Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Archive for the ‘Android’ Category

Archos A101it on the road!

leave a comment »

I am just back from a two week business trip and working two big shows: SHOT in Vegas (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades…the largest show for gunshops and outdoor retailers in the world) and the Space Coast Birding and Nature Festival in Titusville, Florida.

Of course I took my Archos along. You might remember that one of the primary reasons I bought the Archos tablet was to be able to quickly show folks images and video taken with our ZEISS products (in real life, I am the Birding and Observation Product Specialist for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics). I showed hundreds of people who were interested in photography through the spotting scopes, examples of stills and video at both shows, using Quickpic (which I highly recommend). Quickpic catalogs folders containing both stills and video. It displays thumbnails of the folders with example pics on them, and then, when you open a folder, a index of thumbnails for the contents. Touching one opens it in full screen, with tap to zoom for detailed looks. And it is fast! without the clutter (and, in my experience, instability) of the stock gallery app. It creates thumbnails for all your videos too, and, when you touch one, calls the video player to play it. All very slick. (Quickpics has had several updates, each of which has added new functionality, since I downloaded the first version…it just keeps getting better!)  And the screen on the Archos is high enough resolution and of high enough quality to make an impression. I was just careful to make sure the screen was angled correctly for the audience. The Archos made demonstrating the photo capabilities of the spotting scopes both easy and fun!

The trip also gave me a chance to test the wifi capabilities of the A101it in the wild, away from my home router. It connected easily to any network I encountered, and worked amazingly well with my Virgin Mobile Mifi. The only difficulty I encountered was that, while it connected properly to the wifi routers at both hotels I stayed at, and showed a strong signal, neither Dolphin or the stock browser could resolve a url after connection. They called the authorization page, and allowed me to log in…then nothing. Strangely, while in this state, my email and twitter apps occasionally updated, and random web pages would resolve and partially load, so I know there was at least some internet access. I came to the conclusion that the name server the hotels were using was not Android friendly, and was somehow blocking or generating an error when an android device tried to access it. It is especially odd, since airport wifi, which uses a similar authorization scheme, worked just fine. [Ed Note: after another trip, it becomes ever more likely that the issue is the nameservers some hotels use. I was able to connect and browse in two different hotels in VA this past week, and had no problems with airport wifi at several different airports as well.]

I might mention that Archos released a firmware upgrade while I was traveling, and I had great adventures trying to install it over my Virgin Mobile Mifi…but eventually got it to work. Unfortunately I am among the as yet unknown minority who suffered USB host failure as a result of the upgrade. I have reinstalled the firmware, reset Android, and completely reformatted the A101 and installed firmware from scratch…but nothing has revived the USB host. I am waiting to hear from Archos as to whether they think this is a firmware issue or a hardware issue. Personally, I suspect the USB driver gets corrupted during the upgrade, and that it is not stored where a reformat wipes it (it could not be, since you need USB to reinstall your firmware after a reformat). At any rate, I am hoping Archos finds a fix for this asap…I don’t use my USB host port much, but I want it to work. [Ed Note: they issued an RMA for my A101 but I am reluctant to send it in as everything but the USB Host is working better than ever before.] Other than that the new firmware seems a genuine improvement, with the whole machine just seeming smoother and more responsive. (The upgrade broke downloads in Dolphin but Archos rushed out a new Firmware version, 2.1.04, released 1/2/2011 that fixes Dolphin and a handful of other apps that had problems under 2.1.03.)

My NewMP3Tech case with my stand modification, by the way, worked great. Of course I never dropped the Archos, but I felt safe and secure, and a touch elegant…and that’s half the battle!

After several weeks of intense use now, I am finding that I prefer to do social media stuff on the tablet over the iPhone, even when it means digging out my MiFi and booting it. TweetCaster Premium is an exceptionally fine Twitter client, and allows posting to Facebook as well, and I use the web interface in Dolphin for Facebook. And there is, of course, no comparison when browsing the web or googling essential info…with Dolphin HD as a browser, set to Desktop mode, the web becomes as accessible on the tablet as it is on my laptop…and flipping open the Archos in an airport is way easier than booting up the laptop! (And somehow more fun too.)

And yes, if I had a $ for everyone who asked if it was an iPad, I could buy another Archos 101 🙂

Advertisements

Written by singraham

February 1, 2011 at 11:48 am

Changes: Are Tablets the New Netbooks?

with one comment

I am wondering if this same sea-change that is happening in my life is happening in others, or is about to?

