10 days ago, I posted some preliminary thoughts on the ARCHOS 5 Android Internet Tablet. Now that I have had an opportunity to put the device through more of its paces, here is a follow-up report, with an eye towards how the ARCHOS projects out to expected behavior of other devices.
If the ARCHOS is any indication, bumping up Android devices in CPU speed will be very useful. Things that you don’t think really take all that long on classic Android devices — like opening a simple app — are lightning-quick on the ARCHOS, even with screen transition animations turned on. Now, there will always be apps that can use every bit of CPU speed, but for basic stuff, the ARCHOS CPU speed is fine, and you may not find yourself often wishing for more in day-to-day use.
WVGA in a 5″ form factor means a very pleasant screen, visually. Coupled with the CPU speed (and perhaps other bits of the chipset), playing back videos is very smooth, even if they have to be up-scaled to WVGA size. I have not tried it as an ebook reader yet, but I suspect it will do very well in that role. Other WVGA devices should fare similarly well.
The new firmware solves some development issues, notably enabling “adb” support, so you can install applications and view the error log. Screen captures did not work when I tried them, though it is unclear if that is truly a problem with the ARCHOS or perhaps just in the handshaking between ARCHOS’ version of WVGA support and the official WVGA support in Android 1.6.
The built-in speaker is excellent for music playback, and the “leg” that can fold out from the back makes the ARCHOS an excellent desk-side music player.
A resistive touchscreen makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time. I even had to go buy a stylus, as trying to navigate with my fingernail wasn’t working well and I was a bit nervous about scratching the screen with any other handy option (e.g., pen). If all your recent experience has been with resistive touchscreens, you will not notice a difference, but if you have been using capactive screens for the past year or two, you might be surprised.
There are some minor quirks in the ARCHOS support for Android’s APIs. On the plus side, every bit of example code that I’ve tried on it that I expected to run has run — obviously, the ARCHOS cannot run code that expects Google Maps or a phone dialer. However, the API docs say that the ANDROID_ID unique value is supposed to be a hex string on devices and null on the emulator; ARCHOS made theirs not null but not hex, either. Also, their default theme puts a black background behind option menu icons, which might not work well with some app icons. None of these should be “show-stoppers”, but they are things to consider.
In order to access some advertised features, such as “Web radio” (Shoutcast and kin) and MP4 playback, you have to register the device on the ARCHOS site, complete with an email address and such.
Despite the new firmware, the ARCHOS spontaneously reboots a fair bit. Fortunately, it reboots very quickly, but you still lose your place and whatever you happened to have been working on at the time.
Would I recommend this device to any ordinary person? Not until the crashing clears up, hopefully in a future firmware update.
However, it is a fine device for developers looking to experiment with larger screen sizes, particularly without having to deal with mobile carriers and calling plans along the way.