Look and feel
There's no denying that the Archos 7 shares DNA with the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, and considering we've always liked the look of the 5 that's not a bad thing. The brushed metal back cover of the device feels comfortable in hand, and though it's plastic at the core it's still rather sturdy. It's cheap, but we wouldn't say it's cheap-feeling. Sure, on the build quality scale it isn't as rock-solid as the aluminum iPad, but the 7 Home Tablet has something the Apple's tablet certainly should: a kickstand. A skinny plastic stand can be pulled out of the back of the tablet to prop it up on a tablet or desk, which means not having to invest in fancy stands.
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
Obviously, the Archos 7's essence is its resistive seven-inch 800 x 480 display, and that's also where our complaints really begin. While we're happy to see Archos using a matte display, it still kicks back distracting reflections in certain lighting, and the viewing angles are rather narrow. Holding the tablet off-axis while trying to watch a clip of The Losers resulted in the inability to make out Jeffery Dean Morgan's face; when positioned upright the picture was rather bright and crisp. As for the touch layer, we understand it would have added dollar signs to slap on a capacitive screen, but with most Android phones sporting capacitive screens now, using the tablet felt like taking a trip back in time. Getting back in the habit of having to press harder on icons and the virtual keyboard took some time, as did remembering that it'd be easier to use a fingernail to move through narrower menus. The single-touch screen is responsive for a resistive tablet and accurately responds to finger touches; we just wish it was a different panel all together.
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.
In reality, the fact that the tablet runs an outdated Android 1.5 operating system will probably mean very little to the average consumer, but for us techies it means knowing that the software doesn't include quick search, the advanced battery usage indicator, multitouch support (not that it matters on this device) and a bunch of other recent additions. Archos can always push a firmware update to the device, but these firmware updates will not be able to administer an Android OS update. Sorry. That's really all we can say for this unfortunate reality.
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
The Archos 7's 600MHz ARM 9 processor and 128 MB of RAM aren't the fastest combo, but they aren't the slowest either. Most apps take four to five seconds to open, but moving through menus isn't sluggish like we found on the Entourage Edge. Sure, the operating system supports running multiple applications and processes in the background, but we're not sure you'd want to. When simultaneously running Twitdroid, eBuddy and the browser the tablet was quite laggy. It isn't painfully slow to wait for, but you come to anticipate the waiting time, and we're just not so into that. We certainly wish Archos just watched the snappy Dell Mini 5 in action, and put a 1GHz Snapdragon processor inside. We also noticed the tablet getting quite warm – we're told that may be a firmware issue, so we will update this review when the final firmware is available. Storage wise, the tablet packs 8GB of space, but the Micro SD slot supports up to 32GB cards.
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.
The Archos 7 Home Tablet: 'tis really a story of you get what you pay for. We knew that the lack of an accelerometer, capacitive screen and access to the Android Market would be major downers, and, well, they were. Obviously, those things would jack up the price, and though the Archos 7 does some things decently, like play onboard videos and display e-books, for $199 we still wish it did more for the price, or was even cheaper. And depending on what you're looking for, you're hard earned cash may be better spent an iPod Touch, Sony Dash, or a Kindle or Nook. But look, if you're desperate to get your hands on a larger screen Android tablet and have $200 saved, the Archos 7 Home Tablet is really your only option at the moment, though we're hopeful that some of its soon-to-arrive competitors will impress us more.