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Hands on: Archos 55 Platinum

Yes, it's a $115 smartphone, but that's no excuse for tragic battery life and wheezy game performance

Weak tea is the worst. The component aspects are often right: A nice mug, hot water, your preference of tea-filled bag, and perhaps even an environment conducive to relaxation. But if the tea isn’t steeped just right, the end result is disappointing, and the cup of tea is less than the sum of its parts.

That’s the problem with the Archos 55 Platinum, a phone that on the basis of the specs and the astonishingly attractive price, should be better than it really is. We tried it out for a few days, to see if modern smartphone addicts can be satisfied with a phone that costs five times less than the top-of-the-line, most desirable models out there.

The Archos 55 Platinum costs about £80 in the U.K., or about $115. For that measly amount, you get a 5.5-inch screen, a quad-core processor, a 13-megapixel rear camera, a MicroSD card slot, and a relatively slim and light device. It’s rather good-looking, too, with a soft touch rear cover — in a fetching blue on our test device — with some metal inserts running down the sides. The volume control rocker is contoured, the speaker cutout is small and inconspicuous, and the sleep/wake key falls easily to hand.

The 55 Platinum certainly doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of hardware. It’s comfortable to hold and light enough to slip into a pocket, but it really is a fingerprint magnet on the front and the back.

Related: Here are the three latest Android tablets from Archos

First impressions are good, but the 55 Platinum begins to disappoint the more you use it. The large 5.5-inch screen has equally large bezels, and some irritatingly unresponsive soft keys below, which stay unlit until you stab away trying to locate them. They’re lower down on the front of the phone than on many other devices, so they’re easy to miss. The screen resolution is 1,280 x 720 pixels, so icons look blurred and streaming video is disappointing. Still, at this price, one shouldn’t expect a Full HD screen.

Not a gaming phone

However, the screen, while not fabulous, is one of the 55 Platinum’s better features. It’s the device’s overall performance that drags it down. The processor isn’t a Qualcomm chip, or even a MediaTek processor, but one made by Spreadtrum, and we don’t encounter those chips very often for a reason. It runs at 1.3GHz and is paired to 1GB of RAM. That’s low, and it really, really shows.

The good news is Android is almost untouched by Archos, with little to no pre-installed apps.

We often use Crossy Road, Danmaku Unlimited, and Riptide GP 2 as test apps to judge performance. Only when we turned the graphics settings down to the minimum did the games actually work at all. Even with the graphics at mid-level on Riptide GP 2, the game stuttered, paused, and proved impossible to play.

An older version of Android 5.1 Lollipop is installed on the phone, so it’s already out of date, and it took a while to open apps, share pictures, and do general phone-related tasks. That’s going to get worse as apps get more advanced, and without software updates, it runs the risk of being open to security flaws.

Related: 10 great smartphones you can buy for $400 or less

If all you plan to do is check Twitter, use Gmail, and a few very ordinary games — Hill Climb Racing was fine, for example — the 55 Platinum just about does the job, but you’ll need to be patient. Ask it to do anything more taxing, and you’ll quickly become frustrated. The good news is Android is almost untouched by Archos, with little to no pre-installed apps. There’s even an option to refuse them when you setup the phone, and there’s no noticeable skin over the top of Lollipop.

The camera does go some way to redeeming the 55 Platinum. No, it’s not challenging the LG G5 or Galaxy S7, but it does capture some decent shots, with plenty of color and detail inside. It’s not keen on overcast days, though, and quickly washes out the sky. The phone uses the standard Google Android camera app, which comes with an HDR mode and the chance to change the exposure manually. For a cheap smartphone, it took pictures that one would be happy to show around, but they were hardly great quality.

Terrible battery life

When quick-testing smartphones, we rarely need more than a single battery charge in the first couple of days. The Archos 55 Platinum needed two or three, if we include the first charge when it arrived. That’s awful. On a full day of use, with gaming, photos, benchmarks, and some GPS use, we got ten hours from the battery. Remember, this isn’t an octa-core monster phone with a Quad HD screen, so the battery life really shouldn’t be that poor.

Related: Powerful hardware and low prices make Archos’s new Android phablets worth a look

It’s a good thing the phone has a removable battery, because you’re going to need to carry around a dozen or so extras. The only thing worse was the recharging speed, which took more than three hours to complete. That’s truly terrible for a 2,400mAh cell. It’s so below our expectations for a device like this, we question whether there was an issue with our test phone, because the software is almost free of bloat or apps that may drain the power unnecessarily.

The battery woes are a problem for the Archos 55 Platinum, because outside of this, it really did work as we’d expect a phone that costs $115 to work: with some slowdown and poor screen quality, but useable. It’s a shame it doesn’t connect to 4G networks, either. It can only manage HSDPA 3G speeds from its dual-SIM configuration.

However, no one will be buying the 55 Platinum because it’s their dream phone, but rather because they’ve only got $115 to spend. In that respect, it’s decent value, but the battery life is shocking for a fairly basic phone. You need be aware of what you’re getting with the Archos 55 Platinum, and don’t expect any phone with Android 5.1 installed now to still be acceptable in a year’s time.

We’d recommend budget hunters save up a bit more for the Moto G instead, which costs £128 or $180 on Amazon, or the Huawei Honor 5X, which will run you £190 or $200.

Highs:

  • Simple, attractive design
  • Good build quality
  • Removable battery
  • Decent camera

Lows:

  • Tragic battery life
  • Poor game performance
  • Old version of Android
  • No 4G connectivity