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For a device labelled as an ereader first and video player second, the Archos 70B is surprisingly capable as a media player - although not surprising when you consider Archos's pedigree.
The 600MHz processor isn't powerful enough to play HD content without stuttering severely, but codec support is great, including the now very popular MKV container. Its powers surpass almost all big-screen Android smartphones, and codec support is comparable to the Samsung Galaxy Tab - although with a faster processor that tablet can cope with much higher-quality video.
There's little processing going on behind the scenes, with low-quality files showing up their artefacts and lack of detail openly, but good quality video looks detailed and colourful. The 70b is versatile, but as when reading an ebook the screen quality is an issue.
Contrast is limited and viewing angles are fairly poor, worst affected when the device is tilted backwards - unfortunately that's the direction you're most likely to tilt the screen when watching a video. And guess what - the built-in video player is one of the few apps that doesn't auto-rotate, so you can't flip the screen over to fix the issue. Once tilted in this way, brightness is severely diminished and detail in darker parts of the image is lost almost completely.
Transferring files over USB is slow, although you can side-step this issue by loading your content directly onto an SD card. The 70b's storage shows up as a drive when attached to a computer over USB, allowing for simple drag and drop transfer. Music codec support is also good, including the lossless FLAC codec and OGG alongside the standard WAV and MP3.
As an ereader-tablet hybrid, web browsing is also a key skill of the device. For casual browsing, the sharpness issue we noted when using the 70B as an ereader was no problem. The 7in screen is a good size for an occasional skip across a website using the built-in Wi-Fi connection, but with a resistive screen there's no multi-touch - so you have to tap a virtual on-screen button to zoom in and out. Next to an iPad, browsing the net on this device feels clumsy and slow.
Given the 600MHz processor, we're not surprised browsing isn't as super-slick as in a 1GHz CPU equipped device, with laggy moments cropping up frequently. Combined with the unresponsive touchscreen this makes the web experience less-than stellar, but at the price it's a deficiency we'll live with. Text adjusts to the screen promptly enough, making reading web pages simple and the 7in makes typing away on the virtual keyboard easy, even if the touchscreen isn't all that impressive.
Casting judgement on the Archos 70B is tricky. Retailing for just over Â£100, it's a device that provides a lot as long as you learn to manage your expectations. After all, it is a fifth the price of more premium tablets. However, we suspect that most people will still end up rather disappointed with what the 70B can achieve and would be better off either buying a 'proper' ereader, such as the Sony PRS 350, or saving their money and picking up a more capable tablet like the iPad.
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