Phones aren’t exactly my thing. In fact I have to admit that I still own a nice but very out of date Sony Ericsson flip-phone that has served me most faithfully for a few years now. As a technology lover smartphones intrigue me greatly and I’ve always admired what they can do, but I’ve never felt the desire to spend such a large sum of money on a phone. The reason is simple; I’d rarely use it to its full potential. When I’m out and about or even stuck on a train I much prefer to pay attention to the world around me, be it the hustle and bustle of people or the amazing sights of everyday life. Being able to check my Email is incredibly handy and getting some directions from Google Maps when I’m a bit lost or looking for some decent food is handy, and there’s definitely been moments where it would have been nice to read a few articles, but that doesn’t exactly justify a few hundred quid being spent. To summarise, I’d like to have a smartphone, but could never justify the expenditure.
So when a company offered me a smartphone to review, it was hard to say no, despite my own lack of knowledge on the topic. I’m approaching the Archos 50b Platinum, a phone clearly aimed to be a solid entry-level product for people like myself, with an outsider’s perspective and hopefully enough common sense to provide some decent criticism. Armed with what could charitably be described as a limited knowledge of smartphones and more truthfully described as non-existent I set out to test the Archos to the best of my abilities. With a few weeks of daily use I can see the appeal of owning a smartphone, even if I can still see the many potential pitfalls. More importantly I feel the Archos makes for a solid starting point, but has some serious flaws holding it back.
Let’s start with the basics; The Archos Platinum sports a solid quad-core 1.3Ghz processor and a kind of crappy 512mb of Ram. With this setup getting around the nearly stock version of Android Kit-Kat that acts as the operating system feels pretty smooth and responsive, although there is a slight delay when performing certain actions. It’s not major and didn’t bother me overly much, but it is there, and you’ll feel it more as you try to quickly leap from app to app, screen to screen. The low amount of Ram makes itself apparent when dealing with more than one open app, where the phone beings to slow, a clear indication that the Platinum isn’t aimed at people who love to multitask.
The 5″ screen is a qHD which runs at a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels, resulting in a relatively mediocre PPI of 220. The screen does actually look quite sharp when simply running around the OS and reading text, but the limited resolution means videos, especially those running at 720p, have a slightly blurriness to them that isn’t hugely problematic but is still clearly inferior to the screens offered on other phones. Color reproduction and contrast are both pretty good and the IPS panel means the viewing angles are quite wide., although brightness levels will take a sharp drop when looking the phone from anything less than almost straight on. If you’re a heavy TV/film watcher you might want to look at something which can offer you a higher resolution image, but for most users the screen should be just fine. The good quality screen is backed up by surprisingly strong audio. The speakers are located on the back of the phone so if you lay it down on a table or something the sound will become muffled, but free of obstruction I was genuinely impressed with the clarity that the tiny speakers could produce, and even ramping the volume up there was little to no distortion present. Plugging in a pair of decent headphones again led to me being quite impressed with what the Platinum was capable of producing, although it has to be said that the included earbuds are bloody awful and you should chuck them straight away in favor of something better.
As standard the phone comes with a lowly 4GB of memory, around 2gb of which is used by the phone OS itself, leaving just 2GB for the user. Luckily the main package the Platinum comes with includes an 8GB SD card. The 2GB of standard storage is poor and will fill up incredibly quickly, so if you’re interested in the Archos make sure you grab the package that includes a card or set aside some cash to get one. On the plus side the phone does support cards with up to 64GB of storage.
There is a nice surprise located inside the phone; dual SIM support, with one slot supporting both 2G and 3G, and the other supporting just 2G. It’s a nifty feature for anyone looking to keep their work and personal life seperate without having to cart a second phone around.
