Archos has long been at the forefront of the PMP market and by updating its portables with wireless connectivity and most recently the Android OS, it attempts to fight off competition from rivals and high-end mobile phones. The Archos 32 could easily be mistaken for the latter in fact, and is a sleek and slimline touchscreen device finished in gun metal aluminium, offering a 3.2-inch (400 x 240) resistive display along with touch controls and a VGA camera at the back.
Aside from a volume control and power/lock switch the only other features on the exterior are 3.5mm audio, power and USB ports, which contributes towards an attractive minimalist design that those averse to Apple’s lines will appreciate. The Archos 32 as an 8GB internal memory, with no option it upgrade further.
It’s also pretty capable on the inside, with built-in b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, an accelerometer to flip the screen around and compatibility with a wide range of audio and video formats. Other, more standard features such as a photo viewer, calculator, voice recorder and video recorder are present and correct, and Archos claims a battery life of up to 24 hours for music playback, 6 for video and 8 hours on the web.
Using the wireless connectivity on board it is possible to stream content from a home network via UPnP or SAMBA sharing, pair the device with a mobile phone to use a 3G connection to access data on the move through a phone contract and an optional cable allows content to be played back on the big screen.
The Archos 32 utilises the Android 2.2 (Froyo) OS and while there are obvious benefits here in terms of customising and personalising the features and layout, it doesn’t offer access to the full range of apps and games available. Instead users are tied to Archos’ Applib library and while this does still offer quite a good range, those expecting to use their favourite software on the device would do well to check availability before a purchase.
This range of features sounds impressive enough on paper, but it’s obviously vital that the Archos performs in the hand. Overall we were pretty impressed. Despite the lack of capacitive display we found it to be very responsive when browsing around and accessing content, and sharp, vibrant and colourful when viewing photos and video, though in the case of the latter you’ll get the best results with video that is optimised for the device. Though it supports playback of up to 720p files we didn’t find them as sharp as we’d hoped, which is likely down to the fact that such high-resolutions are being displayed on a relatively low-res screen. The main issue we had with the touchscreen is unfortunately a rather important one – the on-screen keyboard used to enter text and browse the Internet is pretty clunky, and though it’s more manageable in landscape mode most users will struggle to enter text quickly without making mistakes.
Once connected data access is fast and responsive however, with smooth zoom and scroll controls making websites a joy to browse, although there is no multi-touch support. With Flash 10 support you’ll also be able to browse video content in comfort and though we did experience some issues doing this over 3G via a phone instead of the built-in wireless, it’s still usable enough not to be a big issue.
Audio quality is very good, provided the typically meagre supplied ‘buds are replaced, but those looking to get good use from the camera will be rather disappointed. Aside from the low, 0.3-megapixel resolution the viewfinder is particularly poor in this mode and both the refresh rate and detail displayed on-screen is mediocre at best. Though the video recorder fairs better, it would be fair to summarise this particular area of the device as a “token effort”.
Overall Archos packs an impressive range of features into an attractive, slimline device, and providing you’d expect to make good use of the flexibility on offer here it’s a nice alternative to an expensive mobile phone.
The Archos 32 may have a fairly limited market when you consider the range of current mobiles that can do all of this and more, but as a reasonably priced standalone device there’s plenty of fun to be had for those who don’t want to shell out a lot on an expensive phone.