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.