Wednesday, February 24, 2010

iPad vs Archos 9? Which is the better Sofa PC?

I've studied the iPad. I've got an Archos 9 Win 7 tablet. I also have an iPod Touch and the Archos 5 Android tablet. Steve Jobs believes there is a market for something between the smart phone and the notebook PC, and that the iPad is that 'tween device. I think he missed the target.

I had my Touch first, and although I hoped it could do everything a netbook could do I found it just isn't capable of any work I need done. It's a great pocket game device though. The apps available make it far more useful than it is out-of-the-box. The limited screen and failure to multitask leave it not quite perfect for real work. Apple tries though. They added cut-and paste for a crude way to transfer data between apps. They made a 64gb version. I use my Touch every day, but it is no longer my Sofa PC.

Next came the Archos 5 with Android. The screen is bigger and reveals more detail. It is still pocketable. Browsing and email are better on the 5 than on the Touch. I can add a bluetooth mouse and keyboard if I need it. I can use it as a DVR to get video content directly onto it. I can access all the media content I have on my local network. I can access and display my MS Office files using Thinkfree Mobile. No editing though. No printing. No real work. The Android App store(s) are filling up with apps quickly, and so the Touch and iPad don't really have that edge anymore. The 5 has GPS, better bluetooth than the Touch, 802.11n Wifi, FM radio and FM broadcasting, and is almost as thin. It is still no workhorse PC and there is enough demand for work in my life that the Archos 5 with Android also fails as my ideal Sofa tablet.

My Archos 9 tablet arrived the first week of January, and I've been exploring it's potential ever since. Since it runs Windows 7 (Starter) I was able to download drivers for my printer and get that set up. I also verified that it's on board bluetooth supports bluetooth keyboards, mice, headphones, and file transfers. Starter Edition doesn't have complete Win 7 Touchscreen support in it, so I've ordered the Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade to replace it with. Although it is usable, the Touch interface of the 9 right out of the box is inefficient at best.

For comparison here are some common specs for the Archos 9 and the new iPad:
Archos 9,-------
1.76 lbs
1.1Ghz Z510. *-
Windows 7.
1024 x 600
LED backlight
10.08 x 5.28 x 0.67
HDD 60GB (1.8")
WiFi (802,11b/g)
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
Stereo Speakers. *
Headphone jack.
1.3mp Webcam, *
Optical trackpoint mouse,
L/R mouse buttons.
Built-in Stand, 2-positions.
USB port.
MicroSD slot.
Lotus Symphony included: Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations.

Apple iPad
1.5 lbs. *
1Ghz A4.
iPad OS 3.2.
9.7". *
1024 x 768. *
LED backlight, IPS, Oleophobic
9.56" x 7.47" x 0.5"
16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash memory.
WiFi (802,11a/b/g/n) *
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Speaker (Mono).
Headphone jack.
NO Webcam.
iWork Optional: $9.99 x 3.

Many years ago I won a TI-99/4A computer. Although I could write and run BASIC games on it, and play games that came on cartridges for it, it did not become truly useful until there was a printer it could print to. No content creation app was worth using until there was a way to get it out of the PC. It wasn't until PCs became fairly standardized and accessories would work on most that the PC really took off.

Knowing this, any sofa tablet that can't use the 3rd party output devices so common with macs and PCs is destined to be a content consumer only. The living room already has content though. There's a good chance you have a cable or satellite connection bringing video to a TV. If you've got an amp then you've got better speakers in there than any PC has, and something to play music though those speakers with. You certainly won't need a tablet PC to entertain you in there. Your X-Box or Wii on the big TV will be better for games. If you bought an HDTV in the last three months it may have it's own network access to Netflix and YouTube. If the TV doesn't your BlueRay player might.

The Internet brings both content and a destination for your own original content. The Internet is what suggests there is room for another device in the living room. If we assume a touch tablet is the best form factor of a device to use while on the sofa, then that tablet should minimally be an Internet content consumer and an Internet content creator. It should be able to output to your local printer. It should be able to access from and store content to DVDs, CDs and portable or networked hard drives. We buy things on the Internet. Printing that receipt is mandatory! Your boss emails you a document to print and fill out. Your Son emails you a photo of your new Grand-daughter. It looks great on the screen, and it would be wonderful to print out at 5x7 to frame for your desk.

So what will make a better in-between device? A new tablet that isn't as portable as your phone or an iPod Touch, or a tablet that is roughly the same size but will do the work you expect a PC to do? Sure there will be customers who don't need to print and will be happy with a web tablet that can't play any flash content on the web. My Archos 9 didn't come cheap. It started at $549 and rose to $800 with a software and hard drive upgrade. Upgrading it is something an iPad won't allow. Apple won't mind selling you a new model next year though.

Want a tablet? Think hard before buying that iPad. There will be more capable tablets in a variety of sizes this year. Even if you don't need to print often, a tablet that CAN print will be far less frustrating than one that can't when you wish it could. One ironic detail is that you could install iTunes on the Archos and sync the iPad with it. No need to sync the Archos to anything.



  1. Wow. My thoughts exactly.

  2. My Sofa PC has a 47" 1080p screen and a quad core Windows 7 pro pc to run it. With a Wireless mouse and keyboard.

  3. I'm with you, Anonymous. Although lately my pocketable Archos 43 Android device and its ability to display the whole UI on any HDTV in my house, as well as supporting bluetooth keyboard and mouse, is proving to be "almost" the perfect sofa PC. Android still needs to support printing to WiFi enabled printers though, and that is something only the Mac OS or Windows OS devices can do so far. The 4.2 update for the iPad brings limited printer support (for a few HP printers), and there is no telling if airprint support will become widespread. The game remains interesting.