process), the Android unit holds onto its wireless connection and launches WebKit in under 1 second. This makes the Archos 5 Android much more suitable as a go-to device when you want to quickly check or find something online.
The Archos 5 Android's WebKit browser is more streamlined and intuitive than the original Archos 5's Opera 9 browser. Web browser navigation on both devices is finger-friendly but needs improvement to lessen the amount of taps required to carry out simple actions. Both feature a clean layout and rely very heavily on the context menu button located in the top-right corner for navigation.
Lacking in both browsers are easily accessible search boxes (as seen on desktop browsers and Safari on the iPhone/iPod touch), full-screen modes, and a way to quickly return to the top of a web page.
On the Archos 5 IMT, tapping the context menu button brings up a vertical menu with the following options:
- Navigation -> Forward and Back
- Zoom -> Fit Width, 100%, and Enlarged
- Go to -> Enter URL and Search
Though "hiding" these options under a single button on an always-present toolbar maximizes the amount of screen space devoted to web content, it also makes navigation slower and more cumbersome than it should be.
For example, just to type a simple URL, you need to 1) tap the context menu button, 2) tap "Go to" in the menu, 3) tap "Enter URL," and 4) type the URL. In other browsers on other devices (e.g., Safari on the iPhone/iPod touch), all you need to do is tap the address bar and type the URL, which is much simpler and more desktop-like.
On the Archos 5 Android, tapping the context menu button brings up a horizontal menu with the following options:
- More -> Find on page, Select text, Page info, Share page, Downloads, Settings
Because items are less buried, navigation on the Android tablet is more simplified and a bit faster.
To enter a URL on this device, you need to 1) tap the context menu button, 2) tap "Go" in the menu, and 3) type the URL. Three steps compared to four isn't a massive improvement, I know, but it's still an improvement that lessens the time it takes to perform simple actions.
You won't find the super smooth kinetic/flick scrolling you'll get on UMPCs/MIDs or the iPhone/iPod touch on either Archos tablet, but scrolling on the Android version is better than on the non-Android version. Though it can sometimes be inconsistent and choppy, the Archos 5 Android supports kinetic scrolling in its web browser while the Archos 5 IMT does not.
Another advantage of the new model is the built-in accelerometer, which auto-rotates the screen when the device is held in portrait mode and allows more content to fit onto the screen (and therefore lessens the amount of scrolling).
Both devices support grab-and-drag/panning websites that are either zoomed in/out or not specifically optimized for WVGA resolutions.
Even though very few websites can fit their entire widths in a mere 800 pixels, most do not require horizontal scrolling to view their main content, which is often flush left. Because of this, WVGA resolution is currently the "sweet spot" for many mobile internet users. This resolution makes viewing the internet quite comfortable on smaller screens for most people. Those with better or worse eyesight than the average consume are in luck too, as both Archos 5s offer zoom levels/controls.
On the Archos 5 IMT, there are three predefined levels of zoom (Fit Width, 100%, and Enlarged) accessible through the context menu. Double-tapping the screen toggles the zoom level between Fit Width/100% (depending on which one you're using) and Enlarged, which is more convenient than dealing with the excessive tapping involved in using the menu buttons.
On the Archos 5 Android, touching the screen momentarily brings up an overlay at the bottom with several buttons to manually control zoom levels. These offer more precise and varied zoom levels than on the IMT, but I think it's kind of overkill. The predefined levels on the older unit were sufficient to me. There's also an "auto-fit pages" option in the settings menu, which is basically the Fit Width option available on the IMT.
Since both Archos 5 tablets are slates, they obviously aren't equipped with hardware keyboards. Instead, both utilize a virtual keyboard for data input.
On the Archos 5 IMT, a keyboard icon appears when tapping in a text input field; tapping the icon brings up the virtual four-row keyboard. Nearly every key is triple-mapped, which is a pain, but the typing experience itself is okay. Even though the keyboard takes up a lot of screen estate (customizable opacity levels are needed), the keys are nicely sized and decently responsive to finger pads, tips, and nails.
According to a very simple/unscientific typing test (the only one I could find that was usable on the device), I'm only able to type at a rate of 27 wpm on this keyboard. To put this into context, taking the same test on my iPhone in portrait mode yielded a result of 52 wpm.
On the Archos 5 Android, a different virtual four-row keyboard automatically launches when tapping in a text input field. The layout is much cleaner with no double- or triple-mapping, but the keyboard takes up more screen space than the IMT's because of an additional line that appears above it and duplicates what you're already typing in the input field.
