Archos 9 – UMPC, Tablet PC or PMP?

Archos had almost got the UMPC/tablet form factor right, when a certain Apple showed up…

The hemp case disguises the technology brilliantly, making it look more like an art case or clutch bag, with an embroidered design that manages not to make the case particularly girly. Obviously it’s not going to look at place on the red leather seat of your Audi S5 convertible, but it should be right at home at art school or urban PTA meetings.

Street prices for the Archos 9 seem to be compelling currently, making it potentially seem something of a bargain for an attractive looking UMPC. In fact, at the easily available Amazon price of £369, this seemingly full-featured computer looks positively cheap compared to the solid little Archos 7 and 5 tablets that have ensured the French firm has actually been one of the few global manufacturers to maintain a real presence in the tablet/MID market outside of Asia. In fact, Archos has already proven that at either end of the market, it’s capable of understanding and delivering good products – the Archos 7 Home Tablet is only £129 and undercuts most technically similar Chinese imports, though by all accounts it’s very much the same level of product as well.

It is possible to drastically update the Archos 9’s utility if you want to crack it open and spend a little extra money. Given the current price, the 6000mAh battery from SupereTrader at £29.99 would appear to be excellent value compared to Archos’ own 3000mAh unit at over £50; I have requested one of these to test.

The standard 1.8″ HD is very slow, and not particularly capacious; around £300 will get a 128GB 1.8″ SSD (though prices do vary – you want an 8.5mm or thinner PATA ZIF (40 pin) type). The WiFi and Bluetooth are on a shared Mini PCIe card; some success has been had upgrading these to a Huawei E772 WiFi + HSPA 3G card (with SIM on an extension under the battery). Admittedly by the time you’ve installed the parts to bring the Archos up to a 3G iPad 64GB’s specifications, you’ve spent as much or more and still have the slower UI of Windows – but if you wanted a Windows machine in the first place, you’re getting close to the iPad’s battery life and storage at this point.

In the end, I feel a little sorry for the Archos 9 PCTablet. After years of essentially pointless UMPC devices attracting the attention of geeks and enterprise customers but few others, it looked like they’d found a good balance of performance and price (the Paulsbo chipset, despite what you read now, was Intel’s great hope for delivering usable battery life and Windows 7 performance in low-cost netbooks); delivered the usable resolution, slim body, good industrial design and acceptable runtime for smartphone rather than laptop money.

Had the UMPC market remained unchallenged, this would be a real winner amongst some very expensive and overpriced devices (many of which simply don’t have the support of an established consumer brand behind them). The time it took to get from “announced” to “available” saw the marketplace change beyond recognition.

Another victim of the iPad

Unfortunately it seems that Apple’s iPad has demonstrated that what the market really wanted was a bigger smartphone, rather than a smaller desktop computer and the sacrifices made to deliver a fully engineered, completed system at this price have ensured it lacks the power to attract the utility-driven Windows “road warriors” – who will be more satisfied with a crudely engineered but powerful product that can genuinely run their apps.

One area where the Archos might appeal is for older kids who understand that it’s a media rather than gaming device. If you don’t want to spend the money on an iPad and are used to dealing with Windows machines, the Archos is sufficiently stylish and unique not to seem to be a poor copy of the iPad whilst also being a less blatantly expensive bit of tech. There’s a good argument for the wide range of software available to Windows, particularly with regard to social networking, and without 3G connectivity it’s easy to control how they’re using those tools outside the home. As a media player it naturally is capable of handling a wide range of formats – not least via VLC of course. With a decent case such as the Tuff-Luv leather Archos 9 case it should withstand a school or college day as an entertainment device rather than a productivity tool (the provided battery life precludes that, though the removable battery does mean several charged batteries or an extended pack could be used).

These Amazon adverts are linked directly to this site rather than generated by Google or similar, and are provided primarily to provide quick access to the products mentioned in this article; I don’t think clicking them benefits me, but buying via them does. Obviously I advocate shopping around before buying any product – however at the time of writing I have not seen the Archos 9 cheaper from any reputable source; eXpansys are currently (over)charging £480ish for it, many eBay sellers are offering the short-lived 1.1GHz model at over £400.

(And I still don’t understand why the keyboard is so expensive).

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