Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Archos 32 Review. Now with Android 2.2!

My Archos 32 showed up via UPS on November 30, and as soon as I configured my WiFi connection on it there was a notice to update its firmware. Don't mistake this for the Archos 3 Vision.  Within 5 minutes I had Android Froyo 2.2 running on it.  Mine came from Sears.com, thanks to a Black Friday discount price of $129 with free shipping.   I'll say it right now; the Archos 32 Internet Tablet is an amazing value for its price. 

For comparison look at the $149 Apple Nano. The 32 sells for the same MSRP of $149.  Both players have 8gb of internal memory with no memory expansion slots.  Both have G-Sensors. Compare the rest of the specifications of each, and you'll see why I claim the 32 is a great buy.

A few things the 32 can do that Apple's Nano cannot:
  • The 32 has a 3.2-inch' (diagonal) screen, 400x240 pixels. 
  • The 32 can also play videos (up to 6 hours) and display photos.
  • The 32 has Bluetooth 2.1 EDR.  
  • The 32 has WiFi (802.11 b/g/n). 
  • The 32 has external Volume controls (left edge), as well a off-screen touch controls for volume. 
  • The 32 has a Camera/Camcorder (below): VGA - recording format: VGA H264 / AAC (.mp4). 

  • The 32 has a Built-in Microphone.
  • The 32 has an app store, and the android Market app can also be added. 
  • Email, Calendar, Contacts, Web Browser.
Yes, the 32 has no clip.  It is thin and light enough to almost go unnoticed in a shirt pocket though. In many ways it is as capable as the larger Archos 43.  You don't get a speaker or memory expansion slot or HMDI output.  Yet the 32 CAN output its entire UI to a TV with an optional Composite cable.  The 32 is smaller and subsequently more portable.  It will play all the same games/apps you can play on the larger 43.

The power/hold button and volume rocker is along the left edge. Headphone jack, USB port, and microphone are on the bottom edge.
 
The first three images on this page are thanks to Archos.com.



 Archos has included its own Music, Video, and Photo playback applications.  IMO they are considerably better than what comes standard with Android:

- Music:  The 32 will play nearly any music/audio file you put on it.  See the specifications for a complete list. When you first enter the Music app you'll see a spinning array of your album covers, next to other options for sorting your music.
That array can display your entire collection, or be slid left/right to display the Recently Played, Recently Added, or Favorites covers. Hold down on any album cover to get a pop-up menu for Info, Play, or Add-to-Playlist. Selecting Info will show you detailed info about that album, including number of tracks and the year it was made. You also have options to sort by Artists, Songs, Playlists, Storage (folder), or a more typical listing by album name.  Pressing on almost any text in the now-playing screen pops up  options to search YouTube, your Web Browser, or the local Music collection for more information about what you selected. 
You get complete control of playback, including Pause/Play, FF/REW, track length and position,  Shuffle, Repeat, and quick jumps back to the play list or beginning Music sort page.  Playback is gapless with FLAC files. In the Settings/Audio menu there are options for Balance and 3D effect, as well as a few equalizer presets. I you select "Custom" you gain a Bass and Treble slider. Although I miss sorting by genre, I'm still giving Music playback an A.

- Video:  Video playback is another of Archos strengths. Again, I refer you to the specifications page at Archos.com. for the codecs supported.  The highest resolution it will play is 720p.  No, the screen doesn't have that many pixels, but it is nice to not have to convert videos you have just so they'll "fit" the 32's screen.  When you open the Video app you get sorting choices including All Videos, Recently Added, Recently Played, Not Played Yet, and Video Folder. When your WiFi is turned on you will also see external Shared Folder and Media Server choices.  This means you can stream videos from your home network if they are in shared folders.

There are small and large Widgets for videos that you can put on any of the 5 home pages. Both give you one-tap access to Recently Added or Recently Played lists, as well one tap to playing that last video you were watching.  You can stretch a video to fill the screen. The menu button brings up options for Info, Set Bookmark, Brightness, and more Settings. Movie information and cover retrieval is available in video info.  The additional Settings include Play Mode (Single/Folder/Repeat single/Repeat Folder), Sound(Audio Settings), and Display Video Title(enable or disable). I am very impressed with the 32's video playback capability.  Video gets an A from me. 

