Review: $550 Tablet Doesn't Make Windows Look Good

Review: $550 Tablet Doesn't Make Windows Look Good
An Archos 9 PCtablet is shown Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 in New York. Photo: Mark Lennihan /AP Photo

(AP) -- Apple brings out its iPad tablet computer in late March, but other companies are already preparing a new batch of tablets running Windows. Judging by a model that's already out, the $550 Archos 9, the Windows tablets have a rough road ahead.

Windows just doesn't seem at home when squeezed into this 1.8-pound slab, with a touch-sensitive screen that is 8.9 inches on the diagonal. It's sluggish, and the controls aren't adapted to the size of the screen or the fact that there's no real keyboard or mouse.

On-screen keyboards kept popping up in the wrong places, blocking the fields where I wanted to enter text and the buttons I wanted to push. I struggled to hit the little ''x'' in the corner of the window to close it, so I had to fall back on guiding the mouse cursor with a small touch pad that's built into the tablet's frame.

It's also a bad idea to couple a touch screen with a slow computer. When I pressed an on-screen button, I found myself wondering whether the computer had failed to register the press or whether it was just working on reacting. I kept jabbing at the screen like I was poking at a lazy dog, just to be on the safe side.

Archos 9 is lethargic because it runs Windows 7 on a processor that's even slower than those used in netbooks -- those slow, small laptops. How slow is it? Windows rates computers from 1.0 to 7.9 based on how fast the hardware is, and places the Archos 9 at a 1.3 -- the lowest I've seen. It takes nearly two minutes to boot up. TV shows on stutter so badly they're like slide shows with a soundtrack.

It's a little disconcerting that the Windows tablet experience is so poor, nine years after Microsoft made a big push for its Tablet PC version of Windows XP. Clearly, Microsoft hasn't really adapted Windows properly for this type of device.

Now, the fact that the Archos 9 has a full-blown desktop does mean it has some features the iPad won't match. It has a , so you can connect a DVD drive, flash drive or printer to it. It runs ubiquitous Windows applications. It has a camera, so you can use it for videoconferencing, at least at very low resolutions.

Perhaps the best feature is a fold-out stand, so you can prop the tablet up on a table.

Also in its favor, the Archos is relatively cheap, especially compared to the Tablet PCs of old.

Still, it's hard to imagine what the tablet is really for. It's not good for playing games, taking notes or writing e-mail. You might use it as an extra device for casual Web access when roaming around at home. The built-in Wi-Fi antenna provides excellent reception. If you attach the Archos 9 to a cabinet door, it could be a pretty good kitchen computer, for recipes and music. Too bad it plays online video so poorly.

It does do a decent job of playing videos that are stored without copy protection on its 60-gigabyte hard drive. The battery lasted for four hours doing this, which is pretty good. When I tried to play copy-protected video bought from iTunes, it was back to the slideshow effect.

It's not designed for vertical use, so forget about flipping it around and using it as a full-color Kindle e-reader replacement. You could go into the settings and change the screen to a vertical orientation, but all the hardware buttons will end up in the wrong places. Also, the screen's image quality is not very good.

It's likely that other Windows tablets this year will be better than the Archos 9, particularly if they use a different touch-sensing technology. Archos chose a so-called ''resistive'' sensor, which isn't as sensitive as the ''capacitive'' type used in the iPhone. That means the bezel is raised, making it hard to touch things at the edge of the screen, where Windows puts a lot of important buttons. The touch overlay is also the reason the image quality is poor. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Microsoft gave a brief glimpse of a tablet from Hewlett-Packard Co. that appeared to have a capacitive , which avoids all these issues.

But if tablet computers are ever going to be a mainstream product, they'll probably need a complete rethinking of the software. That's what Apple will be providing with the . Rather than scaling down its Mac OS X for the tablet, Apple is scaling up its iPhone operating system. With software designed for much more modest chips, the will be a lot snappier than the Archos 9, with a longer battery life. It's anybody's guess whether this will be enough to finally take tablets to the big time, but it seems like a good way to start.

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User comments

Feb 10, 2010
Microsoft; Develop a multi-touch specific operating system!!!! ... and don't require code signing!!

People calling an iPad 'just' a scaled up iTouch need to realize that's NOT an insult, christ!

So long as I can develop software and play with a multi-touch device with *more space* and *higher resolution* it's an awesome device! ... just requires jailbreaking for any real control.

Feb 10, 2010
I think we should put this kind of stuff behind us. Why does a company have to try these things? is there really a market for tablets? none of them are any good for people who actually need them to do work. Microsoft and apple are both solvent companies. Id rather they stick to what they know, and make me an awesome laptop or notebook /netbook that does more for less money. No need to screw around with tablets purely for the sake of doing so. The results end up like this:

Feb 10, 2010
Is anyone really surprised by Windows being unable to run well on anything except a desktop? Watching Windows try to stay relevant is like watching a fly try to get through a closed window. bing, bing, bing, bing... Same result everytime.

Feb 10, 2010
"The battery lasted for four hours"

3 hours of system lag, 1 hour of frustration?

Is M$ subsidising this device by discounting the os to Ar©ho$ with the priviso that they don't release a version with Linux/Android/Chrome (I know Chrome is a linux flavour), If so they may end up cheap on the 2nd hand market for people to experiment with, thanx M$ :)


Feb 11, 2010
To get away from the uber-trendy MS-bashing for a moment.... surely this is a problem with Archos not choosing hardware/software configurations to suit their product? It's not Microsoft's fault if I try to install Vista on a Casio digital watch and it doesn't work very well.

The article was MS-bash slanted... Windows is crap on this.. whereas the uncomfortable reality for MS-bashers is that the Archos is just crap at running Windows, which is a perfectly good OS on adequate hardware.

Feb 11, 2010
You can't equate Archos to Microsoft and compare it to Apple. Archos products are terrible and slow even when not running Windows.
Other tablets made by better companies will most likely run W7 better.

Feb 11, 2010
It's an OEM POS, thanks.

Feb 11, 2010
Forget tablets. Just keep making laptops faster and thinner and eventually tablets will evolve naturally. Don't force the technology. When laptops are thin and fast enough and screens are thin enough, voila!

Feb 12, 2010
I agree, make touch laptop screens first, then these will evolve into usable tablets if that's the way people want them to go. I suspect pure tablet on a small screen (popup keyboard blocking half of it?) wo't ever work, we'll end up with tablet with slide out keyboard like we do with some touch phones.

Feb 12, 2010

90% of the time the problem is you don't know what you're doing, not that there's actually a problem. you perceive the effects* of your ignorance as a problem, you just don't realize it.

Feb 14, 2010
First off, Microsoft doesn't actually MAKE the laptops/ touchscreen tablets or whatever, they make the SOFTWARE. APPLE makes both. So, of course Apple's hardware and software work better together (which, in my opinion, still works like a union laborer on a federal holiday). Dell has a touchscreen or two out, and they work relatively well. the really nice thing about Dell is you can use whatever OS you want to, as long as you do the work to make the OS and the touch capabilities work together. Personally, I'm looking for a tablet that will do EVERYTHING a desktop will do, including burn blu-rays, play high end video games, etc. Anything less and I'm not wasting my money. What aggravates me is Apple could have done this (to a certain extent), but they chose to hold back so that they can 'upgrade' their cryPad for the next six years (or however long). Give me a real tricoder type machine. With true voice commands, visible laser keyboard, USB ports, slot fed drives, 320GB hard drive, etc.

Feb 15, 2010
Jayofalltrades, I'll *sell* you one, but I'm not giving you one :)

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