Experimenting with An Archos 7 Home Tablet

I’ve been wanting to play with a tablet for a while. I say “play with” quite deliberately, as I can’t think of a mission reason to have one – yet.

A friend gave me an Archos 7 Home Tablet about a month ago. I’ve been carrying it around for a while, using it various places, and putting it through its paces.

This afternoon, Ian and I went to Best Buy and Office Depot, where we played with some other tablets. The last time I went to these places, there was only one – the iPad. Now there are about five at Office Depot, and eight or so at Best Buy (and this didn’t include the readers like the Kindle and it’s equivalents).

The thing I was struck by – there was only one 7″ tablet, and it was a reader. The rest of them were 10″ or better. These all ran Android 2+ (I think 2.2 or better), they were lighter, had more memory, were faster, had brighter contrast and more brilliant color, more connections, and more apps, than the Archos 7. Amazing hardware. Several were in the $300 class; the Archos retails for $200.

So as I have used the Archos tablet, I have concluded that it is good for maybe two things for me. First, if I am at a restaurant, or in bed or on the couch in my hotel room, the Archos is OK for surfing the web for news, and for updating and reading Facebook. It might be a good reader, but I didn’t try that. It seems to be good for playing digital music, but it would not run any streaming audio or video (think YouTube, or my favorite online station WDUV). I SSHed into my server at St. John’s a couple times (it was quite a pain to get the SSH client on the device) to check status and fix one issue, and that was OK (I can do that on my Blackberry also).

This blog post is being written on my HP laptop – that should tell you something right there.

First of all, the on-screen keyboard sucks. It is not responsive, and not accurate. I had a multi-line status update to Facebook an hour ago, and a slightly errant keypress wiped the tediously typed in entry out. I say tedious, because as I typed on the on-screen keyboard (OSK), it missed a large number of keys, even though it indicated the key was actually taken by showing it as small floater about the OSK. It seems like a lot of the missed keys were right after spaces. The keyboard on the Archos is a resistive-type screen; I used a number of other tablets today, and the have the same OSK layout, but their touchscreen (a capacitive-type, I see from researching online) response was significantly better; they missed no keys, and kept up with fast typing with little backspacing. Much better.

I had a lot of trouble dragging (scrolling) the display. I finally figured out that instead of using my fingertip, if I flipped my finger over and dragged/scrolled with the tip of my nail, it was fairly accurate.

One thing the OSK needs is left and right arrows. When I missed a character while typing, trying to put the cursor back on the missing letter led to a lot of cursing. There is a backspace key, but it’s destructive. An arrow key would help a lot, you could go near the error, then click over to it quickly.

There is no Flash support, which is probably why it will not play video or audio streams. Supposedly the 2+ version of Android does support Flash.

When I first brought it home, I plugged the charger into the wall, and plugged into the Archos. A couple hours later, it still would not boot. I realized after a couple minutes that the holes for the audio jack and the charger the the same size, and are right next to each other. I had plugged the power into the headphone jack. Probably lucky that I didn’t fry it.

I’ve had to to companies, restaurants, rest stops, home, and it does a great job of getting on wifi, even in WPA mode. It handles my webmail just fine. While I was in Dallas, Raegan sent me some photos of some award pins I needed to pick up for her at the local Girl Scout office, and being able to show the staff the picture of the pins on the 7″ screen was really nice.

The wallpaper tool is stupid. I don’t know if it Archos-specific, or part of Android, but it should be able to take a picture that you want to use as a wallpaper, and size it to fit the screen. Even Windows can do that, and Linux has been able to forever.

I tried to download some apps, and it was a PITA. I don’t know if that is Archos problem, or Google (Google, which developed Android, also runs the Android apps store). The first problem is that the appslib program complained it was out of date. To get a new appslib program, you had to get on the AppsLib site, which required you to create an account, and then wait 24 hours (WTH?). I waited (I tried to get on there every couple hours to no avail, it takes MORE than 24 hours), then downloaded the appslib program, which would not install. After some searching around online, I found the tidbit that you had to uninstall the existing appslib FIRST. I did that, and the new one installed immediately, and then showed me what I really had on the Archos.

I tried to download a couple other apps, but between the lame AppsLib interface, and the incessant complaining that I don’t have Android 2+, and other errors about file permissions and such, I just gave up. There is a program loading mode that uses a laptop or desktop to download the app, then load it into the Archos via USB, but I only did one app that way, and it’s even kind of a pain. It should just work.

I would like to use the Archos as a car computer, with a moving map. I still haven’t been able to find apps that will load for Android 1.5, like a mapping program, in the AppsLib. I haven’t been able to make it recognize and attached USB GPS (and it does not have built-in GPS). It will not tether to my Blackberry for data (another Android 1 limitation), and does not have Bluetooth.

