Review: The Archos 7 Internet Media Tablet


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Yes, Virginia, the screen really is that big.  Almost too big to call it portable…but not quite.  At 7 inches, this is by far the largest screen I have ever used on a portable device.  But while size matters, largest does not always mean best.  A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Archos 7’s younger sibling, the Archos 5, and found it to be nice, but less than perfect.  So,how will the Archos 7 stand up to the scrutiny of this review?  Will the larger screen and firmware upgrades give it the boost it needs to rise to the top of this crowded field?  Let’s take a look.

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The first thing I want to mention is that much of this device is identical to the Archos 5, which I reviewed not long ago.  So, consider this an update to that review.  Rather than rehash everything I already said, just go read that review.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

OK, good.  now that we are all caught up, what I want to talk about here are the things that are different or improved on the Archos 7.

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Obviously, the most noticeable difference between the Archos 5 and Archos 7 is the massive screen.  I really did not think those two inches would make a big difference, but the truth is that those two inches took this device from a mediocre video player in the Archos 5 to the Archos 7 which blew my mind.

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I will admit that this seven inch screen was probably as large as it could have been without encroaching upon the netbook category.  And I was a little afraid that the screen would be too large to really remain portable.  But I thought Archos did a great job here.  They designed a device which is slim and relatively light, and really utilizes all seven inches of the screen.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that until Apple releases their much rumored 7 inch iPod Touch, this is my new favorite device for watching videos.

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And while we are on the subject of the iPod Touch, just for kicks, giggles, and comparison, here is a picture of the Archos and iPod Touch side by side.  I paused both at the same point in the movie Transformers.  It is difficult to compare the resolution in these photos, but you can clearly see how much bigger this screen is.  making it the ideal device for someone like me who is not interested in watching videos on a tiny screen, but loves the idea of taking an entire video collection everywhere I go.

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Here is another shot to show you just how much larger this screen is than the ipod Touch.

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In addition to the large screen, however, the second draw of the Archos Internet Media Tablet is the Internet accessibility.   Eventually, there will be a 3G version, but for now you can only connect to the Internet via Wifi.  When I reviewed the Archos 5, I was frustrated by its inability to recognize and consistently connect to my Wifi network.  a new firmware upgrade, however, has resolved this issue once and for all.  The Archos 7 was able to find and connect with my home network with no trouble, even with the most advanced security enabled.

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The other thing I noticed was the onscreen keyboard.  On the five inch screen, this keyboard felt cramped and did not fit well with my thumbs.  On the seven inch screen, this keyboard became nice, large buttons which allowed easy and quick text entry. 

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And while we are on the subject of bigger and better, take a look at this hard drive.  I thought the Archos 5 included a nice sized hard drive, but this Archos 7 features 160 GB of storage.  that is simply incredible.  To put this into perspective, I was able to store all of my videos, all of my photos, and all of my music on this hard drive.  and I still had well over half of it to go.  Barring a significant format change in how videos are stored, I would not expect to run out of storage on this one.  And this was the smaller version, if you can believe it.  Just in case this is not enough, watch out for the 320 GB model.

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But the news is not all good.  There were still two glaring problems I had with the Archos 7.  The first was the relatively limited number of video codecs.  I was disappointed, for example, to find that videos formatted to play on my iPod Touch would not work here.  This is a pretty big problem, considering that many of the users purchasing this may be upgrading from an iPod.  Above, you can see what happened when I tried to play videos formatted for my iPod.  Hopefully, this problem may be fixed in a future firmware upgrade.

The second problem I had here was the price.  The 160 GB model costs $449.99 while the upgraded 320 GB model costs a whopping $549.99.  This really posed a problem.  With the price of netbooks which do all this and more steadily dropping, it is difficult to justify spending $450-$550 on the Archos 7 rather than potentially significantly less on a 10 inch MSI Wind.  Archos is going to have to find a way to secure a better price point, preferably sub $400 in order for these to fit into the expected niche.

When I reviewed the Archos 5, I was a bit less than impressed.  It really did not live up to my expectations, and the five inch screen was not significantly larger than the iPod Touch.  All of that change with the Archos 7.  Those extra two inches took this from being a mediocre video player to a best in class media tablet.  Not only did it significantly improve my experience watching video, but (coupled with the firmware improvements), I also found that surfing the Internet was a much better experience here.  Almost all of the doubts I voiced with the Archos 5 were answered in full with the Archos 7.  If you are looking for a portable video player, which will allow you to store, transport, and view every video in your library, then  your search can start and end with the Archos 7 Internet Media Tablet.

What I liked:

  • Enormous 7 inch screen
  • Onscreen keyboard works great
  • Firmware upgrades now allow for access to all encryption keys on your network

 

What Needs Improvement:

  • Price
  • Video codecs are too limited

 

Where to Purchase: Archos

Price: $449 and up

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  1. #1 by Charbax on January 2, 2009 - 8:10 am

    I think it must be an error in your testing. The Archos supports all codecs, it supports many more codecs then the ipod touch. It definitely supports the type of H264 video with AAC audio that is used on the ipod touch. It actually supports it much better then the ipod touch at higher resolution, bitrates and encoding complexity then the ipod touch.

