Look and feel
When powered off, the Archos 32 looks like the company's typical music player
– it's primarily crafted of black plastic, though the back is made of some sort of brushed metal. However for weighing just 2.5 ounces we're fairly impressed with the build quality of the .3-inch thick "tablet." The little thing felt right at home in our pocket at the gym and didn't protrude much when we put it in our jeans pocket. There's no carrying case included, so we'd strongly suggest nabbing a small pouch for protecting it against bumps and bruises in a bag.
The front of the device is mostly glossy screen, although below the display are six touch-sensitive buttons that actually happen to be more responsive to finger taps than we expected. However, they're not backlit so seeing them in the dark is a struggle. The left edge holds the 32's power button and volume rocker, while the bottom is home to micro-USB and 3.5mm headphone jacks. There's a small mic on the bottom as well, but the device is
missing a speaker. It's a fairly odd omission considering most of the other Archos PMPs have had it in the past. Your run-of-the-mill plastic earbuds are included in the box – they're loud, but outrageously uncomfortable in comparison to our Shures.
Admit it: you've been cringing at the fact that the 32 has a resistive touchscreen since you read the introduction. We don't blame you, but it's nowhere near as bad as you'd think. We found the 420 x 240-resolution LCD to be responsive to light finger swipes and taps -- at first we actually thought it may be capacitive, but the old fingernail test proved us wrong. You can check it out for yourself in the video below, but lightly swiping a finger to scroll through albums or down a web page was rather smooth – much smoother than on the Archos 7 Home Tablet
or any of the other resistive tablets we've reviewed lately. Our major issue with the display is really how mushy it feels. While we realize we're used to glass displays, the plastic one on the 32 feels like it's caving in every time you make a selection. The display is also overly glossy, which makes it hard to see in bright situations.
As far as actual screen quality goes, we're less than impressed. Even with brightness cranked all the way up, colors are fairly washed out and just not as bright as you'd expect – greens and blues in an HD clip of the Caribbean just weren't as crisp as we'd hoped it would be. The accelerometer is a nice addition, but at times it can be a bit slow to readjust – we had to shake the device a few times to get it to reorientate itself. At least there's an option to turn it off within the Settings menu. However, when it comes to gaming it's much more accurate. Turning around the bend in Racing Thunder Lite by tilting it to the right or left was quite responsive.
Music, video player and camera
The 32 can
do a handful of things, and we'll get to them in a bit, but its real talent is music and video playback. On the music front, the little guy handles a slew of audio formats, including MP3, WMA, WMA-Pro 5.1, WAV, AAC, OGG. Also, Archos has done some work to the music interface – they've added a Cover Flow-esque UI for easily sifting through recently played albums. There's also the typical Artist, Songs, Albums and Playlist organization, and scrolling through the long lists is particularly easy with the alphabetical option that appears over the scroll bar. We transferred over a bunch of our newest albums and had no complaints about the sound of our tunes. Oh, and to whoever preloaded our review unit with Journey's Greatest Hits... thank you! We should mention that we do wish the 32 had an FM tuner, you know, so we could stay hip and listen to the American Top 40
on Sunday mornings.
The video application, which is just a basic list of files, isn't as polished, but still gets the job done. It also can play a variety of formats including 720p MPEG-4 clips, H.264 HD, and WMV9 files. Our review unit also came preloaded with Archos' MPEG-2 codec / plug-in that allows for watching AVI, MP4, MKV, MOV, FLV and other video files. A sideloaded 720p AVI Scott Pilgrim
trailer as well as some other AVI movies played quite nicely. Archos will carry a composite out cable for $12.99 for outputting the video to a larger display.
So, how's that VGA cam on the back? It's, well, a VGA cam. In terms of quality we really didn't expect much better than the grainy shots we snapped in the gallery below. To its credit the automatic white balance is fairly decent. However, you'll notice some of the photos have the tip of our finger in them. That's the result of the awkward placement of the camera on the bottom rear of the device. Sure, we've just about mastered having to hold it in our left hand and use our right finger to tap the shutter button, but we wish we didn't have to make that adjustment in the first place. Similarly, the video quality is mediocre at best, though it'd be fine for shooting some quick footage, of say a airline attendant flipping out, and uploading to YouTube.