Several weeks have passed since my first impressions of the Archos 5 Android Internet Tablet (A5AIT). I’ve spent a lot of time playing with it. As a result, I think I now have a better idea of what the A5AIT does well – and doesn’t do so well.
“Who am I”, asks my A5AIT. While hearing my A5AIT ask me questions doesn’t bode well for my mental state, it is a good question. And not just for the A5AIT, but for MIDs (mobile internet devices) generally, which can play one or more of the following roles:
-Very small laptop
-Web consumption device (Internet, Twitter, RSS, YouTube)
-PMP (portable media player)
-PIM (personal information manager)
I’ve folded the second category (web consumption) into the third (PMP) because of the overlap between them.
Maybe in a pinch. Applications are available to read and in some cases edit word processing documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc. As discussed below under PIM, I have a decent substitute for Outlook.
However, many of my more specialized applications on my laptop (such as for law firms) run only on Windows; there’s no Android version. Perhaps that’s for the best. I’m not sure how well these hardware-intensive apps would run on the A5AIT’s limited processor and RAM. That’s no criticism of the A5AIT; it’s not designed for such heavy lifting. Instead, its primary purpose, and where it shines, is …
The web, videos and photos look great on the 4.8” 800×480 16 million color touchscreen. This is where the A5AIT shines over, say, the iPod Touch with its smaller 3.5” touchscreen. Yet, though the A5AIT’s touchscreen is relatively larger, it nevertheless is pocketable as I pointed out in my first impressions.
That’s not to say there aren’t issues. The primary one is that while the hardware supports flash, the browser doesn’t, yet anyway. Hopefully an OS update will resolve that. There also are some YouTube integration issues which hopefully will only be temporary. However, once these are resolved, the A5AIT will be a killer, pocketable PMP!
Warning: I’m using the 1.6.8 firmware version. It was withdrawn by Archos shortly after its release and hasn’t yet been updated by Archos. Many on the Archos Fans forum are using the 1.6.8 firmware version with no apparent problem. Further, Archos has recommended that those using the 1.6.8 version not roll back, and instead wait for a new 1.6.8 version (which hasn’t yet been released). Nevertheless, I can’t guarantee that those not using the current 1.6.8 version will be able to implement what I describe in this section. Additionally, I’ve implemented a hack that enables me to use Android Marketplace. This hack is unsupported by Archos; technical support is that found on the Archos Fans forum. I likewise can’t guarantee that those who don’t use this hack will be able to implement what I describe in this section.
In my hectic life, bouncing among teaching, law, network administration, etc., I rely heavily on my PIM to keep track of where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do. Given my gadget harem, I have many devices with the same PIM data. To keep them all on the same page, I need transparent synchronization of this data among multiple devices. Exchange Server mastered this many moons ago. Google … getting there, but not there yet.
Android – Hype, Hope or Reality criticized Android’s incomplete Exchange Server support. And that’s OS version 2.1. The A5AIT currently is at 1.6, which supports only IMAP and POP accounts; no Exchange Server at all.
Nevertheless, borrowing from the Apple folks, “there’s an app for that.” In this case, Touchdown by NitroDesk. With Touchdown, I can read the email, calendar, contacts and tasks from the hosted Exchange Server my law firm employer uses. But it gets better.
My community college employer also uses an Exchange Server. With Outlook 2007, you can access multiple Exchange Servers, but only on different profiles (Outlook 2010 permits you to do so on the same profile but it hasn’t been released yet). Each instance of Outlook can run only one profile at a time. Absent a hack (that’s another post), you can’t concurrently run multiple instances of Outlook. This means that, to switch between Exchange Servers, you have to close Outlook, then open it again with the different profile. A PITA.
With Touchdown, though, you can switch between profiles simply by clicking a file cabinet icon and choosing the other profile. You don’t have to exit and re-open the application. Very cool.
Support is email only. That worried me. However, I always received a response within an hour, sometimes within minutes. And it wasn’t canned answers as so often is the case. Instead, someone actually read my email.
Touchdown has a trial version, but it understandably isn’t free. In view of how well it solves my PIM/Exchange Server issue, and the good support, my $19.99 was well spent.
It takes a village
I rely on forums for help, and this is no exception. I’m still relatively new to Android, and the A5AIT’s implementation of Android is not the standard Google Experience version. I’ve found the A5AIT forum on Archos Fans (where I’m GenghisKhent) very helpful in getting answers. Also, like xda-developers for HTC Windows Mobile devices, the Archos Fans A5AIT forum also has hacks to expand the functionality of the A5AIT. One enables me to use Android Marketplace.
Conclusion so far
I’m enjoying the A5AIT, especially now that I can use it as a PIM. It’s claim to fame with me is a pocketable 4.8” device. The woods are full of 4.8” devices, but few are easily pocketable. Still, it’s work in process. An upgrade of the OS to 2.x, with built-in support for flash and Google Experience, would be a significant improvement.