Take one of the most-vaunted portable media players on the market, drop the Android OS on it, and what do you get? An odd little mashup of media player and tablet PC that doesn’t totally work.
With the latest edition of its flagship Internet Tablet, Archos has jettisoned its homegrown operating system in favor of Android, which is finally hitting mainstream acceptance now that it’s available on about 10 phones worldwide (and more devices to come). But while Android is a decent OS for cellphone users, it feels a bit out of place here, to put it mildly.
The main catch is that the Archos 5 is not a phone and has no cellular data connection to get you online, only Wi-Fi. Archos preloads the device with a handful of popular apps (Quickpedia, eBuddy, Craigsphone) and a few less explicable ones (High Paying Jobs, anyone?). There’s even a crude system that lets you download apps from the Android Marketplace.
Sort of. Like much of the overall implementation of Android on the device, the Marketplace app is half-baked. Searching simply doesn’t work: The button you have to push to initiate a search is decidedly unpushable. So, finding apps means scrolling through lists.
The screen orientation switches between landscape and portrait on a whim. During a few days of testing, applications hung, crashed or abruptly ended up with a garbled display more often than we could count.
The problems are compounded by a balky touchscreen. Hint: A fingernail often works better than your fingertip and, in general, be prepared to press hard. This makes data entry a real chore.
Even accurately tapping the home button when you’re inside an application can be a trying, multi-tap exercise. And finally, the Archos 5 is slow: Expect waits of up to 10 seconds for some button presses to register and up to a minute for certain actions to complete.
The good news is that, once you put aside the Android components, the Archos 5 is still a pretty good media playback device. The 4.8-inch, 800 x 480–pixel screen is huge and downright gorgeous to look at, and we managed about 6½ hours of video-playback time from the device with Wi-Fi turned on. Audio is on the soft side when you play it over the built-in speaker, so make sure you bring your earbuds.
Overall, it’s disappointing that Archos has traded away some of its simplicity, but if the kinks can be worked out of the way Android runs on this thing, it’s feasible that the addition of applications might be worth it.