When the first Netbooks arrived on the scene in 2007, I was an early adopter. I had an EEE PC while they were still 7 inch screens and Linux was still the only OS. The combination of affordability, portability, and functionality was irresistible for me, especially as one who spends 170 days a year on the road. I have moved to a 8.9 inch Windows XP machine with a 16G SSD (Asus EEE PC 900XP), then, when that died a catastrophic death on business trip, to an 8.9 inch Atom machine with hard drive (Acer Aspire One), then, when I felt the need for more graphics ability, to an 11.1 inch machine with a dual core Pentium chip and integrated graphics (Acer Timeline 1810TZ)…seeking, always, that happy, that perfect, balance of portability and power.

Along the way, I bought into the whole iPod Touch, and then, iPhone thing…with the iPhone 4 (my second iPhone) finally becoming what I consider the best pocket sized, always connected, cloud portal and e-social interaction device yet conceived of. Twitter and Facebook, email and text, don’t get any better than on the iPhone (imho), and it plays music and makes phone calls too (not to mention being an instant pocket reference on birds, mammals, mushrooms, holy Scripture, wildflowers, or whatever else takes your fancy…as well as my always-with-me travel guide, itinerary and calendar organizer, and GPS.)

With the Netbook to take care of my photography and video, and more heavy duty web surfing (and the occasional ppt for work), and the iPhone to take care of all social business, I was, I thought, pretty well set.

Then I got more heavily into video…HD video…capturing and editing. The Acer Timeline was supposed to handle that, and, for a year I made it work, but it was not easy. This fall I began eyeing the Core i machines, but at that level, though I could still buy the Netbook from-factor, the affordability element was gone, gone, gone. I found that for the same price as a hopped up Netbook, I could buy a 13 inch laptop with a Core i processor twice as fast, and both the integrated Intel graphics and a dedicated GPU and accelerator (and an optical drive).

At the same time, I began to look at tablets. I had had an iPad to work with for several weeks on and off, but I knew that the affordability and functionality equation was not there for me…especially as an iPhone user. I just needed a device to carry to my shows and workshops that would let me find and show my pics and videos quickly and easily, on a considerably larger screen than the iPhone, but with that same degree of ease when compared to my netbook. It had to be something I could easily hold in my hands and even put in the hands of viewers.

There are lots of Android tablets out there today (and will be lots more announced and demoed next week at CES) but they are either 1) cheap, somewhat junky, marginally functional and totally without support of any kind, or 2) just as expensive as an iPad (or mostly as expensive as an iPad). Certainly I was not willing to invest a lot (especially when looking at laptops at the same time) on a device I was not sure I really needed or could (would) use.

The one exception to the current Android Tablet equation is the new Generation 8 (gen8) Internet Tablets from Archos: Fully supported by a real company with a decent track record, fully upgradable to new versions of Android (already upgraded twice since introduction), and under $300…exactly the price point that has been most effective for Netbooks, and a price I could afford, not exactly on a whim, but certainly as a calculated risk.

If you read my review you know I took a chance on the 10.1 inch Archos, and that, so far, I am both impressed and happy. It is a lot of fun. It does what I expected it to do, a lot of things I had only hoped for, and a few things I had not even thought of. And it is the right price. There will be better tablets in a year…of course there will…but, I predict, not better values.

And, what you don’t know yet (unless you read the fine print under my photo up there in the corner of the blog) is that I bought a 13 inch Asus U30JC, with a Core i3 processor running at over 2 ghz, Intel HD graphics, and a dedicated NVidia graphics accelerator. It is a compromise on both affordability and portability, but it is everything I could have hoped for in functionality. On the affordable front, it is still well under $1000, which is a good value for a machine with this kind of power. On the portable front, while it is indeed larger and heavier than my Acer Timeline, once it is in the pack and on my back as I travel, there is not much difference at all. And you should see it whip through HD video with Sony Vegas Studio HD! On the photography front, even processor hogs like Photomatix Pro HDR run at double the speed they did on the Timeline. Overall, I like it. Overall, in fact, I love it!

The only issue I have is that I am not, after all this, a Netbook user anymore. This is, after all, Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights you are reading. The tablet, I can already see, is going to take over about 90% of the non-photo/video work (play?) that I used to do on my Netbook, and it will do it with considerably more grace and fun. There is nothing to compare to a multi-touch interface for making the most mundane tasks fun. Twitter? Facebook? A blast. I can even do emergency photo editing on it PicSayPro, and read my Kindle books. How cool is that!

And as a photo and video viewer, it is simply brilliant!

In a very real sense, with a laptop for power applications, a tablet for fun, and an iPhone for connectedness (and fun), I no longer need a Netbook. I have a little Virgin Mobile MiFi that I used with my netbook at need, so even for connected fun I am set to go with the tablet.

