Gentlemen, we are now in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law - Reich Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg
Product: Archos 9 PCtablet
System Specifications: Intel Atom Z510 1.1 GHz, Intel Poulsbo US15W, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 60GB HDD, 8.9-inch touch screen, Microsoft Windows 7 Starter Edition, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0, 3.5-inch audio jack, 1.3MP webcam, Lithium Polymer battery
THE ARCHOS 9 PCTABLET has been dropped into the netbooks category by Archos with the blurb on the retail box insisting it is "the future of netbooks". In the strictest sense it isn't a netbook as it doesn't have a physical keyboard. Where it's best placed is as an extension of the firm's line of Internet media tablets and not as a real computer.
This professionally designed product could well be at home as an HP or Dell device, rather than hailing from a small French PDA outfit.
Encased in a robust oblong housing is an 8.9-inch resistive touchscreen, with a resolution of 1024x600. This isn't the most responsive touchscreen we've ever used. A finger needs to be violently stabbed at the display to really elicit a response from the PCtablet, whereas a more sensitive capacitive display could have been used, which might have brought a multi-touch ability to the Archos 9.
The display quality is also a letdown, requiring a direct viewing angle when watching video, for example. At any other angle, the display appears distorted and is unwatchable with the colours blurring and the image becoming indistinct. This could double up as a security measure to prevent other people around from viewing private content on the screen, just as it is with some business laptops. But we doubt this was Archos' intention and we think it just used a more, let us say, cost effective, screen.
Navigating around the display can be done by viciously stabbing at the screen with a finger, by using a stylus housed at the rear or with Archos' optical mouse. Located to the right of the display is a small 10 millimetre square shiny piece of plastic, which on first inspection we dismissed as we thought it was the infrared port. In fact it's an optical mouse, where running a finger across it moves the cursor arrow around the screen. It performs in much the same way as the current Blackberry tracker pads, seen on the new Bold 9700 and budget 8250. The sound up and down buttons on the left of the screen double-up as the left and right mouse buttons. This way of navigating the Archos 9 PCtablet was preferable, but violent finger stabbing was still needed to operate the virtual keyboard for text entry. Two hands were always needed for simply web surfing. Out of habit we tried double-tapping on the optical trackerpad to click on a link in a webpage, without success. This action should have been incorporated by Archos into the mouse, as it feels like a natural action while the sound/mouse buttons feel unnatural to use at times.
Typing with the large virtual keyboard also wasn't the best experience we've ever had with a tablet or touchscreen device, as it was rather unresponsive. We always had to use violent finger stabbing, and on some occasions a run-up was required just to press the return key. We didn't expect text entry to mimic writing on an HTC Android touchscreen mobile phone, but we did expect it to be better than it is.
The Archos 9 runs Windows 7 Starter edition, a choice favourite of netbook manufacturers as the OS is geared for use in those devices. This seems an odd choice for a touchscreen product, as according to Microsoft there is no native touchscreen support in this edition of the OS. What Archos could have better loaded on the PCtablet is the Windows 7 Home Premium Edition, as not only is it touchscreen capable and therefore better suited but it also has a handwriting recognition capability for use with the stylus. Other Archos touchscreen products have traditionally run Linux in the past, and the latest iteration we reviewed ran Android, both of which are a lot more responsive than Windows 7, even when running on an Intel Atom 1.1Ghz Z510 CPU such as is usually seen in MIDs.
There's a plethora of ports on offer including a 3.5-inch audio jack, USB, Bluetooth and WiFI. Missing is a 3G or 3.5G option, which have featured before in other Archos devices. This could really have served as a distinct selling point for the Archos 9 if it had been included, perhaps even along with a content portal, which could have been a useful addition too. Apparently there was an Archos content site, until it closed down at the end of 2009, since the shortcut icon to that is still prominently featured on the desktop.
Playing video content isn't the PCtablet's strongest point; in fact there really wasn't a strong point to the device at all. The company's own website states the Archos 9 can play full HD video, with a disclaimer mentioning this only refers to H264 content. The most popular H264 media is Quicktime, but this device could not play HD 1080p video whatsoever. The audio played was disjointed, the picture could not even be displayed and only half of the video window was visible, with the rest hanging off the screen. The same video format playing in 720p and 480p was also badly disjointed, with trailers and other content being totally unwatchable. Even standard quality flash Youtube videos had trouble playing. There is native support on the PCtablet for DiVX and XViD video, which played effortlessly, although if any other task was undertaken with the Archos 9 while the video was running the picture would lag and playback would stall.
Storage comes in the form of a 60GB hard drive, which is slow to boot up at around the three minute mark. There isn't full 60GB of capacity, as there's a recovery partition reducing the amount of space significantly. An SSD could have been a preferable option on the device, instead of the PATA Toshiba hard drive as the bootup time would have been improved, the device could have been more responsive as a result and a better experience would have been delivered.
The size and weight of the Archos 9 don't closely match those of the Ipad. Instead it's just a beefier cousin of the other Archos touchscreen MID devices. The PCtablet measures 256mmx134mmx17mm with a weight of 800g. As a comparison, the Apple Ipad is 243mmx190mmx13mm and weighs 730g. The Archos 9 is too heavy for one handed use, such that it's actually a plus that two hands are needed to use its optical trackerpad mouse and accompanying buttons, as two hands are also needed to comfortably hold the PCtablet.
Battery life for the PCtablet was below the expected duration of five hours by some margin. In our tests on the highest battery settings, the device lasted for three hours of continuous use. On the most battery conservative settings in Windows 7, with WiFi and Bluetooth disabled, the Archos 9 lasted four hours.
As a first attempt at making a touch screen media tablet computer this could be seen as a good effort, only it is not Archos' first attempt. It has a proven history of making touchscreen devices along with a decent back catalogue and range. The screen is unresponsive unless brutal stabbing with a finger is undertaken. It almost appears as if this was a rushed device and it might really only exist because of Windows 7. If that is the case, Archos should have opted for the version of that OS that natively supports touchscreens and not worked in a botched solution. The PCtablet needs a more responsive and better quality screen, an SSD instead of a PATA HDD, a faster CPU and a content portal of some note. µ
Touchscreen tablet, native DiVX/XViD support
Slow hard drive, slow processor, bad choice of operating system and version
Unresponsive screen, poor video performance
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