Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Archos 70 has been adjusted down from 7 to 6.
The Archos 70 is the perfect case in point. It doesn't run the latest version of Google's Android OS or sport the latest wave of dual-core processors, but for as little as $270, it delivers a ton of bang for the buck. Its closest competition isn't even a tablet, but the Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-reader, which is similarly priced but woefully under-specced by comparison.
Like most tablet computers, the Archos 70 isn't much to look at. It's a plastic slab that measures 7.9 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and a slim 0.43 inch thick (or 0.55 for the hard-drive model). The dimensions feel nice in the hand and may even fit in a generous-size pocket.
Compared to the similarly sizedwe reviewed in 2010, there's a generous smattering of ports and hardware options on the Archos 70. The power button is on the right, positioned uniquely near the bottom edge along with a slim volume rocker. Along the left side you'll find a microSDHC memory expansion slot, headphone jack, power adapter socket, Mini HDMI output, and a Micro-USB port. Apart from the speaker grilles on the front and an integrated (flimsy) kickstand on the back, that's about all there is to the tablet's design.
Despite all these great hardware features, you won't find the typical Android navigation keys on the Archos 70. Taking a cue from Android's new flagship Honeycomb OS, Archos has moved the controls for home, back, menu, and search into the OS. The upshot of this move is that the navigation controls reposition themselves to match the device's orientation. If you're already an Android power-user, the lack of tactile navigation keys may take some getting used to, but we found the change useful on the whole.
One Android tweak we weren't thrilled with was the Archos 70's keyboard. After our previous criticism over how Archos kept the spacebar out of thumb's reach by making the centralized key too small, the company has since shifted the key over to the left. Unfortunately, it's still the size of a smartphone spacebar, and crowded in with cursor keys. 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. If you can tweak the keyboard using optional software, we'd recommend it.
The 7-inch screen on the Archos 70 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 viewing angles aren't great, but we've seen worse. We wish Archos would have opted for a matte finish on the display to help resist smudges and glare (as it has done in the past), but we're fairly happy considering the price.
As far as software goes, you're looking at an Android 2.2 device, minus the conveniences of Google's proprietary apps, including Android Marketplace, Gmail, and Maps. You get the stock Android 2.2 e-mail app and Web browser, along with Archos' remixed versions of the Android music player, photo viewer, and video player.
As a peace gesture, Archos offers its own app store called AppsLib, for those looking to go through the motions. As we've noted in previous Archos tablet reviews, the content just isn't there. It's like taking a trip through a flea market. There are plenty of knockoffs and hastily produced games and demos, but the brand names aren't around.
What's more interesting are the hardware features. The Archos 70 doesn't offer cellular connections or GPS, but you do get 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. There's also a Mini-HDMI port that mirrors the onscreen view to a TV--perfect for playing videos or showing off Web sites.
Of course, not all of the specs are winners. The included front-facing VGA camera isn't flattering to anyone. It can shoot stills or video, but its biggest asset is compatibility with video chat apps, such as Fring (an optional free download).
Another disappointment is the lack of full Adobe Flash 10 support. It's a complaint we make about tablets twice the price of the Archos 70--but regardless of the bargain you think you're getting, it's frustrating to come across broken Flash players while browsing the Web.
In many ways, the Archos 70 is one of the best-performing budget tablets on the market. It sports a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor (clocked down to 800MHz by default) and 3D OpenGL ES 2.0 graphic acceleration for improved gaming performance. Despite the power under the hood, it's not as swift as the Samsung Galaxy Tab when it comes to touch-screen responsiveness, wake time, or screen reorientation. The culprit is likely a skimping on system RAM, but whatever the reason, it can't hold a candle to the Galaxy Tab or when it comes to general responsiveness and app load time.
On a good note, the Archos 70 continues the company's legacy of excellent media format support. On the video end you have file support for AVI, MP4, MKV, MOV, WMV, MPG, PS, TS, VOB, and FLV, many up to 720p at 30fps. Of course, all that resolution is lost on the tablet's 800x480 screen, but there's always the Mini-HDMI output.
One of the indisputable killer specs for Archos is the option of a 250GB hard-drive model. The basic 8GB version is fine if you plan on supplying your own storage via microSD, but media hoarders looking to turn the Archos 70 into a portable HD video drive to connect to their TVs will likely want to step up to the hard-drive model.
We tested the Archos 70's battery life at full screen with a 720p video. See below for results.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
Priced less than $300, the Archos 70 delivers an impressive amount of horsepower and features for your money. It's still pretty sluggish, though, and as older, high-end, Android Market-endowed 7-inch tablets get their prices slashed, you'll get more mileage out of an older Galaxy Tab or Dell Streak 7. With the future of Android tablets clearly tied to Google's Android Honeycomb OS, the best advice we can give shoppers looking for the latest and greatest is to wait until the Honeycomb competition heats up later in 2011.