It did a good job playing music from my Blackberr SD card. I pulled the card, popped it in the Archos, it indexed stuff for about 30 seconds, and then I was playing music immediately, over either my headphone, or the built-in speakers. Pretty nice.

The Archos is an amazing technology, though. I was able to use my company timekeeping website with little problem (that thing is a web disaster, so that was pretty amazing), and things like Facebook, with a lot of stuff going on in the background, worked well.

I will have a tablet eventually, but right now I don’t think that one will help out too much. I think they can be a lightweight bridge between a Blackberry and a laptop, but that is a niche that I don’t really need filled right now. I plan on keeping an eye on the market, and if the prices drop a bit, I might buy one of the 10″ devices.

I also have tried to find out how (if?) the Archos can be upgraded to Android 2. We’ll see how that goes.

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7 Responses to “Experimenting with An Archos 7 Home Tablet”

  1. Tom Says:

    An interesting read. I’ve used tablet computers for many years, starting with the old GRiD tablets, and later their convertibles. I’m donating my collection (about 10 various tablets) to our museum. Most were ok as computers, and totally inadequate as tablets. The best of the bunch were the two HP 1100s I got from the university (for “research”). They ran XP and were extremely reliable, but still a computer, not a tablet. A bit on the heavy side, and ran the idiotic Transmeta processor at 1GHz – think 500MHz Pentium. And who wants a CDROM in what should have been an ultralite?

    I currently use a Lenovo convertible, but I still like the design of the HPs better. At least the Lenovo is lighter.

    I picked up an iPad the first day they were released and haven’t looked back since I probably spend an hour a day on it. You are correct: tablets are good for surfing (aging, except Flash, but that hasn’t proven to be much of an issue for me). I also use mine for most email purposes. For longer editing needs, I can use a BT keyboard, but seldom do. Don’t need the non-destructive backspace when I can move the cursor anywhere with the touch screen. It’s also my only in-use ereader. Between iBooks, and the PDF, google Books, Amazon and Kindle readers, I don’t need anything else. Also videos, clearly (think Dr. Seuss) for entertaining grandkids. My primary use is to contain various church materials, including Boy Scout records. That amounts to about two normal bookshelves of reference material. Most of those texts are in the form of dedicated apps instead of ebooks – they make the cross-references all live links, which really helps.

    I haven’t looked seriously at any other tablets, being overly satisfied with what I have. Maybe I’ll look at the iPad 5 when it comes out in 2-3 years.

    The bottom line on tablets is that they’re tablets, not tablet computers, so are, indeed, in the middle niche, exactly as stated when Jobs announced the iPad.

  2. KWP Says:

    I have an Archos 7 IMT — Great for surfing the ‘net, reading PDF’s and playing movies or music, but that’s about it. Think of it as a smaller entertainment device for when you are traveling.

    However, I prefer a hard keyboard– and have settled on the Gateway LT2805u netbook with 2GB of DDR3 memory (and 250GB hard drive), Intel Dual-core Atom N570 (four CPU’s), built-in WiFi, Ethernet, 2 USB-2.0 ports, SD card reader, Webcam, microphone, headphone jack, external microphone jack, speakers (which IMHO are a bit weak), external VGA port and Intel graphics accelerator. It comes with Windows 7 Starter (which sucks– Windows 8 is not out yet which will solve many Win-7 problems). As it is– this machine is very usable for just about anything I need to do– but then I am not a “gamer”. The screen is 1024×600 (HD aspect ratio), with long-life LED backlight. I would recommend this machine over any tablet out there for a travel companion. We bought ours on sale at Office Depot for $230, and the 2G DRAM was $16 direct from Crucial. When Windows-8 Starter comes out, I will load this machine up with that. Until then, I will struggle along with Win-7 Starter.

  3. Bill Hensley Says:

    KWP, thanks for the input. I’m headed to Frys and Micro Center at some point over the next couple weeks, and I’m going to check out some of the netbooks while there.

    I wonder if that the Gateway netbook will dual-boot Linux?

  4. KWP Says:

    @Bill:

    Well, it *is* a PC after all, and so anything you can do with your desktop you should be able to do with the Gateway LT2805u, as long as you are satisfied with the hardware it comes with– (you can’t upgrade much of anything other than the memory to 2GB, and the 2.5-inch SATA hard drive.) It is incredibly light– about the same weight as my Archos 7 IMT.

  5. Archos 7 8GB Home Tablet with Android (Black) Reviews | Tablets Computer Says:

    […] with Android (Black)ARCHOS 7 Home Tablet bridges the gap between the smartphone and the desktop PCExperimenting with An Archos 7 Home TabletArchos 7 8GB Home Tablet with AndroidExperimenting with An Archos 7 Home […]

  6. John Says:

    Do you get an external (plug-in) keyboard that WORKS for the Archos 7 Home Tablet?

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