Archos is best known for its generally well-received portable media players, such as the Android-powered Archos 5 Internet Tablet. But the Archos 9 PC Tablet features a full Windows 7 operating system in an effort to meld the media player and netbook into one device.
UK pricing for Apple's iPad is yet to be announced, but we reckon the entry-level version will sell for around £500, so, at £440, the Archos 9 may end up being cheaper. It certainly does many things that the iPad can't, including running Firefox. But, unlike with Apple's device, at least according to our preliminary impressions, it's a struggle to perform many basic tasks on the Archos 9.
The Archos 9 certainly looks the part, with a sleek, thin body, solid, brushed-metal construction, and gently tapered edges. The default screen orientation is horizontal, but the body fits very naturally into a single hand when held vertically, which made us wonder why there wasn't a physical screen-rotation button anywhere. Weighing 816g, it feels rather dense and heavy for such a small device.
When gripped with two hands, the Archos 9 feels like an over-sized media player. Its 8.9-inch screen gave us a good view of Web pages, photos, docs, and videos when held at arm's length. But using the on-screen keyboard -- still a requirement for much of what one would call basic computing -- is awkward, just because your hands are too far apart to be able to hit every key on the on-screen keyboard while gripping the sides. To its credit, Archos has its own version of Windows' on-screen keyboard that offers large, easy-to-hit keys, as well as a physical button to the left of the display for calling up and dismissing that keyboard. A second button acts as a combined Ctrl, Alt and Delete keyboard combo, which can be very useful at times.
Below those two quick-launch buttons are a pair of left and right mouse buttons, designed to work with the tiny touchpad to the right of the display. Just place your thumb over the miniscule pad, and the most subtle movement will scroll the mouse pointer across the screen. We found it to be surprisingly accurate and easy to use, especially compared with using your finger or the included dummy stylus to click and drag.
The resistive touchscreen requires far too heavy a hand to use, and is a far cry from the instant gratification one gets from a good capacitive screen, such as that on the iPhone or iPod touch. Dragging windows with your finger is a touch-and-go experience -- no pun intended -- and we couldn't even use our finger to grab and scroll down long Web pages or flip pages in a Kindle book file.
Using the PC version of Amazon's Kindle software, we were able to bring up some ebook files, and the matte screen displayed them well. Tapping the far edges of the screen flipped pages, and we were also able to rotate the display to portrait mode (using the standard Windows display-properties menu), but, again, we couldn't swipe to turn the pages.
The display offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for many netbooks. We're becoming more used to high-definition netbook displays, but the Archos 9's lower resolution actually makes for easier touch interaction, as text and other items appear larger. We also appreciate the matte finish of the display. Especially when using a tablet, which can change orientation and position second by second, a reflective, glossy screen is undesirable.