Archos 5 IT (32 GB) Review

Archos redesigned the 5-inch Internet tablet media player with flash-based memory and an infusion of Google's Android OS. Let's take a look!

ext3, not Mac compatible!

The Archos 5 IT has migrated from the FAT32 file system, to Ext3 because the latter supports increased file sizes.

Designed by Microsoft, FAT32 dates from another era, as it has existed since Windows 95. It was only designed for storage devices of up to several tens of gigabytes, far below the needs of today's terabyte era. today's terabyte capacities. In FAT32, maximum “shelf” size is 4 GB and HD video files easily go beyond 10 GB.

The solution decided on was to migrate towards ext3, a system that supports larger files. This is not an issue for Windows compatibility. and Linux is also compatible, of course. But Mac OS X, though Unix-based like Linux, does not support ext3 at the moment. Hopefully, Archos will provide a solution in the near future.

The newest generation of Archos Internet tablets is here, and the devices have migrated from Linux to Google Android. Or rather, Archos has migrated its multimedia layer from above the Linux kernel onto Android which is more communications orientated and generalist. So you still have a Linux kernel and two very well-linked layers: the Archos flavor of Linux for multimedia and Android for everything else. This is a nice concept because while Archos is several generations in, Android is just starting and multimedia is not its strong point. Let’s see how it works in practice.

Oh! An Archos!

In effect, the design hasn’t evolved much since the original Archos 5. The old bronze look to the casing has become a more standard anthracite, but it’s still more or less the same shape and still made from stainless steel, perfect for picking up finger prints. It’s not as if Archos couldn’t have learned a lesson from its own previous 5-series models or the iPod touch, but the company hasn’t paid any heed. Note that the manufacturing process has been improved and the mixture of steel and plastic works particularly well, with an exemplary finish.

LCD Screen
Screen Resolution/Colors
800x480/16 million colors
32 GB, plus SD/SDHC memory cards
5.02" W x 3.08" H x 0.51" D/8.82 ounces
Audio: 22 hours, Video: 7 hours

A word on the bundle: a player, a pair of headphones and a USB cable is somewhat insufficient for a high-end MID/player. We would have expected to have at least a cover, a microfiber cloth or even a car charger, which you have to buy separately. The same goes for the TV and other connection modules that don’t come with the primary unit. However, the argument is always the same: the user shouldn’t pay for options they don’t want.

For navigation, there are the two well-known Archos and Android interfaces. The two don’t come together particularly well, which is a shame when you consider other devices that merge Android and some sort of proprietary interface, like the HTC Hero for example. The icons and other Archos themes are starting to look quite old. All the same, any iPod, smartphone or video player user should feel at ease with it. Let’s have a look at the rest of the device.

Audio / Video: very much in line with its predecessors

On the audio side, we get support for a great variety of formats, including MP3, WMA, OGG, and FLAC. For video, expect MP4, WMV and MKV support (720 pixels max but this is already good, especially as you can output to a TV if you get the right module). The Texas Instruments chip allows you to play these formats without prior re-encoding, which is very welcome.

What’s really great is that the days of buying codec packs are over. In the past, Archos was in the habit of charging extra for video plug-ins, still on the pretext that customers shouldn’t have to pay for features they weren’t using. This practice is now over, except for the GPS navigation feature that we’ll come back to in a second.

Also note: the headphones will be thrown straight in the bin by many users. The socket is pretty good, top drawer for PMPs, so audio will be great with you couple the Archos 5 with a decent set of headphones/earbuds. The Archos 5 3G+ had a screen with an anti-reflective coating but the 5 IT is glossy again, and very hard to use outside.

Android yes, but the Market, no!

Archos CEO Henri Crohas has talked up Archos’ move to Android. Now, the Archos 5 IT screen has an 800x480 resolution, which is higher than the current Android spec. And here’s the kicker: The Archos 5 IT cannot therefore run any of the official Google apps, or access Android Market, which was nevertheless played up a great deal when it was presented!

The applications it does have are of course very complete but we’ll have to wait a few months for personalization, when Android will be updated. For now, there is nevertheless a good navigator, which gives full page visibility without zoom, at the cost of some slight page re-organization due to the fact that a lot of sites are designed for a 1024 width rather than 800. You also get multiprotocol instant messaging software and a GPS app. However, for worthwhile GPS usage, you need to shell out another 60 pounds or so for maps and a holder.

Archos 5 IT (32 GB)
  • HD video compatibility without re-encoding
  • Internet navigation without zoom
  • Glossy screen
  • No official Google applications or Android Market yet
  • Poor headphones
  • Bundle on the light side

The Archos 5 IT is ambitious and based on a nice concept. However, Android doesn’t yet add much because of the fact that Archos is too far in front of Google – third party apps on Android Market can’t yet be accessed. We’ll all have to wait for Google to catch up.