    Check http://forum.archosfans.com for more information about the supported codecs.

    Perhaps you didn’t purchase the H264 with AAC podcast plugin for $19 to the Archos which would be required to add those codecs. Or $30 for the 3 plugin pack, that is also to add the HD 720p resolution plugin and the Mpeg2 and AC3 plugin. Or perhaps you are trying to copy over a copy-protected iTunes video file or something. Apple makes sure that their copy-protected iTunes stuff only works on Apple products. For playing iTunes copy protected stuff you will have to hack iTunes and crack their copy protection.

  2. #2 by dgoldring on January 2, 2009 - 10:26 am

    Hi, Charbax. Thanks for that clarification. I forgot that Archos sells additional codecs seperately. That does make a big difference, though it is still frustrating that after spending $450 on the player, that you have to spend an additional $20-$30 to get the correct codecs. Either way, I appreciate the clarification on that issue.

    Doug

  3. #3 by Charbax on January 5, 2009 - 7:33 am

    Well consider the ipod touch 32GB is $370, so for just $80 more you get the Archos 7 with a 4x larger screen, 10x more storage, and tons of other features..

    The Archos 5 has a screen that is twice the size of the ipod touch. Yup it means you can fit 2 ipod touch screens within the Archos 5 4.8" screen, and still it fits in about the same sized pockets.

    Archos thinks Mp3, Wav, Wma, Ogg, Flac are default audio codecs included for free and that AAC and AC3 are extra and don't need to be included for everyone. Archos also uses Mpeg4 (DivX, XviD), WMV as the default included codecs while Mpeg2 and H264 are optional codecs. On the Internet, most of the video you will find is DivX and most of the music is Mp3.

  4. #4 by Dsgoldring on January 5, 2009 - 12:07 pm

    @Charbax, While I agree that the Archos 7 is not a lot more than the iPod Touch, I am also on record as feeling that the ipod Touch is well overpriced. The truth is that the Archos costs the same as or more than many netbooks, which I think is a real problem. Given a limited budget, if my choice were between a media player with Internet access and a full netbook, well it would not be a tough choice,. Knock $100 off the price of the Archos and sell the 160 GB for $350 (or better yet $299.99) and I think it is a steal.

    I would disagree with you, however, about the Archos 5 fitting easily in the same pocket as the iPod Touch. It is significantly thicker. i routinely drop my Touch into a shirt pocket or pants pocket and could never have done that with the Archos 5.

    As for the codecs, I think Archos made a mistake here. Most people do not think about what format their videos are in and do not understand a lot of the differences. I think the more which are included natively the better it is for teh device and the user.

    All of that being said, the Archos 7 really is a beautiful player. We'll see if the much rumored iPod 9" Touch comes out this year and, if so, how that will affect this one. But for now, it really is a great video player.

    Doug

  5. #5 by Charbax on January 6, 2009 - 9:31 am

    The Archos 5G 30GB and 60GB models are really amazingly thin. Most people don't need H264, AAC, Mpeg2 and AC3. So since those codecs cost money, I think it is a great idea to just make those less used codecs optional. This way the more than 50% of users who don't need those codecs can save at least $30 on the retail pricing and still have that option if they later need it.

    You can't put a netbook in your pocket, you get less video battery time with a netbook, you mostly get less storage on a netbook (Archos is up to 250GB and 320GB, soon up to 500GB), ou cannot record TV like with a Tivo on a netbook, you cannot output to a HDTV using HDMI with a netbook, you don't have TV output on a netbook, again did I mention that you cannot put a netbook in your pocket? It's not the same product category and again, Archos provides plenty of features that netbooks and other Intel products do not have. I nearly never take my laptop with me (only when I plan to do some specific work with it some place), but I take my Archos 5 with me in my pocket every single day no matter where I am going for what and I use my Archos in public transportation catching up on video podcasts and recorded TV shows every single day. I would never do that using a laptop nor a netbook.

    You can always knock $100 off Archos MSRP prices by buying Archos devices at the cheapest online resellers. So if the MSRP for the Archos 5 is $349, you can already now easilly find it at the cheapest online resellers at below $300 towards $250.

    Apple never has done anything close to having the features of an Archos, so you can be certain that the rumored ipod touch 9" is going to be nothing much more than some fashion crap, just as with every other Apple product ever made.

  6. #6 by Brewski on December 4, 2009 - 6:58 pm

    Charbax..you sure are a LOUD fanboy of Archos, aren’t you?! Resistive touchscreen? NO thanks! And what’s with all this nickel and dime business? As a consumer do you want to feel like you’re being taken?

    I would liken Archos to the auto industry and a sleazy car salesman. They’re only doomed to fail by running a business, that makes the end user, understand the complexities of codecs. That’s why apple sells a ton of ipods. They understand that making it as simple and intuitive as possible the more units your going to sell. It doesn’t matter that you’re A+ certified or you just learned how to create an e-mail account, apples products just work.

    And Archos is notorious for having bad customer service. All these companies are in a service industry..if you can’t provide the other half of hardware electronics “customer service” then why would I want to buy a product from you.

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