For a company that tries hard to set the pace in its chosen field – media players – Archos’s decision to launch a netbook now seems like an odd one. The market’s pretty defined, the big players established and users have had time to work out what they want (and their expectations are considerable); all of which means the Archos 10 needs to be much more than another me-too product. So how does it shape up?
Well it looks the part. At 258 x 189 x 28mm it has the classic netbook form factor and weighs only 1.45kg; it feels light enough to pop in a bag and forget about, but doesn’t feel made of glass so we had no concerns about the build quality.
To complete the spec, you get an Atom N270 processor running at 1.6GHz, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive, Windows XP, a 10.2-inch backlit glossy LCD with a resolution of 1024 x 600, Ethernet connector, three USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 card reader, VGA out and 1.3-megapixel camera built into the top of the screen. The design is functional rather than flighty, but we love the hinge moulding which softens the hard edges and makes it look almost curvy when it’s open, like a lazy ‘C’. It’s also available in white or pink for the same price.
While the Archos 10 coped with all manner of office-style programs and played movies and music just fine, the keyboard’s overly cramped (especially the shift keys) even for someone comfortable with Psions and iPhones. Worse, the battery life on the standard machine (it’s a 3-cell) is wretched and offered only a couple of hours of wireless use and surfing. There’s an alternative 6-cell which doubles this, but costs more.
The included software isn’t joined-up at all. There’s an out of date copy of Skype, the Lotus Symphony office suite (which is free for a reason) and a 30-day trial of Bit Defender, while vTuner Player and its “lists of Web TV and Web Radio stations specially picked for you” is hopeless. We couldn’t find any proper instructions and most of the time nothing happens apart from a lot of ‘buffering’ and ‘not available’ messages.
We did manage to watch a bit of the music quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks (though it was listed as BBC News) followed by Iranian National Television minus the sound. Software like this always feels like a pointless stuffing of the feature list, especially when services like iPlayer are so smooth and readily available. Elsewhere, the Parental Filter software looks OK but links to a tech support site in French (Archos is a French company) and the overall impression is of corners cut and dashes slapped.
At the full retail price the Archos 10 is hard to recommend. It’s no better value than any other similarly specified netbook and has a ropey battery life. However, several retailers are selling it at a knock-down price (£229 from www.maplin.co.uk and £239 from www.play.com including 3- and 6-cell batteries) which makes it much more attractive. Buy it for that and you’re getting a decent machine, well made by Chinese manufacturer Hassee, that’s a good all round performer.