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I mean, why carry a device that only does one thing when you can carry something that does lots of things? I know I’d rather have one device that does many things fairly well than a device that does one thing really well.
And you can see this playing out in the market. Single-purpose music players are on their way out (even Apple knows this), and I don’t think dedicated e-book readers have much of a long-term future either (sorry Kindle).
So I was intrigued when a small portable device landed on my desk that does lots of things fairly well. But surprisingly, while this device is based on Google’s Android, it doesn’t do the one thing that you expect an Android device to do, namely, to be a cell phone.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is an Android-based entertainment and media-playing device. The well-built device does an excellent job playing HD-quality video and is also a pretty good music player.
However, while the device has many features that rely on the Internet, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet lacks any kind of 3G connection and can’t access the Internet on its own. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet needs to be connected to a Wi-Fi hot spot or be tethered to a smartphone or other device that has a 3G connection.
Tethering the Archos 5 through Bluetooth to another phone proved to be pretty simple and worked well. Surprisingly, I had a harder time connecting to some Wi-Fi hotspots.
Like other Android-based devices, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet can have a difficult time connecting to routers that have their SSID hidden (which is how I have my home router configured). I had to make my router visible to connect, which then went smoothly. On the plus side, this is one of the first handheld devices I’ve tested that supports 802.11n connections.
Once connected, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet worked pretty well as a handheld Internet browsing device. The 4.8-inch LCD screen and 800-by-480 resolution let me get a good view of Web pages I was browsing. Support for Flash 9 let me view most (but not all) of the video I was watching on the Web.
The device came with a number of preloaded applications, such as tools for accessing Twitter, IM and e-mail, and for streaming media. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet also came with the ThinkFree office suite loaded.
An AppLibrary on the device let me look for new applications to download and the selection was pretty good, but it wasn’t Google’s Android Market. Since this device isn’t blessed by Google (mainly because it isn’t a phone), there is no direct access to the Android Market, though it isn’t hard to figure out how to get there.
While all of these features are nice, the main attraction of the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is as a media player, and in this area it did very well. The quality screen and HD media support made it an excellent video player.
Watching video on the screen was an enjoyable experience. I also liked the little fold-out support on the back of the device that let me stand it up at a slight angle, a perfect setup for watching movies on the tray table while on a plane.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is also a good music player, and I liked the options for sorting through and playing music on the device. While headphones are definitely the way to go, I was surprised how decent the built-in speakers sounded.
Given the form factor, I also thought the Archos 5 Internet Tablet would make an excellent e-book reader, but there wasn’t an e-book app preinstalled on the device. I did find one in the AppLibrary, but this didn’t seem to be well-configured to the device.
Games are also included on the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, and many were fun. However, they mainly relied on the touch interface. Since the device is aware of how it’s being held (switching to vertical or horizontal displays based on its position), I would have liked to have seen some games that took advantage of this, but didn’t find any during my testing.
I was never able to get a valid GPS signal for the device during my testing so I was unable to test its GPS-based features. Still, the integrated mapping application was very good, with some unique 3D views that provided a different perspective, one that would be especially useful while walking around a city.
Battery life appeared to be pretty good. The specifications say 12 hours of music playing and 7 hours of video. I ran it continuously for 8 hours playing music and still had over 20 percent of a charge left, so this sounds pretty close.
Charging is done through a standard USB cable connection, which also serves for transferring media to the device. I also liked the integrated microSD card slot, which made it very easy to move images from a digital camera. Archos also offers many accessories for connecting to the tablet, such as docks for recording media directly from TV sources.
Overall, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet has a lot of promise. The device is well made and well thought out. Still, there will need to be more tweaking in its use of Android before it can reach its full potential as a personal computing device.
The Archos 5 Internet Tablet comes in multiple flash and hard drive configurations, and pricing ranges from $379 to $499. For more information, go to www.archos.com.