Archos 7 Home Tablet reviewSee all photos
Look and feel
Size-wise, the tablet is actually ideal -- the seven-inch display isn't too wide, and at 8 x 4.2 x 0.5-inches it doesn't take up much room on a nightstand or in a small shoulder bag. And because it weighs less than a pound (13.7 ounces, to be exact), it was quite easy to hold up in bed to read an e-book or surf the web – it's noticeably lighter to hold up than the 1.5-pound iPad while lying down. It's actually closer in size and weight to the 10.2-ounce and .36-inch Amazon Kindle.
There's not much to report in the way of buttons and ports – Archos kept it relatively simple with a power switch and micro SD card slot along the top edge, and headphone / composite video out and mini USB sockets on the right side. There's a circular opening on the front of the tablet where you'd expect some sort of cam, but unfortunately, that's just a placeholder at this point. In the box, Archos includes a pair of pretty crappy earbuds, a standard mini USB to USB cable, and an AC adapter. Archos plans to sell the composite-out cable separately.
Screen and speakers
The key screen ingredient that's nowhere to be found? That'd be an accelerometer. The 7 doesn't have an accelerometer, and even worse not a software utility or hardware switch for switching the orientation of the screen. This one has had us scratching our heads for the last few days, and really we don't see the excuse for excluding this type of feature in a tablet -- unless Archos is morally opposed to vertical web page reading, which is highly unlikely since its Archos 5 is capable of it. Luckily, some apps just default to vertical orientation, like the preloaded Aldiko e-reading app, but there's no chance you'll be reading Engadget in vertical mode out of the box (although, we expect the typical Archos hacks to happen as soon as this thing ships).
The speakers flanking the display are actually quite loud. We put the Kings of Leon's Only By the Night on an microSD card and heard "Sex on Fire" loud and clear across our apartment – or about 24 feet away from where the Archos 7 was propped up on our living room table. Similarly, when we watched some on board video clips we were fairly impressed with the fullness of the sound coming from the tiny openings.
Our bigger issue with the Android implementation is the lack of access to the Market. Yes, because of Google's restrictions the 7 doesn't have access the 50,000 apps designed for the operating system. Instead Archos has gone and created its own AppsLib store, which only has 1,000 approved apps at the moment. Even if Archos does plan to add 2,000 paid apps by the end of June, that's still a lot of missing apps! And to say the selection is lacking is an understatement. Some of our favorites were missing, including Seesmic, Slacker, Pandora, and Facebook. And though Archos preloads five apps – eBuddy, Aldiko, ColorNote, DailyNote, and Deezer -- there's no Gmail and YouTube, and obviously those aren't in the AppsLib store either. What does this all mean? It means you have to go out of your way to get your favorite apps on to the device. We managed to wrangle up Facebook, Seesmic, and Opera Mobile from AndroidFreeware.com. We also got Skyfire and Slacker by heading to their respective sites and grabbing them from there. But, yes, it's incredibly frustrating to have to go searching for the apps / .apks around the net, and it's even more frustrating is when they don't work quite right.
Beyond the app experience, web browsing is what you would expect from an Android device. The default browser was quick to load sites and was easy enough to navigate using the resistive touchscreen. Again, we wished here that we could turn the tablet and read Engadget vertically. We did try out Skyfire so we could actually play some YouTube videos, but the browser itself was sluggish and videos were quite laggy even when connected to a very strong WiFi signal. Speaking of video playback, as a personal media player the Archos 7 does a stand-up job. With H.264, Realvideo, and MPEG-4 codecs it supports .avi, .mp4, .mkv, .mov, and .flv files. A 720p clip of Up in the Air played back smoothly with no audio or video sync issues. And after you're done watching a video on the device, it also makes a decent e-reader with the Aldiko software – the app, though it takes a few seconds to open, defaults to a vertical orientation and on-screen swipes turn the pages. Since the book selection in Aldiko is lacking, we don't need to tell you we were wishing for Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook app, but that they aren't available in the AppsLib store.
Performance and battery life
If there's one thing we're content with on the performance side of things it'd be the battery life. On a video rundown test the Archos lasted for six hours and 45 minutes, with brightness set at 50 percent and WiFi on. That's not too shabby, and you can expect to get at least a few hours more of normal usage.