Business Traveller takes a closer look at Archos’ entrant into the growing tablet PC market
Archos made a name for itself a few years back in the media player market, by surpassing better known manufacturers when it came to features and cost. Archos devices became known as the reserve of the gadget fiend, with large storage capabilities and whizzy features like TV-out, meaning it could be used as a portable external hard drive. But Archos never really found the success it deserved, thanks of course to the iPod which changed the game completely. Suddenly it was no longer about the function, but the form, which Apple is the undisputed champion of.
But Archos is fighting back, and seems to be playing to its strengths at the same time as diversifying. Nothing demonstrates that more than the Archos 9 PCTablet, Archos’ attempt to break into the portable PC market. The Archos 9 is a touch screen Windows 7-powered tablet, and an extremely powerful one at that. It’s best described as a netbook without a keyboard, but with enough raw processing power to play pretty much any type of media out there.
The Archos 9 has a built-in stylus, which stores away neatly in the back of the device. The touchscreen itself takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve used it for a couple of hours it soon becomes second nature. The stylus helps with precision immensely, as the screen is smaller than the average netbook but the resolution is still high, making for lots of fiddly buttons.
Having used it for a couple of weeks, there’s no doubt that this is an entertainment device, aimed at the media market. If you want to do work, then you’ll need a keyboard and mouse/touchpad. Of course it’s quite possible to get an external USB keyboard and mouse, but you’ll need a USB hub as the Archos only had one port. If you’re willing to go down this route, then the Archos 9 could very well serve the purposes of a work machine, and there are extremely portable keyboard/mouse solutions out there, such as fold-away devices and even ones you can roll up. The Archos does have a small trackpoint to the right of the screen, but it’s much easier to use the stylus for cursor control.
My one major quibble is that the Archos 9 does not have handwriting recognition, like many other tablet PCs. Instead you have to make do with a proprietary virtual keyboard that is summoned by pressing a button to the side of the screen. It is possible to type quickly by putting the Archos flat on a table, but touch-typing is out of the question.
The Archos also has a small telescopic stand in the back which can be used to prop it up. The only thing I’d say against this is that the angle has only two positions, which makes it awkward if you’re either very short or very tall. The first is a shallow angle for PC use, and the second a fully-extended position so you can sit back and watch movies.
With the iPad now making serious waves, it is understandable that many would draw comparisons. This is unfair in my opinion, as Windows-based tablets have been around for a few years now in various shapes and sizes. The Archos will be familiar to anyone who uses Windows machines, where as the iPad is something entirely different. The Archos is more fairly placed somewhere between the iPad and the netbook, in terms of form, function and indeed price. At around £400 (and falling), the Archos 9 is expensive when compared to a £300 netbook, which comes with a keyboard and is better for the daily commute. But then it is far better at playing media files which is its primary purpose after all, and this is reflected in its more impression specs.
PROS Powerful processor and responsive touch-screen, decent battery life yet lightweight
CONS Can’t be used for work without an external keyboard, no handwriting recognition
PRICE £349.99 (best online price)
At a glance:-
- Intel ATOM Z515 1.2 GHz
- 8.9” LED backlight (1024×600)
- Windows 7 Starter Edition
- 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 400
- 60GB HDD
- Wifi, Bluetooth, ethernet (via port replicator)
- Built-in stereo speakers, microphone, 1.3MP webcam
- 1 x USB 2.0 port
- Approx. 5h battery life
- Weight 800 grams