Archos 101: Très Bonne!

If there was one manufacturer we could trust to deliver the goods when it comes to portable media devices, it would be Archos. Having been in the business for the best part of twenty years, they’ve had plenty of time to master the art of netbooks and tablets with one of their latest offerings being the Archos 101.

There are many reasons for us to get excited about this particular import from the French firm, not only because it has hit our shores with specs that rival the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab but also as it’s proudly flaunting a price to suit the money conscious techy.

We found out how it performs under the spotlight.

Design

The Archos 101 is certainly the belle of the ball as its smooth black plastic body makes it look smart and sophisticated. It’s one of the thinnest 10 inch tablets we’ve come across at just 12mm thick and despite its larger physique, the light 480 gram frame makes it a pleasure to carry.

Unlike other tablets we’ve dealt with so far, all navigation is done via the touchscreen with the volume rocker and power key being the only physical buttons. Thankfully, the capacitive touchscreen makes life easy but despite it having the same high resolution TFT LCD display as the Samsung Galaxy Tab (1024 x 600 to be precise), the quality wasn’t quite as good as we’d perhaps expected. It was bright enough for everyday use but the picture wasn’t all that crisp. However, the widescreen set up did scrape back some points, creating a more authentic viewing platform than the standard ‘one size fits all’ display that many tablets are rocking.

Power and Operating System

A 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 gives the Archos 101 its power which may sound impressive but it seemed to struggle with a few simple tasks. It responded quickly enough to us flicking through the five homescreens and opening apps, but we often had to give the tablet a good shake to get the accelerometer to follow suit. Oddly enough, when giving the pre-installed Raging Thunderlite racing game a whirl, which involves players controlling their car by tipping the 101 from left to right, it was extremely responsive.

 

Android 2.2 Froyo is present and while there are plenty of pre-loaded apps to keep you busy (including WorldNewspaper, Wikipedia and the user manual) there isn’t instant access to the official Android Market. You can of course go online or bookmark it to the homescreen but this is a faff we could have done without. Instead the Archos comes with its very own app offering, ‘Apps Libe.’ It works in exactly the same way as the real thing, but didn’t have the apps to match – no Facebook for instance and Twitter appears as ‘Touiteur’ which logic tells us is the French version of the popular site. Thankfully, it was all in English.

Internet: The standard Android WebKit browser with Adobe Flash 10.1 support features on the Archos 101 and while the long, thin display may have been primarily designed for watching videos, it works a treat for viewing websites in both portrait and landscape modes. Pinch to zoom was awkward though and we found ourselves having more disagreements with it than we would have liked as it just didn’t want to respond all the time. Tapping the bottom corner of the screen prompts the manual zoom icons to appear, which takes the hassle out of zooming but is obviously a little slower.

On the positive side, the pages rendered nicely and our Wi-Fi connection remained stable too. There’s POP and IMAP email support and the virtual QWERTY keyboard is responsive and nicely spaced out. The Archos 101 tablet also has the ability to be tethered with a 3G capable device via Bluetooth or USB cable.

Camera: There’s a front-facing 1.3 megapixel VGA webcam on the Archos 101 but we were far from impressed by the blurry cam results. Video calling is available via the pre-installed Fring app, but you could download Skype if you prefer. The webcam also doubled up as a camera, but with the only lens being at the front of the tablet it wasn’t exactly easy to take a shot.

Other tech specs:

  • Music player. Supports MP3, WMA, FLAC and AAC formats
  • Video player capable of 720p video playback. Supports MPEG-4, H.264 HD,WMV and M-JPEG formats.
  • 8GB internal memory plus a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 32GB.
  • Mini-HDMI port
  • Micro USB port plus a full size USB Host port
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Built-in leg stand
  • G-Sensor

Any downsides?

Okay, so the webcam could have been better but our biggest disappointment was the Archos alternative to the Android Market as it just brought the entire user experience down a notch. While it’s better to have something than nothing at all, we didn’t appreciate not being able to put some of the most staple apps onto the device and having to settle for unfamiliar alternatives.

Conclusion

For a mid-range tablet, the Archos 101 is probably the best one out there. It still gave us the odd gripe here and there, but it pulls points back for the 1GHz processor and Android 2.2, even if the Market wasn’t quite what we had originally hoped for. Did we expect more from the long-standing French manufacturer? Maybe, but looking at what they’ve produced when compared to the price, you could definitely do worse. Bon Archos, bon!

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