The Archos 70d uses an LCD screen. This doesn't provide the optimum reading experience - a backlight can cause eyestrain - but Archos has made a few tweaks to improve things.
It uses a matt finish, reducing the effect of sunlight by minimising screen reflection. However, it's still not a patch on an E Ink display to use outside on a sunny day. The screen backlight ends up fighting with ambient light sources, making the screen appear dim - paper-like displays use natural light to their advantage, making ebooks look all the more vibrant.
The screen finish also has the unpleasant effect of making images appear mottled. When reading, this manifests as a hazy sheen across the white part of a page. This and the low 480 x 800 pixel resolution makes ebooks look quite ugly compared with E Ink readers, tablets with higher quality displays such as the iPads.
Whites are a little rainbow-like on the 70d
Fairly low-quality screens like this are also more likely to cause eyestrain and headaches following prolonged sessions, although we'll admit we didn't suffer from such effects. The Archos 70d's hardware buttons make reading comfortable on your digits, but this ereader is not so easy on the eyes.
The LCD screen does come in handy when you want a break from reading, though. Unlike E Ink readers you can properly watch video. Format support is great, with popular formats like MKV, DivX and Xvid able to play without any fiddling. The underpowered processor struggled with HD-quality video, but breezed through standard definition vids just fine.
Video playback is - of course - somewhat affected by the mediocre screen quality. There's significant loss of brightness as soon as you start tilting the screen back and the mottling effect is clearly visible in areas of block colour. However, it fares better than many a budget tablet, which often suffer from much worse contrast shift - which robs images of any shadow detail. Odd as it may sound for an ereader, the Archos 70d's video abilities are the best reason to buy it.
The Archos 70d runs a custom user interface. Unlike some LCD-screen readers, it's not based on Android. This means you won't be able to play Angry Birds on it, but ensures it runs reasonably well - for a bargain basement device. Aside from a few freezes that demanded a reset, there is only a slight lag between menus and a loading pause when opening a book or PDF.
A homescreen shows you the book you're currently reading and a half-dozen titles from your library, and other options drop down as an animated overlay upon pressing the Menu button.
The software is not feature-rich in ereader terms, but offers auto rotate, bookmarks and control over the brightness of the backlight. You can change the colour of fonts and the background too, but this only serves to highlight how odd it is that the Archos 70d doesn't give you control over font size or style - you're stuck with the default. There's also no Wi-Fi, ruling-out buying books directly from the device.
In return for these basic omissions, the Archos 70d offers good format support, including DRM EPUB and PDF files. However, not having full control over font size and style will be a deal-breaker for many.
The Archos 70d is cheap and can - in some senses at least - do more than the more popular dedicated ereaders out there. However, it doesn't do any one thing well. Its screen sours the reading experience and limits its desirability as a portable video buddy. When top-tier E Ink ereaders are out there for just £10 or so more, we can't recommend giving the Archos a go.
Cheaper than a Kindle and with far better movie-playing chops than any E-Ink screen ereader, the Archos 70d may sound like a good buy for under £60. However, the low-quality screen stops it from being a viable alternative to the better-known readers when it comes to its core task: reading. We'd suggest saving up a few pennies and getting a proper E-Ink ebook reader.