Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Archos 70 has been adjusted down from 7 to 6.
The Archos 70 is the perfect case in point. It doesn't run the latest version of Google's Android OS or sport the latest wave of dual-core processors, but for as little as $270, it delivers a ton of bang for the buck. Its closest competition isn't even a tablet, but the Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-reader, which is similarly priced but woefully under-specced by comparison.
Like most tablet computers, the Archos 70 isn't much to look at. It's a plastic slab that measures 7.9 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and a slim 0.43 inch thick (or 0.55 for the hard-drive model). The dimensions feel nice in the hand and may even fit in a generous-size pocket.
Compared to the similarly sized Archos 7 Home Tablet we reviewed in 2010, there's a generous smattering of ports and hardware options on the Archos 70. The power button is on the right, positioned uniquely near the bottom edge along with a slim volume rocker. Along the left side you'll find a microSDHC memory expansion slot, headphone jack, power adapter socket, Mini HDMI output, and a Micro-USB port. Apart from the speaker grilles on the front and an integrated (flimsy) kickstand on the back, that's about all there is to the tablet's design.
Despite all these great hardware features, you won't find the typical Android navigation keys on the Archos 70. Taking a cue from Android's new flagship Honeycomb OS, Archos has moved the controls for home, back, menu, and search into the OS. The upshot of this move is that the navigation controls reposition themselves to match the device's orientation. If you're already an Android power-user, the lack of tactile navigation keys may take some getting used to, but we found the change useful on the whole.
One Android tweak we weren't thrilled with was the Archos 70's keyboard. After our previous criticism over how Archos kept the spacebar out of thumb's reach by making the centralized key too small, the company has since shifted the key over to the left. Unfortunately, it's still the size of a smartphone spacebar, and crowded in with cursor keys. Since the tablet doesn't reorient itself when held in portrait mode, there's only one way to type on the screen, and it leaves much to be desired. If you can tweak the keyboard using optional software, we'd recommend it.
The 7-inch screen on the Archos 70 does have a few qualities working in its favor. The backlit LCD has an 800x480-pixel resolution that gives movies and photos crisp detail and balanced color. The viewing angles aren't great, but we've seen worse. We wish Archos would have opted for a matte finish on the display to help resist smudges and glare (as it has done in the past), but we're fairly happy considering the price.
As far as software goes, you're looking at an Android 2.2 device, minus the conveniences of Google's proprietary apps, including Android Marketplace, Gmail, and Maps. You get the stock Android 2.2 e-mail app and Web browser, along with Archos' remixed versions of the Android music player, photo viewer, and video player.