Responsiveness seems slightly worse than the Archos 5 IMT's keyboard and the smaller space bar makes overall accuracy and comfort suffer in landscape mode. I wasn't able to take the same typing test as I did on the IMT, but another test reported a very sad 20 wpm on the Archos 5 Android in portrait mode (I couldn't find anything suitable for a landscape test). Additional practice should improve this pathetic score, though probably not by much.
USB and Bluetooth Peripherals
The on-screen keyboard may be worse on the Archos 5 Android than the Archos 5 IMT for me, but what the former has that the latter lacks is the ability to natively connect to Bluetooth peripherals like keyboards and mice. Being able to pair a portable Bluetooth keyboard with the Android tablet makes the device instantly more useful for any work requiring extended text entry. The older Archos 5 can also connect to Bluetooth peripherals, too, but the set up is less portable and more complex because it requires the mini dock (or battery dock) and a Bluetooth USB dongle.
USB keyboards and mice can be connected to both tablets through the optional mini dock, battery dock, and DVR station.
Both Archos 5 tablets render web pages equally well. Site elements are generally where they should be, columns are sized correctly, and text reflows nicely according to zoom level and (for the Android model) screen orientation. In other words, websites on the handhelds look like they do on a desktop computer (minus unsupported Flash and Java items, of course).
Website Load Times
Timing how long websites take to load is something I do fairly often around here, so my usual parameters and guidelines will be familiar to regular readers.
- This is not a scientific study or professional lab test.
- All accessed pages were full versions (not mobile versions) of the website.
- Each browser's cache was cleared before the first set of tests.
- The cache was not cleared for the second set of tests.
- Load times were measured from the same location today (connected to the same WiFi network) from the click of the OK key to the complete page load according to the progress bar.
- Load times vary by location, time of day, ad servers, content, etc., so your results will not be identical to mine.
Some have argued that timing how long a page takes to load completely isn't an accurate measurement, as portions of the site are often readable/usable before then, but I think it's one of the most objective methods. Timing how long a site takes to partially load is much more subjective, as someone who only wants to view the second story on a website will often be able to "use" the page much sooner than someone who wants access to the tenth story.
|Archos 5 Android
|Archos 5 IMT
Opera 9 browser
Whether it's the faster processor, WebKit browser, or something else, the Archos 5 Android clearly loads websites faster than its predecessor.
Opera 9 on the Archos 5 IMT and WebKit on the Archos 5 Android are both fairly robust browsers with a nice selection of extra features.
On the Archos 5 IMT, you'll find in-browser Flash 9 (YouTube videos can play in the separate video player and embedded in Opera), favorites, tabs, auto-displaying scrollbar, direct download support, web search (with choice of Google, Yahoo, or Wikipedia), image saving, and the ability to add website shortcuts to the home screen. You're also able to install Opera widgets, Flash 9 apps, and game packs available from Archos.
On the Archos 5 Android, you get upcoming Flash 10 support (YouTube videos currently play only in the separate video player), bookm arks, windows, direct download support, in-page search, web page sharing through Twidroid (preinstalled Twitter application), copy and paste, offline viewing of saved pages, image saving, and the ability to add website shortcuts to the home screen. Of course, this being an Android device, you're also able to install a wide range of third-party Android applications through the preloaded AppsLib store and other marketplaces.
Because my 10.6-ounce Archos 5 IMT has a 250GB hard drive and my 6.4-ounce Archos 5 Android has a 32GB flash drive, the latter is obviously much thinner and lighter (as previously shown). This, of course, makes the Android tablet more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time. The hard drive versions of the Android device weigh 10.1 ounces and are actually a little thicker (0.78 inches vs 0.76 inches) than the higher-capacity IMTs, so weight and thickness are only an issue when the SSD tablets are involved.
On the other hand, because the Android unit is longer than the non-Android unit (regardless of internal storage type), thumb typing can be less comfortable depending on the size of your hands and/or natural reach of your thumbs.
Neither device has a contoured back, so I don't find that one fits any more comfortably in the hand than the other.
Except for maybe the keyboard, web browsing on the Archos 5 Android is a significant across-the-board improvement over the Archos 5 IMT. The Android tablet loads pages faster, has more connectivity options, offers better scrolling and browser navigation, auto-rotates into portrait mode, and includes more advanced features. I'd still like to see some additional improvements in navigation to further reduce the amount of taps needed to perform simple tasks and to make getting around even faster and more intuitive, but WebKit on the Archos 5 Android definitely provides one of the best ARM-based mobile web experiences around.