True, I am up one machine on my total machine count, since I used to use the Netbook for both my photo/video work and fun, but the increased functionality of the laptop, and the increased fun factor of the tablet, imho, more than make up for it.

And I have already figured out that I can slip the tablet between the zip apart halves of my TSA Friendly laptop backpack where it will be easy to deal with at security on my next trip, and it will actually add practically nothing to my road-load or fuss.

Point? I, personally, would never have gotten to the tablet without passing through the netbook and iPhone phase. I don’t see myself giving up the iPhone (or some equivalent) in the foreseeable future, but with the tablet, I can easily give up the netbook.

I have a feeling that folks just entering this wonderful world of connected, cloud-centric, mobile technology may just skip the netbook phase altogether, and never miss it.

The one critical factor in success for tablets is, as I see it, price! If tablets are going to be the new netbooks, they need to hit the same magic price-point…the value point where affordability, portability, and functionality meet in happy harmony: and that is…

$300.

No more. No less. If main-line manufactures want to create another netbook boom, only this time with tablets, they are going to have to keep them right around $300. Archos has, arguably, proved it can be done. Tablets at $400 and $500 and $600 are just not going to do it. Apple might get away with it, but Acer, Asus, HP, and Dell will not. At $400 and up, they will take a little market share from Apple. At $300 they will create a whole new industry, as netbooks did. Simple.

It is perhaps unfortunate for the tablet world that the first successful tablet out was from Apple. Apple devices always set a high performance and polish bar…and come in at a relatively high price. Once that performance level becomes the standard, and that price accepted in the market as what you pay for that performance, then it is next to impossible for other manufacturers to compete a lower price points while matching the performance, let alone the polish. Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone.

Netbooks had the advantage of being introduced by what were, at the time, relatively unknown players in the US computer market. Oh sure, both Asus and Acer had lots of laptops out, but, honestly, they would not have been on many peoples’ short list of top laptop makers…before netbooks. Because they came from scrappy companies looking for quick market share, the EEE PC and Aspire One established both performance and price standards that were highly aggressive…and which keep the affordable in the Netbook equation even today.

Not so tablets. Apple has seen to that.

So, are Tablets the new Netbooks? Maybe. If the makers are smart enough, efficient enough, and aggressive enough. Maybe just.

What do you think: Cloudy Days and Tablet Nights? Nah. Maybe: Cloudy Days and Connected Nights!

Written by singraham

January 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Accessorizing the Archos A101it

with one comment

 

 Lexerd Anti-Glare Screen Protector

I ordered a Lexerd True-View Anti-glare Screen Protector for my Archos 101 directly from Lexerd through Amazon.com. It is one of the more expensive screen protectors out there ($30), and I was, admittedly, hesitant to order it…but it was the only one that I could find (at the time) that claimed anti-glare properties. If you own, or have tried, an Archos 101 you know why that might be attractive.

The protector came in due course and I installed it. It was easy (especially compared to some iPhone protectors I have wrestled with). Lexerd provides two little finger tip thingies (a bit like uninflected balloons) that go over the first finger and thumb of the hand you handle the protector with, and it appears to adhere mostly by surface tension. It is slightly smaller than the screen of the 101, which actually makes it a lot easier to get on. And, since there is no adhesive, you can pick up the leading edge to work bubbles out from under until you have it just about perfect. You can even lift the whole thing off to start over if you have to.

antiglareOnce installed, you will see an immediate difference. While the screen is still slightly reflective, reflections are definitely muted to the point where they are unlikely to be distracting in most lights. Once the 101 is fired up, the protector disappears, except for a noticeable increase in apparent contrast. The difference is somewhat apparent looking at the home screen, but it does wonders when viewing photos or videos. It does add some graininess to large areas of solid color, like the blue sky, and it is possible that smaller text sizes are not quite as sharp. You will have to decide if it is worth it for the overall improvement in the view.

It does not interfere with touch at all. It is silky smooth under the fingers. It still picks up its share of finger grease and smudge, but perhaps a bit less than the naked screen. It is easy to clean with a static free wipe or a lens cloth.

textagSo far it seems quite durable. I am careful with my toys, errr, tools…so I have not put it to the scratch test, but it is showing no signs of wear after two weeks of use now.

Since ordering the Lexerd, I have found another source of “anti-glare” protectors, at NewMp3Technology.com. NewMp3Technology seems to be an excellent early adopter source for Archos accessories. They have, as of this writing, the only custom fitted folio case for the A101it that I have been able to find. More on that below. They also list an anti-glare screen protector for about 1/3 of what the Lexerd sells for…and certainly when the Lexard wears out I may try one from NewMp3Tech.

NewMp3Technology Genuine Leather case for Archos A101it with Stand.

