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6/10

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Archos 70b eReader - Interface and Apps

The 70B eReader runs Google's Android operating system, but like Archos's other Android-powered devices there's a thick layer of custom user interface plonked on top. We can understand Archos's desire to make this gadget look more like an ebook reader than an everyday tablet with this UI, but unfortunately it's not very attractive, and not at all customisable.

At the top of the screen are four shortcut icons, for the Video, Music and Photo apps plus the browser. Below this are the History and My Library ereader tabs, intended to be the main route to your ebook library. You can tap on the title of either to get a full-screen view or scroll through your library of books direct from the widget, tapping on and opening the book you want when you encounter the icon. The widgets just about work but as home screen widgets, they're somewhat ugly and poorly conceived. Do we really need home screen access to our whole ebook library from the homepage? We'd rather an easier to use recent books widget were used along with a simple link to the whole library, which would then open in a full screen mode. In case you were wondering, no you can't customise these widgets.

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The 70B uses a resistive touchscreen, which makes tapping on small things like the My Library widget's scroll buttons tricky as accuracy isn't great when using a finger - yet another argument for keeping the main interface big, bold and simple. As there are just two page-turning hardware buttons, Archos also uses a touch navbar for basic navigation. This sits at the very top of the screen, whether you're on a home screen or in a 3rd party app, and offers a back button, volume control and lets you skip back to the home screen.

It's this nav menu that highlights the limitations of the resistive touchscreen. Even after multiple rounds of calibration, it occasionally failed to accurately register a tap on one of these virtual buttons, especially in the screen's corners. Performance elsewhere on the screen is better - although we're left wishing Archos had included a stylus that slipped into the body. Styluses may be old hat these days, but if one gadget can get away within including one, it's an ebook reader. After all, it comes with the perfect pen partner, a built-in Sudoku game.

Additional apps like this are accessed using a menu pulled up from the bottom of the home screen. The Archos 70B doesn't give you access to the Android Market as standard. Instead, you have to make do with Applib, Archos's own app store, or scour the web for .apk installation files available for download.

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Compared to the full Android Market, Applib only offers a tiny selection of apps, but several of our Android favourites are there. TuneIn Radio will turn your eReader into an internet radio, the RealPlayer app has a slightly snazzier interface than the built-in media player and the paid-for OfficeSuite Pro lets you edit Microsoft Office docs. There are also several unofficial Youtube and Facebook apps, although no official ones. And no, Angry Birds is not yet available for this tablet from Applib. We downloaded it from Getjar, but couldn't get it working on the 70b.

The Archos 70b can be hacked to run a vanilla Android OS, complete with the Android Market, and there's even an Applib app that claims to be able to install the Market without a hack - but this also didn't work properly on the 70b. There's 188MB of free internal memory to install apps to and 2.6GB of user-accessible flash memory, to load with videos and ebooks. You can expand upon this using SD cards.

With a 600MHz processor, this tablet has roughly the same power as a mid- or low-end Android smartphone. There's a slight lag to day-to-day navigation, but unless you're going to use this as a tablet first and an eReader second, this shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

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