The Archos 50 Platinum is really a phone for those who need or want access to dual-SIM card functionality - a rare thing in the UK. Usually this would be business users, or those who travel a lot. Now that doesn't sound typical of Archos, the company that made its name in media playback. Has it got the goods when it comes to smartphones? We switched to the dual-SIM world to find out.
Archos has some very specific talents, and the firm has been dealing with Google's Android operating system for as long as almost anyone else. Its devices are often very powerful, but they tend to be set up to handle media well above all else. With the 50 Platinum, though, the company has taken a different direction.
We're fans of the Platinum name - it's a rather cool-sounding device. A quick glance at the specs maintains that view too: there's a 5-inch IPS LCD screen, 8-megapixel camera, quad-core CPU and a reasonably recent version of Android. But does it all do enough as a phone to win us over?
In terms of style, we quite like the Archos. It's completely black which gives it a simple yet attractive uniform look. The rounded edges are nice, and the smooth plastic feels high-quality - although it won't give you much grip on the device, so in hot weather watch our for your warm hands losing grip.
There is a sort of Google Nexus feel to the Archos too. This is partially down to the shape and colour, but also down to the fact that this phone runs a very plain, vanilla version of Android, with few customisations made by Archos.
On the bottom of the device's front there are three capacitive touch controls for back, home and menu - typical of an Android device. On the right, there's a power button, while a volume rocker sits on the left-hand side.
At the top there's a USB port and a headphone jack, while the dual-SIM sockets and a microSD card slot are located underneath the plastic back, along with the removable battery.
Big SIM cards
Under that plastic back and it's hard to ignore that Archos has favored the older - and much-loved - mini-SIM, instead of the micro-SIM that was made popular when Apple switched the iPhone to its smaller form factor.
This larger size might appeal to some. We have a mix of cards including one min-SIM and one home-cut micro-SIM, so we used an adaptor for the latter along with some tape to keep the card secure in its host. The fit was a little snug, but caused no real problems for us.
Dual-SIM or not?
If you want and need dual-SIM then the Archos is a really solid choice. The big question for this section though, is "do you really need a dual-SIM phone?". That question is important, because as much as we like the Archos, the dual-SIM parts add complication and, crucially, more or less destroy the battery life.
It's not much of a surprise that dual-SIM phones are battery-hungry. What you have is the need for a phone to contact two potentially different cell towers, on two potentially different frequencies, and conduct two totally separate sets of data transfer, call handling and such. Really, it's a miracle the battery lasts even one minute.
In fact, battery life isn't bad at times. If you're stationary, and you have good strong signals on both the networks to which you are connected, then you should have no real problems. If you have a weak signal on one or both, then the phone needs to use more power to stay connected - so bear this in mind if one of your networks is weak somewhere you spend a lot of time.
We also have some minor concerns over how Android handles dual-SIMs. On the Prestigio phone we recently tested, it was able to name cards and to give you a much clearer idea of who was calling on what card, using memorable names. On the Archos, you're told what card the call is coming in on, but it's not able to give you the network name, or let you name it yourself. What's more, names from the address book didn't appear for us when calls came in. This is a bit of a problem, and we don't know if it's because of Android, or if there is some problem with the way Archos has implemented the address book.
The 50 Platinum is a bit of an odd beast. It performs well at times, and not so well at others. A good example is typing: either the touchscreen isn't all that reliable and sensitive, or the phone has some minor lag issues, but we did notice that at times text messages would have errors because the phone hadn't detected our typing - and that's not a problem we have with other phones.
We tested video playback at 1080p over the network, and 720p via both the network and the microSD card. We found that 720p video played fine from a DLNA server, via the Archos Video app, but locally stored 720p video was jumpy. DLNA video should not have been downscaled or otherwise tampered with, so that was something of a mystery.
Even so, one of the more impressive things about the Archos is that it is capable of playing back movies with Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. Not every device can do this, so if you're a movie nut, it's worth bearing in mind.
One other thing that's worth noting is that you need an Archos "codec" pack to play certain files on the phone. This is an Archos trick that's as old as the hills, and dates back to its old media players. We still resent it but - and weirdly - there's a third-party app in Google Play that seems to unlock the codecs for free. It worked fine for us too.
With a 540 x 960 resoltion, the 50 Platinum's 5-inch display can only boast 220ppi. It's just not as up there as some of the higher-spec smartphones. But for all practical use it's actually a brilliant display that has more than enough resolution, colour and fine detail to make using it a real pleasure.
In part we suspect that this is because it's an IPS panel, so it has good viewing angles and colours look really natural. Compare that to an AMOLED display, which generally puts colour brightness over accuracy, and the Archos is ahead in our minds. The 50 Platinum's IPS panel is really bright, reasonable to see when outside and generally is an all-round good egg.
We found the touch sensitivity a bit lacking though. When we typed in messages or emails, we really felt like the phone was ignoring some of our finger presses. This was a little frustrating, although using a swipeable keyboard would help fix the problem.
Perhaps our largest complaint with the Archos is its headphone jack. We used our normal headphones - the same pair we use in all testing - plugged them in and had vague, quiet music that either sounded distorted or distant. Other headphones seemed to also fit quite badly. This could be to do with the way the headphone jack is designed, but whatever the reason, it's deeply annoying.
Using an adaptor might help, especially if your headphones have the extra contact point for the microphone, because this can cause problems too. Even so, the whole thing is annoying. That's the theme word here: annoying.
What's more, this handset, like so many, has a really low volume limit set. This won't affect all headphones, as some, much in the same way as speakers, are more sensitive than others. Our high-end earphones sound amazing, but are not sensitive, and this causes problems with the arbitrary and unilateral volume limit. What's more, we don't need the EU to tell us how to look after our hearing.
What's at least a bit surprising is that the camera on the Archos is fairly good. It's perhaps not the best we've used on a mid-range Android phone, but there's a lot of detail in the images, the colour seems about right too and there are none of those problems you get with very soft images typical of budget phones.
In lower light, we notice two things: there are some noticeable artifacts around the edges of objects, and these are kind of unpleasant; and it's much easier to accidentally move the camera away before it has taken its photo. This kind of lag is something to watch out for otherwise you'll never get a sharp photo.
None of this phone's photo abilites are really going to set the world on fire, but it's no disaster either. It does all the usual stuff you'd want it to do like sharing socially via Facebook and Twitter too. This is Android, after all, and there are plenty of apps at your fingertips.
We have genuine love for the Archos 50 Platinum. It's a simple phone, without much customisation, but that will be a draw for many. We found that, despite its decent spec, it can feel a bit slow and unresponsive. It's not a big deal, but this phone doesn't feel like a high-end device, despite its processor and decent RAM allocation.
But it's also priced incredibly well, has a nice screen and handsome styling. The dual-SIM functionality is great to have, although it could be better implemented - but it's sure to be useful for those who travel a lot, or who have business and personal numbers they want to keep separate, but don't want two devices for.
Just remember, the battery is easy to drain in a few short hours if the conditions are right (or wrong), and with two SIM cards to worry about, it's almost asking the impossible to expect any company to deal with this any better than Archos has.