This is part 2 of the Archos 5 Internet Tablet review. It had to be split due to being too long for the CMS, so make sure to read part 1 first.
The Archos 5 IT supports both MTP and MSC/UMS as well as a debug mode and an USBnet mode that lets you connect the Archos to the Internet via a USB cable to a computer with an Internet connection. Android is based on Linux, and the file system on the device isn’t accepted by Windows (at least it wasn’t for me) when connecting in MSC mode, so it will prompt you to format if you select that option. As of FW 1.7.71 you can do this from the device itself, and that will leave you with FAT32 as the file system. This does however mean you can’t transfer files larger than 4GB, which might be an issue if you have HD movie rips. MTP works fine though without any reformatting, although it gets a bit tedious to click “transfer anyways” 374643 times when WMP thinks that the video file can’t be played on the device. MTP is generally good at letting you know when a file isn’t supported, but that whole functionality becomes a mess with a player that supports this many formats. MTP mode of course also allows you to manage the media on the device with software if you so please, but no software is required. There are also other methods of transferring media; apps that will let you transfer via Bluetooth and FTP are sure to exist, though I haven’t tried any myself. You can also put files on the microSD card (if you have the flash version of the device) and then use file manager to copy files onto the device. This will take a long time though, but if you happened to be somewhere without a microUSB cable or network access it’s an option. Lastly, you can transfer files over the network by browsing to shared folders in the file browser and copying files to the device. This is generally slow, but hey, it’s wireless!
I thought I’d save this part of the review until last, otherwise I’m guessing a fair amount of people would simply stop reading and writing the device off as a joke very early on. I’m a fairly techy guy, with a fair amount of present and past gadgets under my belt, and I’m not overstating in any way whatsoever when I say that in the few months I’ve had the Archos 5 IT, it’s been more buggy, crashy and generally unstable than every single device I’ve ever had in my life combined. Probably squared, as well. While some bugs have been fixed in later firmware versions, it’s still so buggy that I’ve had to attach a small metal pin to the device permanently so I can reach the reset hole when out and about. Here’s a short recollection of some of the bugs I’ve had recently, since 1.7.33. Note that the device was cleaned completely several times to get a 100% clean install of the new firmware, and these bugs aren’t limited to my device only- in fact the general rule with the Archos 5 IT is that if your device isn’t broken, it might be defective.
To start off my rant about the stability of this device, let me tell you what happened this morning while I was writing part of this review. I pressed the “on”-button, the backlight came on….and nothing more. A quick poke into the reset hole later and it was booting. When it booted up, it of course couldn’t connect to my WiFi network- apparently it’s extremely picky about what router you have, and tend to be very temperamental with routers that work 100% on any other device. A reboot later, I went to check something in the video playback section to write it into the review. Something had apparently gone wrong with the media library update, as it couldn’t find any videos. I’d seen that bug before, so I knew to access the files from the general file browser instead of the Archos Media Center. At that time, it simply crashed, and I had to reboot a second time. After that it worked fine.
Another real life story was last week, in the cafeteria at my university college after a lecture. I plugged in my IEMs and went to watch an episode of 24. No sound was coming out, and as I looked up people were looking my way. Turns out the Archos hadn’t gotten the fact that headphones were inserted, and was playing the audio through the speakers. Not the first time it had happened, so I rebooted, still the same. I rebooted again, then reset the device, and it finally got that I had inserted headphones. Given the reboot time of the device, this whole ordeal took about 5+ minutes, which is rather frustrating when it happens a lot.
There are other stories I could share as well, but the general point is that the Archos 5 IT is extremely unstable anywhere in the OS; from settings to third party applications. It will crash, freeze, reboot, turn itself off, refuse to find WiFi networks, disconnect from WiFi networks and so on, way more than it should. Ironically (considering how CPU intensive 720p video is), playing video is the part of the OS which is most stable, as it tends to work fine as long as you get to actually starting playback in the first place. Bugs and instability tend to be boot specific as far as I’ve experienced, meaning that when you start it up it will either be a catastrophe or work perfectly. “When it rains, it pours” is an expression that comes to mind with this device. The seeming lack of a pattern to all the behaviour has also left the user community a bit split, as some people have devices that don’t behave at all while others have minimal amount of bugs. There also isn’t anything physically wrong with any of the devices (the issues are too wide spread for that); it’s simply that the software is so buggy it’s impossible to know what will happen or when. Android isn’t the most stable OS to begin with, and when you throw in a small (hardware) company with an equally small software department that has all the responsibility of making it work, things get bad. Another reason for the issues the device is having is also the basic way Android works; Google was so set on making Apple look bad for not allowing multitasking that the OS happily multitasks everything it can get its hands on just for the sake of it. With only 256MB of RAM, part of which is dedicated to running the basic OS processes, there simply isn’t enough memory to allow desktop widgets, unused applications and everything else to do whatever they want. As much as I myself love multitasking, I’d rather have a device that was more picky about what was running and in turn would run better.
