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Archos 5 Internet Tablet with Android

What's all this about Android? Well, Android is Google's version of the software for portable Internet devices, as first shown on the T-Mobile G1 smartphone a year ago (see previous post), and then updated to Android 2.0 with the recent release of the Verizon Wireless Droid from Motorola (see previous post).

The Android system, not surprisingly for Google, is focused on web browsing and connectivity, and especially integration with the Google online "cloud" services including Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar.

Plus, Android is an open system, designed to be used on a wide variety of hardware designs from many different vendors -- which means more options for consumers. In addition, the code is open source, and therefore very open for third-party developers to create new applications.

This is an obvious contrast to the tightly managed Apple iPhone platform (much like the contrast between open PCs vs. closed Macs -- although you similarly can argue that Apple's control results in a much more tightly integrated user experience -- see Roughly Drafted, for example).

In particular, while smartphones are great as do-everything devices (text and e-mail and web and media and camera and navigation and, oh yes, phone), a 3 1/2 inch screen is not the optimal size for extended working or reading or viewing. There's been a missing range of display sizes in the market, between the 3 to 4 inches on smartphones and game systems, and 13 inches or more on notebooks. So we now see e-book readers with 6 to 9 inch screens, and netbooks shrinking to around 8 to 10 inches.

So, for example, you can leverage the converged and connected smartphone platform by first removing the phone part of a smartphone, and keeping the connectivity (though Wi-Fi) and the apps -- as in the Apple iPod touch. But then take another step to enlarge the screen a bit, to more like 5 inches, and you get a much improved viewing experience in a device that is still pocketable -- like the recently released Archos 5 Internet Tablet.

This is an Android platform (version 1.5, not yet to the apparently speedier 2.0), with a 4.8 inch touch screen, and Wi-Fi connectivity, designed for web access and media playback. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet (not to be confused with the different Archos 5 product, described as an "Internet Media Tablet") also includes GPS, FM radio, speaker, and microphone. It's available in versions with ether flash memory or hard disk storage -- flash with 32 GB for $379, and hard disk with 160 GB for $399, up to 500 GB for $499.

The interface is very familiar if you've used another Android device like the Droid, although the dedicated Home, Back, and Menu buttons on the Droid are replaced by soft buttons in a banner across the top of the screen. But bigger screen means, for example, that you can see, and read, the full width of the main Google News page (the full Classic version, not the Mobile version, with two columns of news plus the menu sidebar). The text is admittedly small, but just large enough to tap on links with your finger. Or zoom in for a more readable text size, and more of the page is still visible on the screen -- this works particularly well when you rotate the screen to portrait orientation to read a long column of text.

The Archos 5 IT comes with a built-in Browser and Contacts apps -- but interestingly, not the dedicated Google applications found on the Droid (though Archos points out that you can access Gmail though the Email app and the Google cloud services through the Browser).

And, like other Android devices, the Archos Tablet does not have anything like the Apple iTunes integration for managing and syncing media files, or the Windows Mobile / Windows Phone support for reading Office documents, much less editing and syncing them. To transfer media, you can drag and drop files over the USB connection, or sync with tools like Windows Media Player. And to work with Office documents, you can turn to the third-party apps that are being developed for Android (Archos suggests ThinkFree Mobile to work with Office documents).

However, ARCHOS provides its own version of the Google Market for applications -- the AppsLib. The issue here, not surprisingly, is that application developers need to update their software to work with the higher-resolution screen -- and the larger screen size. Archos reports that there already are some 500 apps that are fully compatible with the Archos 5 IT.

So the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is an early example of a middle range of web communications devices, that take advantage of the widespread availability of Wi-Fi without adding another monthly cellular data plan, and add a larger screen for more intensive work, but not so large to be clumsy to bring along. And it leverages the common Android platform as it is rapidly expanding to more devices. It will be interesting to see if other companies, like Apple, also see opportunity here, and how consumers respond to this in-between range of portable display sizes.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery and Mobile Communications Gallery for details and related products

Find the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet 32 GB and 250 GB on Amazon.com

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