The Archos 7 Home Tablet may not be a real rival to the iPad – at £129, it’s priced far lower down the scale – but with the French media player’s logo slapped on the back, we still expect plenty of bang for our buck, and custom media skills built over the top of Google’s Android OS. It delivered with smaller and pricier Archos 5 Internet Tablet, but does it here? Find out in this part of our Archos 7 Home Tablet review.
We’ll start with the good news. The Archos 7 Home Tablet is every bit as good as the Archos 5 at serving up music and video. Stock Android itself doesn’t really have the reputation for sturdy media support (In fact, it didn’t even originally include a video player) but Archos aims to do its best to let you play just about any media file you have on your computer already, rather than just the ones you downloaded from iTunes, and has tweaked it accordingly.
On your music front, that means support for the most popular digital music formats like MP3 and AAC, but also support for lossless FLAC and APE files audio purists may have stashed – and with up to 40GB of space to keep it all on (With a 32GB micro SDHC card), that should prove more than enough for most.
Sound quality on the Archos 7 Home Tablet is fine with headphones plugged in, and reasonable in a kitchen environment through the speakers, although it is let down by the sloppy UI. You can see cover art for albums, but it does look like it’s been designed by someone at Fisher-Price rather than Apple, and good luck pressing any buttons on the edges of the screen. Physical track buttons would have been greatly appreciated.
Video is by far and away our favourite feature of the Archos 7 Home Tablet however. It’s absolutely sterling, and anybody with a ripped Handbrake collection of DVDs or videos sourced, how shall we say, dubiously, will love the fact that it simply opens just about everything you throw at it – MPEG-4 and H.264 codecs are supported, and AVI, MP4, MOV, FLV and even MKV containers will play.
Even high def 720p videos will play, though this is a tad overkill: on the Archos 7 Home Tablet’s WVGA screen, you won’t see the difference. Still, the option’s there, and they play just as creamily smooth as anything else. The only thing that would make the Archos 7 Home Tablet better for catching some video in bed would be Flash support or DLNA certification to pull video off your computer over your network, something which Samsung has seen fit to sew into the Android Samsung Galaxy S, but otherwise it’s a great effort for the price.
And now the bad news: Android feels much sloppier this time around. Eight months ago, Android 1.5 was just about acceptable on a new Google gadget, but with the souped up Android 2.2 now out of the gate on the Google Nexus One, it just feels lazy.
Apps are a problem. The Archos 7 Home Tablet won’t run applications meant for later versions, but more crucially, it won’t let you get on to the Android Market. You have to make do with Archos’ AppsLib store, but the shelves are more sparsely stocked than a Russian Soviet era supermarket.
To be fair, this is a restriction Google itself places on tablets for now, and you can have some success finding Android apps to install online. More unforgivable is the general instability of the Android bake on the Archos 7 Home Tablet. The browser in particular crashed frequently during our testing, and while you can leave multiple apps running, trying to flick between them is a nightmare as the tucked away home button is so hard to trigger. However, Archos does put out bug fixes and firmware updates so while we wouldn’t expect a magical Froyo upgrade, well, ever, hopefully the browser glitches will soon be rectified.
The Archos 7 Home Tablet’s a great video player: it’s just a shame it’s running atop a version of Android you won’t want to use otherwise.