I have looked around for possible carrying solutions for the Archos, and even made my own little sleeve, but I am totally spoiled by the Leather Case for the Kindle. The Kindle case is both elegant and functional. I love carrying it.

The only thing remotely like it I have been able to find is the NewMp3Tech leather case. At $40, it is, as such things go, actually reasonable (same price as the Kindle case), and after much debate, with an extensive trip afield coming up fast, I went ahead and ordered one. It came in due course and I have been using it for a few days now.

It pretty much meets my expectations, though it could be improved greatly with just a bit more effort.

Plus: 1) well made, elegant looking and feeling, 2) when closed offers adequate protection for the back and screen during transport, 3) only adds reasonable bulk and substance to what is, or can be, a somewhat fragile feeling machine. This is good.

Minus: 1) stand function is lame. Wrong angle for any imaginable use and not totally secure in use. There is no way to adjust for optimum viewing angle much less for comfortable typing. 2) Little or no protection for the edges of the A101. A drop would not be recommended. When carrying outside my laptop backpack, I will still need some kind of protective case for the occasional bump…or, heaven forbid…actual drop. (Fortunately I snagged one of those $5.99 Neoprene ViewSonic G cases from Sears while they had them).

Needed improvements. 1) Simply extending the leather covers 1/4 inch on all sides (like the Kindle cover) so the leather would take the impact of a bump or drop instead of the edge of the machine, would make this a much more functional and secure case. 2) if you bend the cover the “wrong way” behind the machine, it has the makings of an excellent stand. I will work on a modification and take some pics when it is ready.

So, the NewMp3Tech case is a good enough for now solution, but I expect (hope) to see better.

USB Charging Cable (NewMp3Tech)

One of the drawbacks of the A101it (and 70it), when compared to the other gen8 models, is the need for a separate charger to provide the extra amps needed to for a reasonably quick charge of the large batteries. It is the same situation new iPad owners faced when that machine came out. Standard USB is only 1.1 amps. The A101it requires 2 amps for a decent charge (the iPad likes 2.1), and the folks at Archos must have figured, “why confuse people and have them plugging into standard USB and taking forever to charge”. Therefore the separate adapter and power port. Still, carrying an extra adapter these days, especially one with blades that do not fold or retract, is less than ideal. I already have a bag of adapters and chargers that takes up a fairly large corner of my luggage.

So, when I saw the USB Charging Cable for the A101it on the NewMp3Tech site while ordering my case, of course I had to have one. It was only $10. This little guy has a standard USB plug at one end and a plug to match the Archos power port on the other. Simple. Well…almost. Standard USB is still only 1.1 amps, and it would take a long time to fully charge the Archos while plugged into a USB port or standard wall charger. powrblkOvernight with the Archos powered down and plugged into a live USB block, the charge came up from less than 50% to more than 70%, so it is charging…just not very fast. On the other hand, several companies make USB chargers specifically designed for the higher demands of the iPad (the Griffin PowerBlock seems to be among the best). Plug your Archos USB Charging Cable into one of those, and it should charge just as well, and just as fast, as the supplied charger. I will let you know as soon as I can locate a Griffin PowerBlock 🙂

[Ed. Note: Having found a Griffin PowerBlock at our local Best Buy last night I can now testify that it does indeed charge the A101it, but that for some reason, it does not bring the charge above 75% even on an overnight charge with the A101it powered off. I would say you could expect similar performance from any USB charger that is designed for the iPad! So, I will carrying the Archos charger for the duration 😦 and using the NewMp3Tech cable strictly for emergencies.]

Written by singraham

December 27, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Archos 101 in Action (and viewing angles again)

with 7 comments

IMG_8328Just a short to note to report on my first experiences with the Archos 101 in public, in my intended natural habitat…showing videos and pics to friends, family, and anyone else who will stand or sit still long enough. It works! I propped it up on a table and connected to an inexpensive external speaker system through Bluetooth and my in-laws got to see my daughter Kelia’s Concerto Festival submission video, and later I sat with my father-in-law and two nephews and showed recent photographs and videos from my travels. Like I said, it worked well. No one claimed they could not see the screen, and it was way easier, and more fun, than flipping through an album or hooking up to the TV. SmugFolio did an excellent job…I was able to show my work without an internet connection at all.

So, beyond the fun I am having playing with the thing, it looks like it may just fulfill its original intention! This is good.

IMG_8330IMG_8331

IMG_8332And, for those still hung up on viewing angles of the screen, here are some unretouched, natural-light photos. 1) About 30° below perpendicular, 2) About 20° above perpendicular, and 3) about 60° to the side.

I consider these the limits of usability. Only you can say if this level of performance meets your needs.