The instability of the whole device is by far the biggest downside of the Archos 5 IT, and ultimately what will keep most people away. Archos is doing a great job of trying to patch holes as they’re made aware of them, but that only leaves you with a device that will get better, not one that is good now. Some people don’t mind tinkering with a device to make it work; it’s half the fun for some people myself too (at times). Though when it comes to just watching a video, I really don’t want to go 3 rounds in the ring with a device to make it even start up and get a video playing, and you really have to do that with this thing sometimes. If it hadn’t been such a unique device it probably wouldn’t have lasted a week on the market, but since there are so few mainstream alternatives you have to weigh the features against the work you have to put into it. You might be lucky and get a device that works perfectly, but chances are you won’t. Exchanging it is also difficult, as it’s not technically broken.
WiFi, Bluetooth, FM receiver/transmitter and GPS
The Archos Is packed with tech and these four in particular will catch people’s eye on the spec sheets, so I thought I’d give them a quick rundown. The GPS requires paid software, and is useless without it. The FM transmitter requires a car dock, and is also useless without that. WiFi is obviously used for a lot of features on the device, from web browser to downloading apps and information, and having WiFi access is critical if you want to use the Archos 5 IT to its full
potential. However, as stated above, the WiFi feature is still unstable with some (many) routers and is often a pain in the sitting device. As for Bluetooth, you have more or less full Bluetooth abilities including A2DP and AVRCP, tethering to a cell phone for Internet (this feature is, not surprisingly, unstable), Bluetooth mouse and keyboard support (yes you can actually control the whole thing with an on-screen mouse controlled cursor) and additional features through apps.
Being a media tablet, you can’t expect the same battery life from the Archos as from something like the Samsung P3, as everything it does take more power. CPU, screen etc uses a certain amount of juice no matter what you’re doing, so a bigger battery will still give less battery life. The key number here is 7 hours; you get about 7 hours of actual use. If you play music with everything else off (including the screen), Archos claims it can reach 22 hours, which I doubt, but it will still be considerably more than 7 hours. For video watching, surfing etc it depends on screen brightness, WiFi, Bluetooth etc and also the strain on the CPU. HD video takes more power than SD video, and so on. 7 hours is therefore the max you will normally get from enjoying the device, but if you want decent backlight and tinker a bit you can shave a few hours off that. There is an external battery dock available that will add a few more hours, and you can of course use external battery packs. Something like the Callpod FuelTank would be an excellent accessory for the Archos if you plan on going on long trips, long flights and so on.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet with Android is a very touchy subject for some people as it’s part awesome, part scrap. On one hand, you have excellent hardware (with the exception of the resistive touch screen, which should have been capacitive) and awesome support for video and a giant market of apps to put on it, but on the other hand you have a device that’s so unstable I legiimately wish it had a big giant red reset button on the back instead of a tiny reset hole. Any normal consumer would likely throw this device into the closest wall within 10 minutes of getting it, but then again the readers of Abi>> are a bit more advanced than that. The Archos is a great device for video, and I love watching a few episodes of this and that on the go, but I myself wouldn’t pay money for a device this buggy. The cheapest version is $250 for 8GB (expandable with memory cards) which makes it a deal like no other on paper, but you need to have serious patience if you’re going to buy this now as it can only be described as an alpha release at this point. I really hope Archos will get a grip on the problems with this device and give us something that’s as good in real life as it is on paper, because I can’t recommend anyone buy it at this point. Not unless you have a thing for fixing stuff that shouldn’t need fixing.
- Very nice screen for video playback
- Plays more or less all common video formats
- Android OS means there’s a lot of applications available for it
- Added media functionality via content provider applications like eReader, Spotify
- Decent price for the lowest capacity model considering the functionality
- Packed with technology like a fast CPU and GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi
- Very slow at doing anything, doesn’t utilize the CPU properly
- Not enough RAM to properly multitask many applications
- Most likely the buggiest, most unstable device ever released to consumers
- Outdated touch screen technology that makes any screen interaction or keyboard use a pain
- The menus are full of trials software, bloatware and “ads” for you to buy additional plugins,, accessories etc
The different capacities can be found in various places. RadioShack is the only one selling the 8GB version in the US as far as I have seen, where it can be had for $250. A great deal considering you can expand memory with microSDHC cards. The 16GB is $300 and can be found at BestBuy. All the capacities above that are available from Amazon and other places as they aren’t as uncommon. There’s a $120 difference between the 8GB and 32GB flash versions, which means the 8GB version is a great choice if you just want the features of the device and don’t need all that capacity.