To look at it, the Archos 28 Internet Tablet would be more commonly associated with cell phones than tablets, but since it doesn’t make phone calls and it does have a web browser, it must be a tablet, right? The operating system is based on Android 2.2, customized here and there by Archos—with mixed results. The Archos 28′s primary flaw, however, isn’t its size but its poor touch screen. At $99.99 for 4GB, it’s cheap enough that we can forgive some drawbacks, but it’s hard to think of this “tablet” in the same realm as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, or even its more natural competition, the iPod touch ($229, 5 stars).
Archos 28 Design
Measuring 3.9 by 2.1 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighing 2.4 ounces, the Archos 28 Internet Tablet has an attractive dark metallic design, but make no mistake: it looks like a classic (as in, two years ago) portable media player. Smaller than an iPod touch, with a 2.8-inch QVGA (320 by 240-pixel) touch screen that dominates the front panel, the Archos 28 is one of the last remaining iPod competitors out there. Most of these devices have disappeared as manufacturers choose to focus on tiny, gym-friendly MP3 players or larger, multifunctional tablets. Archos is attempting to revitalize its line of players by referring to them as “Internet Tablets” and (mostly) doing away with its old operating system in favor of tweaking Google’s Android OS. The upgrade to Android is a wise decision, and several other Archos models can truly be called tablets, but one look at this device and there is no mistaking: it’s a plain old portable media player (yes, those can have browsers, too).
Archos 28 View SlideshowSee all (7) slides
Below the screen, an array of icon-based buttons let you navigate back a page, call up the settings menu, go to the home screen, zoom in, or change the volume. The bottom panel houses the headphone jack (a pair of lousy earbuds comes with the player), a built-in microphone, a mini-USB jack (a cable for syncing with your computer also comes in the box), and a Power LED that seems strangely placed, since the Power button itself is all alone on the left-hand panel. Unlike the Archos 3cam vision ($99.99, 3.5 stars), the Archos 28 has no camera for recording video and shooting photos. The built-in mic is supposedly there for speech-to-text controls, but we had issues downloading the necessary software; it’s not included on the player, nor is a voice recording app.
The Archos 28 comes in 4 and 8GB models, uses an ARM Cortex A8 800MHz processor, and has an accelerometer for switching between horizontal and vertical viewing modes. The OS is based on Android 2.2 (“FroYo”), but customized for Archos players. File support for the device is a definite strength. For audio, it plays MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, OGG Vorbis, and FLAC; it supports MPEG-4, H.264, WMV, and M-JPEG video files and JPEG, BMP, PNG, and GIF photo files. The Archos 28 connects to the Web via 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.
Archos 28 Specifications
- Screen Size
- 2.8 inches
- Storage Capacity (as Tested)
- 4 GB
- 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches
- Archos 28 Networking Options
- 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Even if you are familiar with the Android operating system on cell phones, prepare for a different experience with the Archos 28. Google made Android a completely open operating system, so Archos and others are free to use it on devices like this one, but since the tablet has no built-in phone capabilities, Google denies access to the Andriod Market and offers no support. This means that the implementation of Android on the Archos device feels a little clunky at times.
The browser experience is similar to what you’d get on other Android-based devices, but it tends to load only mobile versions of sites. This is due to the sites themselves seeing the browser as a mobile one, but if you choose to load the full site (usually an option at the bottom of the webpage), you can see the real thing—sort of. First off, you won’t get any Flash support. There’s also no pinch-and-zoom or reliable scrolling thanks to the lackluster touch-screen—navigating, or even just pressing buttons or links on pages, becomes virtually impossible. In other words, viewing watered-down mobile versions of websites is generally as good as it gets. On the bright side, the pop-up keyboard, which works in both vertical and horizontal arrays, is surprisingly easy to use despite the screen’s other sensitivity issues—and the fact that the buttons are smaller than corn kernels.
AppsLib is Archos’ stab at the Android Market, since Google denies access to its cherished collection of mobile apps. Archos does curate the apps and divide them into useful categories like “Tools” or “Entertainment”, but often, you click on an app to find the app lacking any description, and user comments are all in French. This makes sense since Archos is based in France, but it’s not exactly useful if you don’t speak the language. Beyond this annoyance, the apps just don’t seem up to snuff; they seem more often created by users than companies, and are more often widgets than useful or exciting programs.
The music player app is one of the better-looking aspects of the device. An album cover array reminiscent of Apple’s Cover Flow moves with your finger. Selecting an album with the touch screen’s weak sensitivity can be annoying, but the Now Playing screen displays album art, playback controls and a setting menu. In the main settings menu, you can access EQ, which has only preset adjustments and no user customizable options. I suggest leaving this setting at “flat”, and perhaps upgrading your earphones if things sound too weak; PCMag’s headphone buying guide is a good place to start that search.
Video and photo viewing default to horizontal mode. Both are fine for a quick reference or to show friends snapshots you’ve taken, but the screen’s low resolution makes it a challenge to enjoy long term video viewing. Yes, the device has commendable file support, but its playback does not, shall we say, feel like a high-definition experience.
It is also possible to sync an email account with the player. It was easy syncing a Hotmail account with the Archos 28, though new messages were not pushed to the main menu page. If your account does not sync, your only other option is to use the browser, which, given the screen issues, could be a bit of a hassle depending on which service you use.
One final, troubling issue I had with the Archos 28 occurred while recharging the device. When you connect to a computer for power (via the included USB cable) you’re prompted to choose between syncing the device or connecting in charge-only mode. I chose the latter, left the player connected to my work computer overnight, and arrived in the morning to find the screen frozen on the “Archos, Entertainment Your Way” start-up screen. Disconnecting the player did nothing to make this go away. The only thing that worked was holding the Power button for ten seconds, which turned the device off. Going through this process on even a semi-regular basis would get old quickly.
Archos claims the Archos 28 gets 16 hours of battery life for audio playback and 4 for video, reasonable numbers for a touch-screen device this size. Our own test results will be posted here soon.
It may sound like we’re being harsh, but the bottom line is: just because a device is affordable doesn’t make it a good value. The Archos 28 has a tiny screen that doesn’t respond well to touch. This means Web browsing, as well as simply navigating the device, offers more annoyance than entertainment or convenience. Whether you agree with Archos that this is a tablet or not, it is nonetheless a device with issues, and at this low price, my advice is to avoid the Internet-browsing “tablets” altogether. In 2010-11, $100 is too little to pay for a strong, Internet equipped device; they’re just not there yet. It’s just the right amount for a decent portable media player, like the Samsung YP-R0 ($99.99 list, 3.5 stars), which comes with better-than-average earphones, or the aforementioned Archos 3cam Vision. Ironically, the 3cam is set to be discontinued soon, which is too bad. For the same price, I felt it offered a better-executed set of features—most notably, a camera.
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