Archos created quite a stir when it announced it was introducing a version of its Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet running on Android rather than its proprietary, Linux-based operating system. Here we review the super-slim Archos 5 Internet Tablet with 32GB of flash memory, priced at around £230. Two fatter models with hard drives are also available: a 160GB version for about £250 and a 500GB version for £290 or thereabouts.
Out of the box, this version looks nearly identical to the 5 Internet Media Tablet that we reviewed last year. It's got the same attractive, glossy black coating on the front and sides, along with a metallic finish on the rear that's something of a fingerprint magnet.
With the interface almost entirely based around the large, 122mm (4.8-inch) touchscreen, there are only two physical buttons on the case -- the power button and a volume rocker switch. We love the fact that Archos has integrated a small metallic kickstand into the rear of the case. That's something that other manufacturers often omit.
Fire up the device and the first thing you'll notice is just how good the huge touchscreen looks. It's got an 800x480-pixel resolution, so text, graphics and videos look pin-sharp, plus it's extremely bright and produces beautifully vivid colours. Unfortunately, it's a resistive, rather than capacitive, touchscreen, which means you sometimes have to press quite hard to get it to register your input. Even if you apply a fair amount of pressure, it's still not as responsive as the capacitive screens used on the likes of the iPod touch or HTC Hero. It also lacks multi-touch support.
Slick Android OS
The big difference between the 5 Internet Tablet and previous Archos products is that it runs Android, rather than the company's proprietary, Linux-based OS. The Android interface looks rather good when it's scaled up to a device with such a large screen, and it really does make the player much more user-friendly than previous Archos models. The menus are easier to navigate, the general layout is better and the whole package looks much slicker.
As the player has on-board Wi-Fi, you can access the Internet via Android's Web browser, and send and receive emails using the integrated email client. There are several other Android applications pre-installed, including the ThinkFree office suite, which allows you to view work documents like Word and Excel files; the Twidroid app, which you can use to update your Twitter account; and eBuddy for cross-platform instant messaging.
Sadly, you don't get access to Google's Android Market. Instead, Archos has loaded its own app store, AppsLib. Unfortunately, it's very slow to populate its menus, difficult to navigate and doesn't offer very many apps for download. Also, although the device can be used to play Flash games, Flash isn't supported in the browser, which means you can't use it to view content on the BBC's iPlayer Web site, and, when you go to view YouTube videos, the device opens them up in a separate player.
Stunning video playback
As you'd expect, media playback is the area in which this device excels. Videos look truly stunning, and films are beautifully crisp and detailed on the high-resolution screen. The 5 Internet Tablet also supports a broad range of video formats, including WMV, AVI and MKV, at resolutions of up to 720p, although it can't actually display files at a 720p resolution.
Its sonic performance is also top-class, and better than that of previous Archos players, such as the 605 WiFi. Audio sounds more natural and detailed, with better stereo imaging. You're also given plenty of control over the sound, thanks to the five-band EQ and balance settings.
Unfortunately, Archos hasn't quit its annoying habit of making you pay extra to be able to play certain formats that should come as standard on the player. For example, should you want to play WMV HD movies, or videos with AC3 sound, you'll have to shell out over £12 each for the pleasure. This is ridiculous given how expensive the player is in the first place.
Also, while the player has on-board GPS and comes with a free seven-day trial of the bundled sat-nav software, you'll lose all GPS functionality once the trial period ends, since Google Maps isn't available.
We love the Archos 5 Internet Tablet's huge screen and user-friendly Android OS. Its video and audio performance is highly impressive too, especially its silky smooth high-definition video playback. But the touchscreen isn't as responsive as it should be, and it's disappointing not to have access to the Android Market. The lack of multi-touch support and the scarcity of apps in AppsLib also mean it's not as easy to use or as flexible as the iPod touch.
Edited by Charles Kloet