Before you knock the Archos 101 Android tablet as just another Android iPad rip off, know this: Archos has been selling mass market Android tablets since before Apple even unveiled its trendsetting slate. It’s only now however that the French PMP manufacturer has tried out a full size 10-inch model. Does it work? Let’s find out in our full Archos 101 Android tablet review.
We have to give props to Archos for pushing into bold territory first: it’s been doing Android tablets since 2009, when the Samsung Galaxy Tab was but a mere glimmer in a South Korean engineer’s eye. The only problem is, unlike the other iClones out there, Archos doesn’t seem to learn a great deal or improve with each passing model.
The only flattering thing we can say about the design of the Archos 101 Android tablet is that’s perfunctory. At 12mm thick and 480g it’s thin and light, yet sturdy enough – however, the curves and brushed metal plates on the front are offset by the nasty Archos branded plates on the back.
On the plus side, there is a kickstand on the back, and Archos should be commended for managing to squeeze a mini HDMI-out port, micro USB and a USB port on the side without making the whole affair look and feel as chunky as the Advent Vega, our current favourite low rent Android tablet. It’s also this which probably gives it the sensation of not being as absurdly narrow as the Vega, despite the same 16:9 screen ratio.
There’s also a front facing camera, but the less said about it the better – it’s a washy affair that’s good for blurred calls over fring, and that’s about it.
What’s that screen like?
Not too bad actually: the 1024×600 display appears less grainy than the panel on the Advent Vega, and it’s fairly responsive to capacitive touch. The unit we were sent came with Dolphin Browser HD installed – one of our all time favourite Android apps – and pinch zooming worked fairly smoothly on both it and the stock browser. Unfortunately, the Android 2.2 QWERTY keyboard stretched over such a size is still tough to use – but hey, you can plug in a USB keyboard and just start typing if the urge takes you.
Viewing angles on the Archos 101 Android tablet however are absolutely atrocious. Tilted anything more than a few degrees in any orientation away from face on, and you won’t be able to see a thing. Frankly, even two people watching a film sat next to each other on a long train journey would struggle.
Good news! Archos has finally realised there are some slightly newer versions of Android beyond 1.5 these days, and has rolled out the Archos 101 Android tablet with Android 2.2 Froyo. That’s no Honeycomb 3.0, sadly, but it does do some things than Google offers natively, which we’ll get to in a second.
The good news is that with Android 2.2, you can surf on the Archos 101 Android tablet using your’s phone 3G connection shared over Bluetooth, set a pinlock, and run newer apps which only run on Android 2.2 and up – and we didn’t see much slowdown while doing this either.
The bad news is that the Archos 101 Android tablet lacks Google’s core apps, like Gmail and the all important Market, so the only apps you’ll be able to download are ones you can find APL files for online, or through other services like Archos’ pre-installed AppsLib centre. It serves up very few interesting apps, but on the plus side, we were surprised to find Angry Birds on there, and it ran just fine.
What about media support?
We’re glad you asked: this is where Archos, as ever, comes into its own, bolting on file format support so solid that it makes you wonder what exactly bigger companies are doing during development of their rivals. Archos calls this an internet tablet, but really, it’s a media late first and foremost.
The Archos 101 Android tablet played everything we threw at it without faltering, from AVI videos and FLAC audio clips to high def MP4 files, and even 720 MKV video clips with subtitles. The video player has shortcuts to jump straight into UPnP media servers and play files from them, so you don’t even need to launch a separate application for media streaming.
The sound quality from the slate is also quite surprising: it’s booming but pretty clear. The rumblings are quite a distraction if you’re holding the device however.
We’re sad to report then that Archos has shot itself in the foot with a bizarre TV-out option for the Archos 101 Android tablet. While the Advent Vega simply mirrors the screen on a HDTV when plugged in, you have to trigger TV out in the settings here – and then the screen switches over, leaving the display on your Archos 101 Android tablet blank.
Why does this happen? Because the Archos 101 Android tablet has just become a touchpad for dragging a shonky cursor around on the screen, and it’s a very unresponsive one at that. We’ve never seen anyone successfully hack a cursor on to Android, and it certainly doesn’t work here. Still, if you can look past this, the Archos 101 Android tablet can happily match the Boxee Box for local file streaming prowess.
Right now, the Archos 101 Android tablet doesn’t have Flash 10.1 support, which bumps it behind the Advent Vega in our estimations – and you can’t just download it from the Market, since it doesn’t have Market access. Archos tells us however that it is coming any day now, so we’d certainly recommend holding off on the Archos 101 Android tablet for a few weeks until the update rolls out successfully – otherwise, it’s £50 more than the Advent Vega, with fewer features.
The Archos 101 Android tablet, media playback aside, isn’t especially fast, but the battery life is very pleasing. With manual email syncing and Wi-Fi turned on, it’ll happily run along for four or five days on standby before running down, if not more. It doesn’t sip power quite as frugally as the iPad, admittedly, but then very little does, and it’s certainly more power efficient than the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Provided Flash support comes along in good order, the Archos 101 Android tablet makes for an enjoyable device for media streaming and surfing the interwebs. But for £50 less, we’d still recommend plumping for the Advent Vega, especially since it’s the work of minutes to get the Android Market, Gmail and Google Maps on there through a quick, well documented hack.
The real issue of course, is that a version of Android actually meant for tablets arrives this Spring. Right now, we’d have to say that unless you really need Archos’ media file format support, the best thing you could do is wait: we’re eager to see what Archos can do with Android 3.0, that’s for sure.