Monday, August 23, 2010

In Touch with the Tablet (or why I DO like the Archos 7 )

Two years ago I was one of the first to buy a 'small form factor computer', the EeePc 4G. Almost hard to believe nowadays with the omnipresent Netbook, it was the ultimate gadget at that time. The idea that you could have a fully functional PC with a solid state disk, a 7" screen and keyboard for only €250,- was just too exciting. However I've been struggling with the so-called 'use-case' ever since. To be honest, the keyboard is just too small and too flaky for decent typing, the screen is too small for real work and even playing YouTube videos is almost too much for it's little processor.
Today the Tablet PC is what the Netbook was then. Tablets in all shapes and sizes are already released faster than you can read their reviews and the expectation is that the real flood will start in second half of 2010. Combined with the explosion of smartphones, touch based UI's are suddenly everywhere.
Of course there is no doubt that the iPad is the ultimate touch tablet. But I have this aversion towards computers that you cannot program yourself.And I don't like paying €100,- bonus just for the name, so there is a chance I will never own one. So along comes the cheap Archos 7 Home tablet. An Android based 7" touch tablet with 2 Gig internal memory and about 10000 times the processing power required to send a rocket to the moon.. All that for just €150,-! Actually there are a bunch of (even cheaper) Chinese tablets on the market like the iRobot / aPad, but they look cheap even on the promo-movies and most reviewers admit they are probably a bit too cheap. And of course there are 100 different tablets 'to be released soon/next quarter/beginning next year'...At least Archos is a well known French company with a solid reputation for building good media players and their model is available now !.So I guessed it could never be that bad and at least you get what is specified.

And I'm not disappointed.

First: it looks great. It has got a solid 'brushed aluminium'-look on the base and a nice black edge. The formfactor is really good. It's really comfortable to hold with both hands while scrolling with your thumbs.
iPaq 3800 - Palm Vx - Back to the future of touch...
The screen is pretty good too. At 800x480 resolution is just big enough to comfortably view websites without much scrolling. The colours are bright, the image is crisp and the brightness is good enough even when it's used outside (provided it is not too sunny). And the resistive touchscreen is.. ehm.. well...OK. This touchscreen is the usually the core of all negative reviews of the '7'. But I'm used to my Palm Vx, iPaq PDA and Garmin NĂ¼vi GPS so resistive touchscreens come natural to me. It's what you're used to. And I'm sure if the iPhone was your first touch experience you'll be disappointed with the Archos.
But I am not.
Although I'm not really sure whether it is the 'touch tablet experience' itself or the device I like. I've been using it for a few weeks now and I find myself regularly checking e-mail, reading websites, e-books and even comics. When fully charged it can be on standby for two days so I can just pick it up, touch it and check the latest news, local weather or just read some Dilbert strips. And I can even program it ! Using the Android scripting layer you can write Ruby, Perl or Python scripts, right on the device. Not that I will probably ever use it to write any productive code but it's just the idea that you can do it makes me feel at ease.
Anyway, if you're looking for a reasonably priced 'first try' tablet and you're not spoiled already by any Apple product it's worth checking out.

UPDATE(27/10/2010): Much to my surprise Archos recently released a firmware upgrade for the 7 HT . And somehow they managed to really improve the touchscreen response so it is actually pretty good now !