- Photos: There are two way to enjoy your photos that come standard on the Archos 32. You get a typical Gallery app, and the Photo Frame application.  The 32 will display JPEG, BMP, PNG, and GIF graphic files.  The initial view when you open the Gallery app shows separate "stacks" of your photos from each folder (gallery).  If you've taken photos with the 32's camera they will show up in a camera stack. Photos in the Pictures folder show up in a Pictures stack.  The number of photos in each stack is also listed. A tap on any stack will spread the photos in that stack out into an array of thumbnail images. The array is spread out by dates, with earlier photos toward the left and later photos toward the right. There is a slider tab on the bottom edge of the screen which will display the date as you slide the array left or right.  You can also simply swipe the array either direction. Tap on any photo to enlarge it to full screen. Double-tap to zoom the photo out to its full pixel resolution.  You can then pan around the image with your finger on the screen.  Any single tap on a full-screen photo brings up other options. You can play a Slideshow, or tap to get more menu items. Those items include Share (Email, Bluetooth, Twitter(Touiteur), and GMail if installed),  Delete the currently displayed image, and another "More" option (Details, Set as, Crop, Rotate Left, Rotate Right, and Add to Favorites). Across the top edge of the screen will appear quick links to the Array or gallery views, as well as a file name/sequence number toggle. The photo options are very complete.  The screen isn't very high in resolution though, and that is the only shortcoming of using the 32 as your primary photo show-off device. For a better presentation consider anything with a larger screen and higher resolution.  Archos' 43it is  perfect for photos. Photos on the 32 get a B from me.

Camera: You can shoot photos or video with the 32.  Photo size is limited to 640 x 480  Pixels (4:3) and 24BPP (bits per pixel) or 16.7 million colors. This is a sample:

 Video resolution is limited to the same VGA resolution. You get several options when shooting video though.  They include color effects(None, Mono, Sepia, Negative, Aqua, and Red Tint), white balance (Auto, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Shadow), duration (Unlimited, 1 minute, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and 10 Hours), and format (QCIF 176 x 144 or VGA 640 x 480).  The 32's 8gb of memory will be the biggest restriction on how much video you can record. A 26 second MP4 video I took was 10.8 MB (11,333,632 bytes). Video data rate is 3476kbps at 25 frames/second.  Audio bit rate in videos taken is 8kbps mono.  The lens is small and poorly placed. There is no flash.  Don't expect to shoot award-winning videos with the 32, but for a quick casual  photo or video to share with friends it will do fine. Be sure you're in good light though.   I'll give the camera a C.  Average for cameras on media players. Nowhere near as nice as that on most cell phones. 

WiFi: The main reason I bought the 32. With WiFi you get email, internet access via the built-in browser, access to the android market, as well access to any other info available on the World Wide Web. If you don't have Wifi internet access, then don't bother with the 32.  The low resolution screen is the biggest hindrance when browsing the web.  When you set up your WiFi access, notice there is a powersave options. Make sure it is disabled for the best range. Also note that the WiFi antenna is in the lower right of the case.  Having your hand over that area can reduce your range considerably. Using a WiFi analyzer it is easy to see a 15dBm drop when my hand covered that corner. From  the User Manual:

How to improve WiFi reception:

In order to improve your device’s WiFi reception, avoid placing your fingers in front of the WiFi antenna area (zone in red).






 There is a Widget to make it easy to turn WiFi (and Bluetooth and syncing) on and off.  You'll certainly want to turn it off when not needing it. I give WiFi an A.  I have WiFi web access at home and work, and the convenience of being able to quickly check the web or my email is why I prefer media players with WiFi over any that don't have it.

