Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Archos 7 has been adjusted down from 7 to 5.
We have to give Archos credit for being the first to market with a 100 percent Android tablet and at a price ($199) that's within reach for most people. If you're looking for an iPad killer, the Archos 7 Home Tablet misses the mark, but it's not without its redeeming qualities.
Like most tablet computers, the Archos 7 Home Tablet isn't much to look at. It's a plastic slab that measures 8 inches wide by 4.25 inches tall by 0.5 inch thick; the dimensions feel nice in the hand and may even fit in a generous-size pocket.
Taking a cue from Apple, Archos' tablet design has few buttons and ports. There's a power switch up top, along with a microSDHC memory expansion slot. On the right side, you'll find sockets for headphones, the included power adapter, and a Micro-USB port. Apart from the speaker grilles on the front and an integrated plastic kickstand on the back, that's about all there is to the tablet's design.
If you were hoping for a volume switch or a home button, you'll have to be content with the tablet's onscreen controls. We can't say we're happy about that, especially given the inherent response latency that comes with resistive touch screens, compared with the capacitive displays used on many of today's smartphones. In spite of the screen's generous size, it often took us a few tries to get the onscreen home, back, and volume buttons to respond.
The Archos 7's onscreen keyboard is a different kind of disappointment. Sure, its sluggish touch-screen response is a drawback, as is the lack of multitouch support and predictive text, but it's the keyboard's tiny spacebar that really has us singing the blues. The tablet's design is small enough that you naturally want to grab it with both hands and type on it with your thumbs, like a giant smartphone. Unfortunately, its narrow onscreen spacebar, logically located in the middle of the keyboard, is just out of thumb's reach, requiring you to cradle the tablet in one hand and type with the other. Since the tablet doesn't reorient itself when held in portrait mode, there's only one way to type on the screen, and it leaves much to be desired.
The 7-inch screen on the Archos 7 Home Tablet does have a few qualities working in its favor. The backlit LCD has an 800x480-pixel resolution that gives movies and photos crisp detail and balanced color. The plastic overlay on the LCD provides a matte, antireflective finish that stands up to outdoor use better than the iPad or, provided you have the screen brightness cranked. The finish also affords the tablet better resistance to smudges and fingerprints, compared with the glossy glass screen of the iPad and Touch.
As the Archos 7 Home Tablet comes loaded with Google's Android OS (version 1.5), it includes many core apps, such as e-mail, a Web browser, photo viewer, and media playback for music and videos. Because of hardware limitations, other features of the smartphone operating system have been removed from the tablet, including apps for camera, maps, contacts, and messaging.
Another critical distinction to make between the Archos tablet and a conventional Android smartphone is that the included app store isn't Google's Marketplace, but is instead a collection of downloadable apps selected by Archos. In our conversations with Archos, company representatives cited several reasons for using its own app store, most notably the fact that many apps aren't yet optimized for use on tablets and rely on hardware features that aren't available, such as GPS, camera, or accelerometer control. In the end, users will either need to make do with the app selection provided on the device through Archos, or do some tinkering to load apps manually. This comes as disappointing news to anyone looking at the Archos 7 Home Tablet as an unrestricted gateway into the world of Android apps.
There are some useful apps for the tablet, though. Twitter fans can download the popular Twidroid app. There are games and Internet radio apps, apps for social networking, and for reading e-books. You probably won't be able to download the hot app of the week, or month, but there's enough substance in the Archos app store to lend the device the kind of mutability you want from an Android product