Winking smile

Written by singraham

December 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Archos Internet Tablet 101: very interesting…

with 22 comments

[I am adding a note here to clarify right up front: I am not a power user. As stated below, my main purpose for this tablet is displaying images from my SmugMug galleries, showing an occasional video, playing music, working email and my twitter and facebook accounts, reading a bit, and general messing around on the internet. I do not play games. If your usage is going to be more intense than that, then your conclusions may well be different than mine. That said…]

Though, as you know if you read this blog, I am convinced iPhone user (4), I have, so far, been able to resist the iPad. I have had one to play with for several weeks on two different occasions (to facilitate app reviews) and it simply does not do enough, in my opinion, beyond the iPhone to justify a minimum investment of $500.

That does not mean, though, that I don’t suffer, in this pre-CES season of tablet fever, a certain amount of tablet envy. And there are a few specific things I could use a tablet for where neither my iPhone or my laptop will do as well.

For one, I travel to a variety of birding destinations each year, and do a lot of photography and videography. It would be excellent to have a device that could easily display what I had shot that day for folks I meet, without having to fire up the laptop. And, of course, web surfing, while possible on the iPhone (and actually quite good by any reasonable comparison) would obviously be better and easier on a larger screen. (Oh bananas, lets be honest, almost anything beyond making a phone call would be easier on a bigger screen.)

The difficulty, as you know if you have been paying attention to tablet fever this year, is that there are not many good alternatives to the iPad out there. There have a slew of Android tablet introductions and announcements over the past 6 months, but the actual products that have made it to market range from disappointing at the lower price end (most are truly cheap China iPad knock-offs)…to just as expensive as an iPad at the somewhat more satisfying end (the Samsung Galaxy Tab). CES may see some movement here, but my feeling is that devices that have anything like the performance of an iPad are going to be priced at least in the same range as the (so far disappointing) Viewsonic G…$400 plus…or at the iPad level (Galaxy Tab), and the under $300 offerings are going to continue to be poorly designed toys with marginal performance.

Which is what makes the new Generation 8 Internet Tablets from Archos stand out. The Archos 70 and the Archos 101 are particularly attractive iPad alternatives. They share the same relatively powerful ARM 8 processor running at a gigahertz, Open GL graphics acceleration, and both have been upgraded to Android 2.2 lately. With a simple hack (provided by a passionate Archos fan), you can have the full Android Market, and all the Google apps. And this from a company that has been making touch screen multimedia players for many years, and internet tablets for several…a company that has shown itself to be responsive to customer needs, and which has fan community that is just as passionate, if not as large, as the Apple folks.

It was the last two factors, actually, that convinced me to order a 101, one Saturday when they had them in stock for about 4 hours on the Archos.com web-store. Some of the China Pads look like they could be made to work, especially for my purposes, and they are considerably less expensive, but you have absolutely no assurance of on-going support. Android is a moving target, with frequent version upgrades (2.2 is just out, and already folks are readying 2.3 upgrades) and with each upgrade someone has to design custom firmware for your particular machine. I have confidence, based on history, that Archos intends to keep up. And, with the active fan community, you are not totally reliant on the company at that…a visit to the ArchosFans forums is vastly reassuring to the potential buyer…or at least is was to this potential Archos owner.

And a word about the obvious differences between Android and iOS. Android is clearly not as polished or as tablet ready as iOS, which Apple tweaked specifically with the iPad in mind. However, as mentioned above, Android is an open source operating system in rapid development, and stands to make significant tablet related gains over the next few upgrades. Then too, it is an open source, open system, vastly different than Apple’s closed system. You can customize and adapt to heart’s content. And, given the fanatical Android development community, if you can conceive of an improvement to your user experience on an Android machine, someone has probably anticipated you, and there is already an app for that. As I will detail further in, I have already replaced the stock Android keyboard, the home screen/app launcher, the stock internet browser, and the Gallery and twitter client supplied by Archos, etc. etc. It is easy, and it certainly appeals to my inner geek!

Don’t get me wrong. It is not that the out of the box Archos experience would not be satisfying to most people…I think it would be…it is just that it can easily be improved. To put it another way, those looking for a first internet tablet experience at less than the cost of an iPad are likely to be satisfied, out of the box, with the Archos gen8 machines. If your expectations have already been colored by some exposure to the iPad, and you are hoping for iPad like performance or better, then you will need to make a few changes to the basic user experience by installing the Market hack, and switching out or replacing some apps, and adding others…but, given the will, in very short order, in my opinion, you will have an internet tablet experience that rivals that of the iPad, for just over half the price.

You can have all the fun of customization, or you can be guided by my experiences…which I will detail later on.

