Archos makes the best multi-media players that no one knows about. I know a number of folks who own one of the predecessors to the Archos 9, and everyone loves them. But, unlike the iPod, few people outside of loyal users ever seem to hear about Archos. That being said, after looking at the Archos 9, it sets the bar for what the iPad needs to be when it comes out early next year.
Be Productive, Be Connected, Be Entertained
This is the tag line for the Archos 9, and it should be the tag line for this entire class of product that Intel has branded MID, or Mobile Internet Devices. This is really the first really interesting device of its type, although it is no iPhone or iPod Touch.
It has the same size screen, nine inches, as some of the first netbooks, but no built-in keyboard, making it vastly thinner than any netbook currently on the market. The controls are also placed so you can easily use them while holding the device, unlike netbooks, which typically needs to be placed on a table or a lap to be used properly.
The nine-inch screen allows Web pages to be displayed as they were intended for a PC, without most of the tradeoffs that exist in typical media players and smartphones. This product is designed to be always connected and, as a class, will likely become more popular as LTE and WiMax (also called 4G) networks become both more common and more affordable (expected to be priced around $15 a month).
With a full OS, this device will do virtually anything a laptop will do in terms of Internet video, ripped DVDs, or Flash media. It’s no high-end gaming PC, but it will do vastly more than any smartphone or previous portable multimedia device has ever been capable of.
You could mount this on a car’s dashboard, or even on motorcycle handlebars, and it would still be usable. Priced at around $499 and running Windows 7 Starter Edition, this product will be a featured product during the Windows 7 launch, and will likely be one of the most unique products running that operating system. It also offers 60GB of storage, built-in stereo speakers, a Bluetooth keyboard option, and a simple dock. The removable battery should deliver four hours of use, and an extended battery is expected in market next year.
The video quality is 720p HD, both on screen and through the video output. This may be the first truly HD player in the MID class of devices, and it will likely be only the first of a series of devices like this, both from Archos and others. At a little over a pound and a half, it makes products like the Macbook Air seem heavy, and redefines thin and light.
Unlike other products in this class currently in market, you could actually leave your notebook at home and carry the Archos 9 instead. There is no fan, and unlike a number of other devices (read: iPhone) it doesn’t seem to get hot. This makes it an ideal bedside device for those that want to be online, but want their spouse to be able to sleep at the same time. In fact, this may be the first PC-like device that is uniquely optimized for bedroom use.
Netbook or iPad Done Right?
This product really explores the gap between products like the iPod Touch and iPhone, and small notebook or netbook computers. Ideally, it would be best used where notebook capability is needed, but where a notebook or all-in-one computer is impractical. In the kitchen, in the car, on a motorcycle, in the bedroom, or while moving around the home, this device opens up usage models we have seen handheld computers explore inadequately in the past, and it heralds a future of devices that expand how we use PCs and where we use them dramatically.
The Archos 9 sets a bar for the new iPad, which should have a similar usage model, a similar price, and be expected to do similar things. We’ll have to wait and see if Apple can pull it off. Until then, the Archos 9 sets the bar.