Archos unveiled a pair of budget-friendly Android Honeycomb tablets yesterday as they showcased their 8 and 10 inch G9 tablets. We went hands-on with the Archos 80 G9 and 101 G9 at the UK launch event.
Available in a number of configurations, the tablets are by some margin the cheapest Honeycomb devices out their in their entry-level forms. The 8-inch 80 G9 model starts at £199, while the 10-inch 101 G9 weighs in at £249, both including VAT.
“iPads and their rivals use quite expensive build solutions,” said Henri Crohas, Archos founder and CEO. “We started earlier, and being one of the first tablet makers we developed our own solutions, which are cheaper. We are able to position our products 30% to 40% lower than the iPad.”
That’s not to say Archos are scrimping on the specs here. Both tablets feature 1.5 GHz dual core CPUs from Texas Instruments, based on the ARM Cortex A9 chip. Though 16 and 32GB Flash storage versions are also planned, the headline feature will be the G9’s potential 250GB HDD configuration, wiping the floor with current tablet storage options. HDDs have a tendency to be a little more delicate than Flash memory, but Archos claim to have devised a 4GB memory cache buffer that not only helps it work alongside Android OS architecture, but also reduces the amount of physical movements the disk needs so as not to damage it when on the go.
Both the 80 G9 and the 101 G9 have a removable slot on the back that allows for scalable 3G upgrades in the shape of a universal 3G USB dongle port. It’s perhaps the tablets’ best innovation, allowing you to use one dongle to get your regular laptop and tablet online using your usual Pay-As-You-Go data sim. As a £49 extra, it’s a fair sight cheaper too than the £100 premium a 3G-connected iPad charges.
However, despite the solid spec sheet, we’re still not completely sold on the units. In our short testing session, we found both the 80 G9 and the 101 G9 to become incredible hot, to the point were the exposed metal of the HDMI connectors on each became scaldingly hot. A representative on hand said that this was something that would be ironed out before launch, but it still didn’t bode well for the devices power management and ventilation.
Games ran well on the tablets, even graphically intensive 3D games like Guerilla Bob. Media files played back exceptionally well too, using proprietary Archos apps to play back a stutter-free 720p trailer for Black Swan. Both the video and the game looked good on the screen, with strong colours exhibited by Guerilla Bob, even if brightness levels were a little low. 1080p playback was smooth too, but of course to get the full resolution outputting over HDMI was required.
The 1.5GHz dual-core processor didn’t seem quite up to speed though. Swiping through homescreens on both devices was sluggish, while even apps like Google Maps which require a relatively low amount of processing power tended to hang. Google Maps at one point caused a strange bug too which turned the brightness levels to their lowest setting and couldn’t be reset. The touchscreens too felt unresponsive, particularly on the 101 G9, which had me tapping at the small Honeycomb buttons with enough force to have me believe I was using a resistive screen.
And while we’re all for the 3G add-on, slipping discretely into the back of the tablets, it, like the creaky plastic chassis, didn’t fit quite as snugly as we’d have liked in the tablet. Having said that, you’d barely notice the slight join under your fingers where the modem slips in.
Affordable then, but potentially at the cost of polish. We wont pass judgement yet as there are still a few months to go until the tablets final September launch, but Archos will have to really push hard to see the tablets meet their great potential. We’ll have a full review as soon as we get our hands on a final product.
By Gerald Lynch | June 29th, 2011