Archos has been plugging away at tablets longer than almost all of its rivals. The Arnova 10 sits towards the bottom of the company's sizeable range, priced at a lowly £150 or thereabouts. It's not designed to compete with high-end models like the iPad 2, but rather to provide a better experience than the flood of cheap devices now appearing on the market from unheard of Chinese brands.
The Arnova 10 is based around a large, wide-screen, 10.1-inch display. The tablet is far wider than it is tall -- much more so than most other tablets on the market. As a result, it feels rather top-heavy when you're holding it in portrait orientation.
The screen dominates the front of the device, but there's also a small camera peeping out of the bezel. The tablet is fairly slim at 13.5mm, and it's constructed entirely from plastic, with a mock brushed-aluminium section surrounding the screen. Although nowhere near as sturdy as high-end tablets like the iPad 2, the build quality isn't bad.
The only physical controls are mounted on the left-hand edge. They include a volume rocker button and a power button that doubles as a lock switch. Beneath these, there's a full-sized USB port for connecting memory keys or hard drives to the tablet, plus a micro-USB port that's used for syncing it with a PC. You can't charge the tablet over USB, however. Instead, you have to use the charging port that's found beneath the micro-USB port.
The left side of the device is also home to the microSD card slot, which you can use to boost the device's internal storage. Our review model had 4GB of storage space, but there's also an 8GB version available for about £50 extra.
Stale Eclair software
The tablet runs Android 2.1 Eclair, which is far from the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. It's rather baffling that Archos has used this version, as 2.1 Eclair is generally considered to be slower than 2.2 Froyo, and the Arnova 10 isn't a high-powered device to begin with.
Because the device doesn't have any physical buttons for controlling Android, Archos has instead put its own skin over the top of the software to provide virtual home, back and menu buttons. These have been placed at the top of the screen, though, so they're awkward to use when you're holding the tablet in landscape mode.
Unfortunately, because this tablet doesn't have a built-in compass, GPS or mobile-phone functionality, it doesn't meet the minimum specifications needed for access to the Android Market. This is a big limitation, as some apps just aren't available elsewhere. Instead of the Android Market, Archos has loaded the device with the AndroLib app store. This is easy to use, but you won't find anything like the same number of apps on its shelves.
Archos doesn't say which processor this device uses, but it's certainly not one of the faster ones, because the Arnova 10 feels quite sluggish. For example, when we tried the Pulse news reader app, screens were slow to redraw and pages rendered sluggishly. Web browsing is slow and the gaming experience is poor too, with Angry Birds just about chugging along.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Archos' background in portable media players, the Arnova 10 plays videos without any problems. It even handles 720p MKV files without complaining.
The biggest problem is the screen. It's bright and its resolution of 1,024x600 pixels is pretty high for a device of this price, so video looks crisp and text is rendered well on Web pages. But the touchscreen is of the resistive, rather than capacitive, type. The upshot is that it's horribly slow to register finger presses, and this makes simple tasks like scrolling through menus a real hassle. You often have to press on the display multiple times to get it to respond and, when this isn't enough, you have to resort to using a fingernail.
The Arnova 10's battery life isn't wonderful either. We had to charge it at the end of each day, and Archos itself only rates the battery as good for four hours of video playback.
If you're primarily looking for a cheap video player to keep the kids entertained during long car journeys, the Archos Arnova 10 will be fine. But, if you're looking for an Internet tablet, then its sluggish performance, unresponsive touchscreen and lack of multi-touch support will soon grate.
Edited by Charles Kloet