First a few notes about the machine itself. Build quality is very good, a mixture of metal, plastic, and glass, but clearly not up the quality of the iPad. Price you pay for the lower price. It feels solid in your hands, but the plastics creak a bit when handled. The capacitive touch screen, full multi-touch, is excellent: As responsive as my iPhone 4, and certainly as responsive as the iPad. The screen is bright and sharp, with a resolution of 1024×600…fully adequate for viewing images or videos. The viewing angles have come in for some criticism on the various forums and review sites, and, while it may be more limited than the iPad, it is, imho, perfectly adequate* for almost any use. The built in kickstand is excellent for adjusting the angle of the screen for maximum quality and ease of use. (Tip…invest in an inexpensive mouse pad and put it under the 101 and kickstand while it is standing…this will make the whole thing much more stable.)  In my experience so far, it handles video up to 720p HD fairly well. The Video player becomes sluggish and unresponsive with large (10 minute) H264 HD, but it plays them fine. It is just difficult to pause or change volume. The only vids I have not been able to play smoothly are the native Motion JPG (.mov) HD files right out of my Canon cameras. The speakers are barely adequate, but actually a cut above most found on laptops.

General performance for applications is pretty snappy. The latest firmware for Android 2.2 (released on December 16th) allows you to set the processor speed and performance to three different levels, including full on 1GHz, and on that setting the 101is as responsive as the iPad or iPhone 4 on most applications.  The one exception is the stock Andriod launcher, which can develop an annoying lag when returning from an app, but that is a software issue and easily fixed by installing any number of free launcher alternatives (more on that later).

Archos is still waiting on Adobe certification of their own Flash 10.1 plugin, but the stock 10.1 from the Market will at least allow most flash based websites to display properly, and will play standard embedded YouTube video fairly well…though it struggles more with HD. (The dedicated YouTube app works fine for any YouTube video I have thrown at it so far.) I check the Archos website daily to see if Flash is ready. No joy so far.

Other really nice hardware touches are the Micro SD card slot for expanding internal storage (up to 32G), the Micro USB port for connecting to your computer and mounting both internal storage and Micro SD if you have one installed, and the standard sized USB host port, which allows you to use USB sticks, Flash Card Readers, and even external drives if they are low power or have their own power supply (I have a feeling even a low power drive would drain the 101 battery pretty fast and might give unreliable performance…but self powered drives should work fine). USB support is a bit spotty in my experience, with mount and unmount issues frequent, but I am learning to work with it for the most part. My general impression is that it is better to unmount from the Archos instead of the computer…and you need to use the Notifier Unmount for the USB host, not the one in the settings panel :).

The 101 also has HDMI out, though I have not experimented with it. Archos claims it is the only implementation that allows you to put the whole Android experience on your HD TV (while using the 101 as a control pad). I am not a gamer, so I can’t say how this works with games, but it does seem an attractive option.

Of course it has an accelerometer and position censor so everything (or most things) auto rotate from landscape to portrait and back, and you can use the devise itself to control many games.

Okay..so lets talk about the apps that transform the 101 from an satisfying Android internet tablet to a superior internet tablet experience.

The first thing to do is to make sure your firmware and version of Android is up to date. Eventually Archos will start shipping units with 2.2 installed, but if you have a unit with 2.1 it should tell you an update is available when you first boot up the machine. If not, go to Settings > About > Firmware Update and initiate the process.

Once 2.2 is installed, you should go online on your computer and find the latest version of gappsinstall.apk. Try ArchosFans.com or the Archos gen8 forum on XDA Developers or just google it. As of this writing, the current version is v5, but the author says v6 is near. Find the latest one. You should find instructions with it, but just in case, download it to your computer, mount the 101 via USB cable to your computer, drag the downloaded file into the top level of your internal storage (as in, in no folder). Unmount your 101 (press Stop USB on the Archos screen) and unplug the USB cable. Using the Files app, find the gppsinstall file, touch it and choose install. Then, find the app itself in your main apps window, and run the app. That will install the latest version of the Market app, and a few other google basics. (You will have access to the majority of apps, but some will still be hidden. There is a fix for that.  More on that later).

The first app I downloaded and installed was GMail. If you use GMail, and especially if you are already addicted to threaded conversations, Google style, there is no point in using the EMail app Archos bundles with the 101.

IMG_8323IMG_8324Since I intend to use the 101 as a photo viewer, the Gallery app got attention next. The stock app is okay, but there are better viewers out there. QuickPic is amazing, very like the photo viewer on iOS, and based on folders, which it automatically locates by contents, even if they are on your expansion Micro SD card. It does everything I need it to do and does it really fast. I like it.

