Archos is known for its generally well-received portable media players, such as the Android-powered Archos 5 Internet tablet. The company's 9-inch PC product, called the Archos 9 PC Tablet, features a full Windows 7 OS in an effort to meld the media player and Netbook laptop into one attractively priced fusion device.
Unfortunately, nailing that recipe is apparently tougher than it looks, and the final result fully satisfies neither as a Windows PC nor as a handheld multimedia device. The most crippling design decision may be the choice of the 1.1GHz Intel Atom Z510 as the CPU. Though we've squeezed decent performance from the N270/N280 Atoms, as well as from the newer N450 version, any product we've tested with the slower Z-series Atom CPU has been frustratingly sluggish, and this is no exception.
Our second major issue comes from the touch screen itself. Devoid of a keyboard, or even more than a couple physical control buttons, you're at the mercy of the touch screen and onscreen commands to get anything done with the Archos 9. Unfortunately, we found the resistive 8.9-inch screen to be less responsive than we would have liked, even when using the included dummy stylus, and the custom onscreen keyboard (handily summoned by a physical button on the bezel) required very firm finger taps to use.
At $549, it's more expensive than the entry-level Apple iPad, and certainly does many things that device can't, from running Firefox to playing streaming video (although our attempts to play Hulu videos were less than successful). But unlike our preliminary impressions of Apple's device, it's a struggle to perform many basic tasks on the Archos 9. With a more responsive touch screen and a beefier processor, it could have been a contender.
|Price as reviewed||$549|
|Processor||1.1GHz Intel Atom Z510|
|Memory||1GB, 400MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||60GB 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 500 (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.1 x 5.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||8.9 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.8/2.3 pounds|
The Archos 9 certainly looks the part, with a sleek, thin body, solid brushed-metal construction, and gently tapered edges. It's much closer to what we think a tablet device should look like than the bulky Dell Mini 10 tablet prototype built by Stantum that we looked at recently. The default screen orientation is horizontal, but the body fit very naturally into a single hand when held vertically (which made us wonder why there wasn't a physical screen rotation button anywhere). At 1.8 pounds, it felt a bit dense and heavy for such a small device.
When gripped in two hands, the Archos 9 feels like an oversize media player, and its 9-inch screen gave us a good view of Web pages, photos, docs, and videos when held at arm's length. But using the onscreen keyboard--still a requirement for much of what one would call basic computing--is awkward, just because your hands are too far apart to be able to hit every key on the onscreen keyboard while gripping the sides. To its credit, Archos has its own version of Windows' onscreen keyboard that offers large, easy to hit keys, as well as a physical button to the left of the display for calling up and dismissing that keyboard. A second button acts as a combined CTRL+ALT+DEL keyboard combo, which can be very useful at times.
Below those two left-hand quick-launch buttons are a pair of left and right mouse buttons, designed to work with the tiny micro touch pad to the right of the display. Just place your thumb over the miniscule pad, and the most subtle movement will scroll the mouse pointer across the screen. We found it to be surprisingly accurate and easy to use, especially compared with the difficulty of using your finger or the included dummy stylus to click and drag.
The resistive touch screen requires far too heavy a hand to use, and is a far cry from the instant-gratification one gets from a good capacitive screen, such as on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Dragging windows with your finger is touch-and-go, no pun intended, and we couldn't even use our finger to grab and scroll down long Web pages or flip pages in a Kindle book file.
Using the PC version of Amazon's Kindle software, we were able to bring up some e-book files, and the matte screen displayed them nicely. Tapping the far edges of the screen flipped pages, and we were also able to rotate the display to portrait mode (using the standard Windows display properties menu), but again, we could not "swipe" to turn the pages.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display offers a 1,024x600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for many Netbooks. We're becoming more used to HD Netbook displays, but the lower resolution actually makes for easier touch interaction, as text and other items appear larger. We also appreciate the matte finish of the display. Especially when using a tablet, which can change orientation and position second-by-second, it's very easy to catch stray glare on a glossy screen.
|Archos 9 PC Tablet||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack, built-in mic.||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
With only a single USB connection and no SD card slot or video output, the Archos 9 isn't very port-friendly. We would have especially liked to see an SD card reader, which would make this a potentially useful tool for on-the-go photographers. Some additional connections, including two extra USB ports and an Ethernet connection, are available via an Archos port replicator.
We thought we'd seen some slow Netbooks before, but nothing quite like the Archos 9. As usual, anything that tries to meld a full Windows OS with a Z-series Intel Atom processor is going to be tricky. By trading down to an even slower 1.1GHz Atom Z510 (we've tested Z520 and Z530 systems before), the overall Windows experience slows to a crawl. Opening Web browser windows could take more than 10 seconds, and performing simple tasks, such as browsing files and folders, was also frustrating. Our basic benchmark tests took around twice as long to run on the Archos 9 than on the current crop of Intel Atom N450 Netbooks (keep in mind Archos itself brands this system as "the next generation of Netbooks"). Overall, the Archos 9 was painfully slow to use, and being very familiar with typical Netbook performance, we don't say that lightly.
Video playback was fine for SD files and slightly choppy on 720p files, but attempts to view streaming Hulu video were unsuccessful. That's a gigantic shame, as one would expect this to be an especially media-friendly device (Archos includes a handful of media-browsing and -playback software apps to this end).