Bluetooth: Another of my favorite features.  You'll need Bluetooth accessories to take advantage, but being able to use wireless headphones, stream music to a counter-top dock or home stereo, tether to your cell phone for internet access, and take advantage of shared game play and certain other applications, Bluetooth is a delight to have. My 32 works perfectly with 4 different Bluetooth headphones I tried. I haven't needed to try tethering, but don't doubt it will work if your phone supports it.   You can connect keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth.  You can copy files between devices that support Bluetooth file transfers. Who wouldn't want it?  No one in my opinion.  Bluetooth gets an A from me, and the 32 has better bluetooth capabilities than the iPod Touch. 

Apps: The 32 comes with access to the AppLib market.  Search the web and you'll find you can also add the standard Android Market application.  Once you have that you'll find several hundred thousand apps you can download and use.  The 32 supports 3D games as well.  Get the TV output cable and see/play them on your TV.  There is no app category in the iPhone app store you won't find a parallel for in the Android Market.  Many games you'll have to pay for on the iPhone are free to Android users.  Try Angry Birds, for example. I give apps an A+.  Be sure you add the Android Market though.  

User Interface: I'm used to Android, and didn't have any trouble finding my way around the 32. Graphic response is smooth. You can use animated wallpaper backgrounds if you like. 5 screens(pages) to spread your favorite application icons or widgets around to.  Easy access to any screen with a hold on the touch grid (bottom edge of the screen). All five screens will appear and you just tap on the one you want. You can also swipe left or right, or touch the left or right of the bottom edge where your current page position is indicated by a number of dots.  One tap on the center grid brings up the entire list of installed applications. You can run any you see from there with a quick tap, or install it on one of the home pages by holding down on it for a second or two. If you are unfamiliar with android, then spend some time looking through the User Guide. My Sister got an Android phone, and didn't realize there were settings for things like Display back-light Time Out. The 32 is responsive and quick. A better experience than Android is on my Archos 7 Home tabletUser Interface gets an A.  It could have been an A+ if the screen had been capacitance and multi-touch. Great for the price though.    

Overall Impression:  I love it. More pocketable than the 43 or even my iPod Touch. More entertaining than any other device I've reviewed on this blog except the 43 (it's the same device in a bigger package).  I wish Archos had put a higher resolution screen on it, but not if it would have raised the price.  For the price of the crippled iPod Nano you get something amazing.  No other device comes close for the same money.  A+!

4D

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10 comments:

  1. Great review! I'm bookmarking it for reference for when the two 32's I ordered from Sears.com show up. (For $116 plus tax I couldn't resist.) I have a few questions: Have you experienced any problems or hiccups after the 2.2 Froyo upgrade? Regarding Wifi: other than putting your hand over the Wifi antenna, have you experienced limited Wifi range? I've seen a few reviews/complaints about short Wifi range with the 32. I also saw that the Archos 5 has short Wifi range because it was designed to European Wifi specs and not US specs. Do you know if the 32 was designed to US Wifi specs?

    Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for checking my review out, Anonymous. No serious flaws after 2.2. When you first power up from OFF, the 32 (and the 43) appear sluggish. Give them a minute and when every app that tries to load part of itself on boot is finished, the UI will speed up. I always then open the System Monitor app and "Stop all programs". Makes for a much zippier experience. WiFi does not seem limited to me. I have the 5it, the 43, and now the 32. I also have a good 3-antenna D-Link N router. If you are concerned about WiFi range, download WiFi Analyzer and run it. A nice way to measure signal strength as you walk away from your router. I've never seen "U.S. Wifi Specs. No telling what they shot for.

    4D

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  3. Thank You, great review..

    Fabiano

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  4. Am I right when I say that it doesn't come with a microSD-slot? Because I'm thingking of buying one, and this could withhold me from buying it.

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  5. Correct, Tobias. The 32 does not have a memory expansion slot of any type. You can access external memory with the right USB Host cable though. See the user manual available at Archos.com under documents.

    http://www.archos.com/manuals/A32_EN_v1.1.htm

    4D

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  6. OK, ty, I'll see what I'll do with your info!

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  7. Excellent review,thanks ! This device not having an external speaker may stop me. Glen from $99

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  8. Thanks for having a look, Glen. The Archos 43 may be ma closer match for your needs as it does come with a speaker and even a microSD slot.

    4D

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  9. hi..Im college student, thanks for sharing :)

    ReplyDelete