If you use SmugMug for online image storage and viewing, SmugFolio does a good job of automatically downloading your galleries (unattended) and displaying the contents even when you are not on-line. Somehow it stores the images in a fraction of the space the real jpg files would take, so it is practical even if you, as I do, have thousands of images on SmugMug.

You will want the official YouTube app if you do any YouTube at all. As above, it handles any YouTube video with aplomb.

And, while on video, find Adobe Flash Viewer 10.1. it is not optimized for the Archos machines, and eventually Archos will replace it with one that is, but the one in the Market works for now, at least for viewing lower resolution embedded video and your usual flash animations.

Again, the stock Android browser is okay, but there are better browsers out. Dolphin HD is my favorite…fast, tabbed, themed, excellent all around.

It is maybe a matter of taste, but I do not like the stock Android keyboard. The offset space bar drives me crazy. I found Better Keyboard in the Market and downloaded it. It is pretty good, but…

The keyboard you really want is Swiftkey, and you have to do the Market fix mentioned above to find it. Searching for Swiftkey before the fix returns no matches. Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Market (Clear Cache then ‘Force Stop’ — DO NOT clear data)
  2. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Google Services Framework (Clear data then ‘Force Stop’)
  3. Return to the Home screen.
  4. REBOOT

Once you do these steps, you will find all kinds of previously hidden apps in the Market the next time you run it. I am not sure why, but there it is.

IMG_8321Search for Swiftkey now and at least download the trial version. I ran the trial for about 10 minutes realizing I could not live without it and buying and installing the full version…despite the fact that I had already bought Better Keyboard. (Follow onscreen prompts when you first run Swiftkey to install it as your default keyboard, and download the correct language module for predictions.) Swiftkey fits the 101 screen better…is way easier to type on…has superior prediction…has a much more intelligent number and alternate keys system (you don’t have to shift to number for numbers or other symbol keys…just hold the key down just a bit longer and the secondary character will be entered (ie, hold T down and 5 is entered…hold ? down and ! is entered…it is so IMG_8322brilliant!). If you do shift to numbers, you get a new keyboard with a number pad on one side and symbols on the other…so intelligent! Going a level deeper with the symbol key gives you a full set of left/right/up/down keys to move the cursor around in your text…which is a real blessing for those of us with large finger tips). If you are like me, you will never return to stock!

And speaking of stock…the stock 2.2 launcher/home screen is kind of creaky. It has strange lags and does not always respond as expected. There are better alternatives. The two I tried are Launcher Pro and Zeam, both free apps. Launcher Pro does not quite scale to the 101 screen, probably because of Archos’ use of soft buttons on the right side of the screen. Still it only takes a slight drag to make it align itself. Launcher Pro is, all and all, an improvement over stock, but the one I settled on is Zeam. It uses picsay-1293458954less resources, is slightly faster, and scales to the 101 screen perfectly. I have mine set to a single home screen, since I don’t intend to use many apps, and since most of my common apps fit in the app tray on the right side of the screen (or bottom if you run in portrait…and you are not limited to 5 apps in the tray as you are in LP). Adding actions and widgets is dead easy…I even added the Show Notifications action to my tray, since I will be using it often to unmount USB stuff (as above).

IMG_8325What else? If you have to move large files, you will need a better file manager than the stock Files. I looked for one that had drag and drop…I mean we are a touch machine here…and found ScaliCommander. Despite some luke-warm reviews, it works well, and allows me to drag files from my camera’s SD card in a Card Reader in the USB port to internal storage. Move does not work for files and folders of any size, but Copy does, even for massive Video files. It will also allow you to view the full file system, not just the storage level as the stock app does. You can open folders in multiple panels and literally drag and drop as you do in Windows or the Mac OS. I tried others first, but Scali is the only one that let me copy large files.

Weather apps? Weather Channel, hands down. The most complete display of info by far, including hourly and 10 day forecasts, the ability to turn off GPS (necessary on the 101) and enter locations manually, and three sizes of widget…widgets that don’t hang the machine up on launch when there is not yet a wifi connection (which WeatherBug does…I even took WeatherBug off my laptops, since it gave me lots of trouble there too). Accuweather just won’t run without the GPS. So, despite the fact that Accuweather is in the unfixed market and it requires the fix to find Weather Channel, it is Weather Channel all the way.

