The Archos 50d Oxygen, a real user's review

"If it wasn't backed-up, then it wasn't important."    — The sysadmin's moto.
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Quick (but real) review

A view of the home screen of the Archos 50d Oxygen android phone.

The main selling point of the Archos 50d Oxygen is that it is a large phone with a cheap price. My requirements for a phone haven't changed in years: 4G, real FM radio, SDXC > 64Gb support, screen at least 1920 pixels, at least 5", good collection of video codecs installed, removable batteries, at least 2Gb of onboard memory, at least 16Gb of internal flash memory, less than 150 grams. Oh, and I should add cheap, I'm tired of purchasing so-called flagship phones with plenty of useless function only to have them outdone 6 months later and left to rot without updates.

My LG G3 always had weird reactivity problems (up to 45 seconds to switch apps), hot running issues (even when not in use), and then in spring 2016 it failed to read any SD cards. The mobo was diagnosed as damaged and as I was waiting for a replacement the screen broke when the phone flipped on the table. Yes, falling from exactly 0 height.

I looked at plenty of phones of the summer '16 generation and none had those requirements: OnePlus3 (no SD card), Zopo ZP720 (no removable battery), Meizu M3 note (no FM radio, no removable battery), Wiko Lenny 3 (no 4G, too little memory). The only potential matches were the Zopo Speed 7C and the Wiko Ufeel Lite which were more expensive.

First contact: the phone is light and feels plasticky. The bevel is average in width. The back cover is impossible to remove with only your nails, you need a small blade. The screen is very bright, indeed the lowest setting is still too bright to comfortably watch videos in the dark. The much lower resolution than the 2560x1440 of the LG G3 is not a problem, it's next to impossible to tell without magnifying glasses, maybe the fonts aren't as smooth but that's about all.

This phone came out summer 2016, but still only uses Android 5.1 (Lollipop) which came out in 2014, while Android 7 is already available. I guess that's what you get for a cheap phone. There was no system update for the phone after I turned it on. Let's hope there'll be at some point (I'll try to report on that). The OS on it seems to be plain Android without many extras (only a few apps and games quickly deleted).

I placed my old 128Gb µSD card in it and it didn't work. Apparently SDXC works but not if formatted as ExFAT. Also the user's manual says the phone only accepts 64Gb cards, but I reformated it as FAT32 and the 128Gb card did work fine after that. Yes, Windows will refuse to format FAT32 larger than 32Gb, but Linux has no such idiotic problem. So, problem solved.

There's only one home screen at the start, but you can add some by dragging an icon to the right until the new screen appears, and then place all your extra apps and widgets as usual.

The battery seems to drain faster than on the LG G3, so you can barely, if at all, watch 3 hours of video on a single charge. Also there doesn't seem to be a fast charge mode, so be prepared to wait a few hours once your phone dies. The battery reference is AC50dox - model BSE90B, but I was unable to find a spare online as of august 2016.

It doesn't appear in some documentation, but yes, there is an FM radio. The user interface is not very good but it does work fine.

The included file manager is not that configurable. The font used is huge, so you can forget about reading long filenames, and only about 5 files are visible on screen at the same time. What you can do with the files is very limited: copy, cut, paste, zip. That's it, and there's no possibility to view hidden files (such as dot-files). Also, and that's a big problem, it cannot delete files off the SD card. And no other file manager I tried could do that either. I had to root the device in order to do that. I used Kingo ROOT from the Play Store: it worked a few minutes, I did a reboot and the device was rooted.

The fact that the notification beeps every time you walk past a wifi is annoying but easily (?) solved and the advanced wifi settings

The camera is about average for a phone. That's not something I use much, except for documenting something.

The calendar and the clock are messy. It's hard to tell when and what is set.

All the videos (flv, mp4, divx, ogg, mkv, mpeg, avi...) I've tried played in hardware without needing software emulation.

I find a lot more annoying the fact that the touchscreen is quite imprecise: with my big fingers, it's impossible to tap on small buttons (for instance in VLC). Hitting a large app icon is fine, but a tiny one takes often more than 5 tries: you cannot do a delicate touch as it won't register, you have to press hard and then it's imprecise. And also scrolling always has a lag and a full screen swipe will drag the screen only halfway up. Not very nice. I didn't find any way to calibrate the sensitivity. I have no problem typing as I use Swype.

It's possible to enable double-tap to unlock wake the screen in the Settings / Gesture. And also other things like the camera. But strangely if you enable any app this way, it bypasses the security of the phone and ulocks the phone without requesting the password.

Engineer mode on the Archos 50d Oxygen

Still about buttons, but this time physical buttons, the volume buttons are too close to power button. It's impossible to change volume through a pocket. There is no additional functions with long presses of the volume buttons. Also the Back / Home / Menu buttons are in that order and I don't like it. They are also very tiny, very close the the edge and black on black when you haven't touched them in the last few seconds, letting you guess at their location. You cannot switch Back and Menu positions.

Something else that doesn't work quite well is the GPS: it's very imprecise. Using Google Maps in the car, it kept putting me on parallel roads and recalculating. About every 10 seconds. This makes the navigation software almost unusable. Also after barely 10 minutes it overheated (not a surprise with all those recalculations) and asked me permission to shutdown !

With the very low number of possible customizations (I had to install a different music player in order to set up an mp3 as a ringtone), I'd say this phone is ripe for an alternate OS install, such as Cyanogen. But not yet...

In order to MTP mount the phone with mkdir ~/archos; jmtpfs ~/archos I first had to add the following lines to the /lib/udev/hwdb.d/69-libmtp.hwdb file:

# Archos Oxygen

I did find the following secret codes to enable various hidden menus (USE AT OWN RISKS). It's interesting to note that some submenus are in chinese, proof if need be that it's just a re-branded cheap chinese phone:

Engineer mode which gives access to telephony tests, connectivity tests, hardware tests, location tests, log and debugging and others.
Factory pattern - sequential tests
Factory pattern - tests
Factory pattern - tests
Various settings

So, let's recap

ProConDon't careDon't know yet...
  • Large bright screen with decent resolution
  • Changeable battery
  • Real FM radio
  • Sensitive antenna
  • MicroSDXC card tested up to 128Gb with FAT32 (but not ExFAT).
  • Easy to root
  • Cheap
  • Android version still at 5.1 while 7 is coming out
  • No ExFAT filesystem
  • Physical button disposition
  • No mass storage USB (UMS)
  • Impossible to delete files from SD card with file manager
  • Not water / dust resistant
  • Almost no customizations
  • Spare battery not yet available
  • No fast charge
  • Very difficult to press small buttons on screen, screen unresponsive to light press
  • GPS too poor for navigation use
  • The camera
  • ...if easy to install alternative OS