A tablet PC sounds like an exciting new category, the excitement fueled by the rumors of an Apple tablet coming early next year. But I got to play with the new Archos 9 tablet, which runs Windows 7, and after the demo I had to ask myself: What's so great about a tablet PC?
Follow the link below for my full assessment.
The Archos 9 has a (duh) 9-inch (1,024 x 600 pixel), highly responsive resistive touchscreen that seemed to hold its own in terms of contrast and reflectivity in normal hotel-room light. Inside the 22.3-ounce slate (it'll be available in black or white) is an Atom Z515 processor, Bluetooth 2.1 and Wi-Fi (b/g, not n), and behind it is a replaceable battery good for around 4.5 hours of normal usage. There's also a kickstand.
In addition to the touchscreen, there's a tiny cellphone-like trackpad on the right side and several controls. On the left there's a button to activate an onscreen keyboard, a 1.3MP camera and a microphone.
Unlike netbooks, the Archos can display HD video, in this case H.264 at 720p. The sample videos looked just fine, better than on most of the netbooks I've seen with no noticeable LCD motion blur.
It took me a couple of minutes to suss the whole idea of a large touchscreen — I kept naturally looking for buttons to press when all I had to do is touch the screen to activate the Start menu, close windows, etc. The screen seemed to withstand smudging, but I only handled it for a couple of minutes.
The onscreen QWERTY keyboard, however, is a nightmare. Your fingers need to come down precisely perpendicular to the keys — it helps enormously if you have long fingernails. I have rather dainty fingers and still could not type a single word without missing a letter or two. And I kept missing the space bar — instead hitting the blank area of the screen just below it. It represents every complaint anyone ever had with a touch keyboard. You can buy an accessory USB keyboard, but the logistics of setting up the tablet with the kickstand and the short USB connecting cable defeat the whole purpose.
So what's so great about a tablet? The Archos 9 will retail for $500 when it launches October 22, which makes it around twice the price of a netbook, which includes a built-in keyboard (and protects the screen when not in use), has a slightly larger screen, and, if equipped with a six-cell battery, longer battery life. And if you get a netbook subsidized by Verizon or AT&T, you get 3G connectivity as well.
Yes, the Archos 9 can display HD video, and it's about half the weight of a netbook. But since three pounds isn't exactly backbreaking, since it's hard to see the difference between 480p and 720p on a 9-inch screen, since typing on this model will leave you frustrated, and you're wandering around with an exposed 9-inch screen, I just don't understand why anyone would want a tablet. But that's just me.