The only Facebook app I have tried is the official free one, and it is fine, though I miss the ability to add bookmarked profiles or pages (as you can do in the iPhone version).

picsay-1293459614Archos ships the 101 with the free version of Toutier, which is not bad, except in comparison with the best of the iPhone twitter clients. I liked it well enough to buy the full version, but I soon noticed that is very slow to update the lists on launch compared to other Android clients, especially if have more than one account. I will, by the way, offer an expanded comparison of twitter clients for Android on tablets in the near future, but for now, I tried the official free Twitter inc. app (not well suited to tablet use), the free and Pro versions of Twidroyd (not bad but somehow clunky, reminiscent of the ultra powerful but interface-challenged Twittelator Pro for the iPhone), and finally settled on Tweetcaster Pro…which has, imho, the best mix of features and usability. It is, for instance, the only one to give you unread counts for tweets and replies. There is some funkiness when you first open the app as the splash screen forces portrait…but as soon as that clears the app works fine in landscape on the 101.

Of course I have Hootsuite on there for its unique ability to post, and to schedule future posts, to multiple twitter, facebook, and facebook pages accounts. (With a scroll to top feature Hootsuite could be my full time social media client.)

I downloaded and used Google Reader for a while…but like the web app on the iPhone, GR for Android is just a bit clumsy to use (well, more than a little bit). To read a post, you have to open its folder, then select the feed, or chose all, then select the title, which opens the title alone on a screen, then select the title again to open the post. Not pretty.  If you are reading a post and want to go back to the main menu to open another folder, you have backtrack through way too many screens to get there. The same thing happens when you mark a post or group of posts read…you have to back all the way out to get to another folder. Not pretty and not inspiring.

Though it is relatively expensive, the pro version of NewsRob is everything Google Reader should have been. Easy to use, displays the feeds attractively (much like they appear on the Google Reader web site on the computer), fast, and simple to navigate. NewsRob was designed by someone who must spend considerable time reading feeds, and it shows.

If you are Kindle user, the Kindle app, though it only works in portrait, will allow you to read your Kindle books on the Archos. Nook is also available. What I can see, is using the Archos for reading color books and magazines as they become available…and if you are considering the Nook Color for Christmas, you really might want to check out what $50 more gets you from Archos (though if reading were my primary purpose I would look a the Archos 7o instead of the 101.)

I have found a few more apps which I may review in more detail later on: PicSay Pro is an excellent photo editor, Tripit is its generally elegant self, there are calculators and converters for travelers, etc. etc,

I have only had the Archos 101 Internet Tablet for 4 days now, and I am still figuring the thing out. Besides being my first tablet, it is my first Android device of any kind. There are, apparently, all kinds of hidden features to Android 2.2. It took me 3 days to find the Notification panel (accessible by pulling down the Notification bar at the top of the screen), and someoneon ArchosFans forum (Brownrat, thank you) had to point out the Unmount function of Notifications for USB devices. I don’t think I would have ever have found that. Just a few moments ago I discovered that there is a menu on the main apps page that gives instant access to Manage Apps and Uninstall. I am not sure if that is a feature of Android or of Zeam but it is something I know I will use, now that I know where it is.

Then too, my other primary discovery already is how very, very small the iPhone 4 is :).

Already I can see that the Tablet is going to be an essential part of my internet and social experience. I have a little pay as you go MiFi from Virgin Mobile that should work most places I visit. Makes an ideal companion for the Archos 101.

And I have to say that all those companies who are pinning hopes on an imminent introduction of yet another Android tablet are going to have difficulty matching the functionality, the quality, and value of the Archos gen8 Tablets. Archos has pretty well hit the sweet spot with a combination of powerful hardware; a flexible, adaptable, perfectible, OS and software package; and a price that makes it an easy, almost an impulse, buy.

No wonder no one can keep them in stock.


*Screen angles: there is a lot of discussion of how bad the Archos screen is, with some people getting pretty heated about it, on the forums. The best viewing angle on my screen in landscape mode is about 15 degrees below perpendicular to the surface, which puts the tablet at just about the ideal angle (about 30° to the surface it is resting on) for typing or working with it propped up on its stand on a table. It is also the angle that tablet assumes when held naturally in my hands. Though I lose some contrast when I view from either side of screen I don’t see any significant change in brightness or contrast through an angle of about 60°, 30° on either side of straight on. If I tip the screen back so I am further below the ideal angle, I have an additional 20° before I lose significant contrast. If I tip the screen up toward me, I begin to lose brightness at the bottom edge of the screen almost immediately, but it is usable through about 10°. That amounts to a vertical viewing angle of about 30°. In Portrait mode, the angles are the same, though the ideal angle moves to straight on perpendicular to the screen. That means that I have more angle to the right than I do to the left, with the tablet held normally with the ports up, and lots of room for tipping the screen in the vertical dimension. I could, of course put the more generous angle on the other side by tipping the whole device over. For my use this is “adequate” viewing angle.

Written by singraham

December 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm