The French company Archos makes portable entertainment gadgets that often feel like a first rough draft of the future: For instance, it started making media players with big screens,video support, and TV output back when your average MP3 player was…an MP3 player. Today, it announced the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, an inventive gizmo that’s on the cutting edge of multiple trends: tablets, Android-powered devices, and PC-like devices that aren’t PCs in the traditional sense.
The 5 starts at $249.99 and sports a 4.8″ touch screen with 800 by 480 resolution, which means that it’s a bit too large to go in a pocket, but packs enough pixels to display typical Web pages with less need for zooming than on an iPhone or other more pocketable device. It’s available in versions with up to 32GB of flash memory, and chunkier hard-drive based ones with up to 500GB of disk space.
It runs Google’s Android–an operating system until now seen mostly on cell phones. Archos performed a fair amount of customization to the OS’s interface, resulting in something that is recognizably Android (it has widgets and a slide-out drawer of apps) but which has been reconfigured for a higher-resolution display. Archos has also launched its own software store, which it’s calling AppsLib; it’s debuting with only a handful of apps that have been customized for the 5, but the company says it’s going to work hard to ramp up the selection.
The existing Archos 5 app I’m most intrigued by is ThinkFree, the venerable office suite; combined with the 5′s support for Bluetooth keyboards and the HDMI output to a TV or monitor enabled by its optional dock, it opens up the possibility of treating the 5 pretty much like a desktop PC–then popping it out of the dock and taking it places where even a netbook would be too big and clunky. It also comes with the Twitdroid Twitter client, eBuddy for instant messaging, and a mapping app that uses high-res photos taken from helicopters.
The device includes 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi and GPS, but not 3G broadband (although Archos says that may come along eventually).The browser is based on the solid standard Android one; as Gizmodo’s Joanna Stern reports, it lacks Flash, but Archos is working on it.
Archos showed me the 5 in person last week, and it looked like typical Archos–a bit rough around the edges interfacewise, but bursting at the seams with interesting ideas aimed at early adopters. I wonder if it bears any resemblance at all to the Apple tablet we’re all assuming will show up sometime next year?