Value is an interesting concept in technology: you can buy Android ICS tablets for half the price of Apple's iPad, but we've yet to see one that we would consider a bargain. And here comes the Archos 7od eReader, an ebook reading device half the price of the Amazon Kindle Touch, and a significant £30 cheaper than the basic Amazon Kindle.
When compared to the latter device, the Archos 7od eReader has much more storage plus an explansion slot, and a colour screen. It also has a bigger display and doesn't take as long to charge. And yet despite all of this, we can't unequivocally recommend the Archos to the average ebook fan. See also: TOP 5 eREADERS.
For one thing, that decent-sized, colour screen is a backlit TFT, more suited to watching video or playing games than to reading books. It may be 7in across, and it is matte and totally free from reflections, but the resolution of 480 x 800 displays just how good it is (not very). And it is really uncomfortable to read on.
There are some people who will tell you that reading on anything other than an e-ink display is painful, but I am not one of those. As a full-fledged bookworm I do all my leisure reading on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. I'm not against reading on a backlit screen, far from it. Indeed I actively advocate it for the pleasure of reading in bed with the lights off.
But this display renders text in a fuzzy manner when held at anything less than arm's length, and it soon becomes distractingly annoying to read. The only display-changing option is brightness. In fact, the reading experience is akin to using the Kindle app on a smartphone. There's a sensor to change the orientation from portrait to landscape and vice versa, but it is annoyingly jerky and takes a while to transition, and you are unlikely to want to hold this narrow strip of a screen in landscape to read.
Archos 7od eReader: store support and connectivity
Other victims of the low, low price are store support and wireless connectivity. Both are conspicuous by their absence: to get books on to your eReader, you need to purchase and download them from the internet, then drag and drop them on to your device via Windows Explorer or Apple OS X's Finder. This won't be a bad thing in everyone's eyes, although you won't be able to surf the web on this device.
It is, after all, pretty simple to move files into a folder via USB, and not being tied into a store offers the option to play the market, a little. You're also saved from the battery drain that always on internet can engender. But a slick end-to-end consumer experience this isn't, and you need to be organised about loading up the device before you go on holiday, for instance. The Archos 7od eReader supports ePub, PDF, txt and Google eBooks files, so there are plenty of sources of good, and often free, content. (By contrast the more expensive Kindle natively supports Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, and PRC; and HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP through conversion.)
As we mentioned earlier the Archos 7od eReader is not shy of storage. It has 4GB of internal memory and a microSDslot to extend memory up to 16GB. That 4GB memory is more books than you are ever likely to be able to read - around 3,000, by our reckoning.
Archos 7od eReader: battery life and build quality
The Archos 7od eReader takes around an hour to charge, and has a claimed battery life when in use as an eReader of 10 hours. We can't fully confirm that, but only because at the time of writing, after five hours in use as an ereader, the 2100 mAH (7.8Wh) battery is still less than half drained. The Kindle can go for 15 to 16 hours over a month (without wireless connectivity), or 10 hours over three weeks with wireless, so the Archos is definitely in the right ball park there.
Unfortunately, the build quality is definitely budget. The Archos 7od eReader feels as cheap as it is. Flimsy and plasticky, with that nasty screen. At 11mm thick and 280g it is also difficult to comfortably hold in one hand for any great length of time. Navigation is via a series of plastic buttons on the thick bezel to the right of the display (at the bottom in landscape mode). It's pretty intuitive, and a contextual 'Settings' button lets you get to where you need to be in a couple of clicks. Navigation is slow, however, with the device feeling underspecced and sluggish, and hanging at the slightest excuse.
There are bonuses if you are buying the Archos because cash really is short, however. It doubles as music, photo and video video player, with support for (deep breath) MP3, JPEG, BMP, GIF, MPEG-4 AVI, FLV, MPG, RM, RMVB, FLV, MP4, DAT, VOB, MKV, and MOV (up to HD 720p). Music sounds okay - certainly not an audiophile experience, but about what you'd expect from a basic digital audio player. Video and photos? Well, if you don't mind them not looking great, the Archos will play them. Let's leave it at that. And remember that using this gadget as a multimedia device will have an impact on the storage and battery life.