So with those general specs covered, let’s talk about some benchmarking. I downloaded and installed the Atutu benchmarking app to get started and let it test the phone. The Archos managed a fairly low score of 18778, putting it below things like the Asus Zenfone 5. The app breaks this down as having a general performance of high, surpassing 60% of other devices. However, the phone scored far worse in games with a rating of poor, surpassing only 40% of other devices. This was made very clearly during the 3d game test where the phone struggled to maintain 10fps, which is obviously unplayable. To further check this performance I loaded up GPU Benchmark 3D and ran through the benchmarks. Interestingly these seemingly contradicted what Atutu was saying, with a score 14,035 and an average FPS of 52, peaking to a highest of 85fps and a lowest of 6fps. While those drops are obviously worrying, the average FPS was surprisingly solid. So I then loaded up 3D Mark and ran through its three Ice Storm Extreme tests. In total the phone managed a score 0f 2125, with test one coming in at an average 8.3FPS, test two achieving a mere 7fps average and test three doing quite a bit better with 26.4fps. The final score places the Archos 50b Platinum pretty far down the list in terms of raw gaming power, slotting it in at 1212th, just above the DNS Airtab E78. Following that I proceeded to install and run Geekbench 3. In the single core category the Platinum managed a score of 353. putting it quite far down the list, between the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Asus Nexus 7. In the multi-core category it managed a score of 1185, again placing it quite far down the field, matching the Motorola Moto G. These benchmarks pretty much reflected my experience with the phone. General performance was fine, as mentioned. Getting around the OS was hassle free and relatively smooth unless multiple apps were running, and the phone was fine playing 2d titles, like Plague Inc. 3D games were more of a mixed bag. Take Minion Rush, for example; aside from taking a freaking age to load the first time round the performance was terrible with constant barrages of stuttering, making it nearly impossible to play. Ducati Challenge went far better with no hiccups. Real Racing 3 would have been a good test, except the game crashed every time I attempted to load up an actual race. In GT Racing 2 the experience wasn’t perfectly smooth and the average framerate was a touch low to my eyes, but it was still playable and enjoyable. It’s obvious that the 50b isn’t a good choice for anyone looking to do heavy gaming on the go, but for some light play it should suffice
. It’s during gameplay that I also noted a heat problem as the rear of the phone became quite hot under heavy load, concentrated around the camera area. During charging the phone would also heat up. While the heat never got bad enough to cause genuine concern, it’s still something of a problem and would make me somewhat wary about putting the phone under heavy strain for a long period of time.
The front of the phone features a 3-megapixel camera for video calls and the like, while the rear camera is an 8-megapixel offering that is capable of taking semi-decent pictures. The level of detail is good enough, but the pictures lack depth thanks to the camera struggling to deal with natural light, often either over exposing things or failing to get the contrast right. Washed out snapshots are pretty common. There’s a noticeable and annoying delay between hitting the button and the phone taking the picture which makes it hard to snap anything moving at speed. There’s an inbuilt flash, yet even that has mixed performance: it can be handy, but also isn’t strong enough to illuminate a room and at the same time is too strong for close up shots, demolishing detail in its light. Meanwhile 720p video capture is possible. It’s subject to irritating blur, though, yet like the pictures video offers a good level of detail, even when viewed on a larger screen. The camera is good enough for grabbing short clips of an idiot falling off a wall or capturing an image of your pet being cute, but for anything else a more powerful phone would be a better option. Or you could just get an actual camera.
The build quality isn’t going to amaze anyone but it’s still pretty decent. The entire body is black plastic and therefore is a magnet for fingerprints, so a case is probably a good idea, yet it feels solid in the hand and the whole handset has a nice weight of 161g, perhaps slightly on the heavy side for some people but quite nice for myself. The only let downs are the power switch and volume rocker, both of which feel a little cheap and clunky. All in all the Archos looks rather nice, I reckon. They’ve sensibly not plastered the Archos logo everywhere, giving it a nice, simple, sleek aesthetic, while the rounder edges help it fit into the hand. Given the large size, however, I did find the Platinum needed both hands to use properly, though I do happen to have relatively small hands.
The battery life represents one of the biggest problems. I’m far from heavy user, by which I mean I send a few texts, maybe make a phonecall and do some quick browsing just to check information. Even with this light usage the Platinum was only barely lasting the day. For testing I upped my general phone use and began browsing the net for every little thing, and watching some videos etc. This level of use resulted in the Archos failing to last the day in most instances, and for heavy users who spend a good bit of time surfing the web, watching videos, playing games and chatting the battery life simply is not good enough. Plan on keeping the charger nearby for topping up the juice.
It’s clear that the 50b Platinum has some pretty major flaws holding it back from greatness, but that didn’t stop this smartphone outsider from enjoying using it. For a moment let’s simply assume I had bought the phone with the intent of entering the world of smartphones; while there would be disappointing aspects to Archos’ offering I’d generally be quite happy with it as an entry-level phone which doesn’t break the bank. Nothing about it is truly great, but it’s also a fine choice if all you really want is a straightforward phone for texts and calls, with the occasional detour into internet browsing, light gaming and media. Not everybody needs or desires an all singing, all dancing beast, after all, and the 50b Platinum represents something that can provide the many benefits of a smartphone without the excessive cost usually attached to those benefits. It’s great for those that want a functional phone foremost, and a smart device second.