Android tablets may be ten-a-penny now in the race to the bottom of the pricing pile (here’s looking at you, Google Nexus 7), but the latest slate from Archos is one of the most easy-on-the-eye tablets we’ve seen this side of the iPad. We went hands-on with the Archos 101 XS yesterday to bring you our initial thoughts.
The Archos 101 XS is a 10.1-inch Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet (with a Jelly Bean update due by November) that comes complete with a “Coverboard” magnetic keyboard. Made of a combination of fiber casing and steel, it’s an attractive mix of chromes and white highlights, with the tablet measuring just 8mm thick (13mm when closed with the protective keyboard cover), and lighter than the new iPad at 600g.
Snapping together with strong magnets, the tablet and keyboard combine into a netbook format thanks to an adjustable kickstand that folds flush into the Coverboard when not in use. Though thin (and lacking the trackpad of the ASUS Transformer series), the keyboard has comfortable travel with its chiclet keys. There’s no battery in the slimline keyboard (it’s connected to the tablet via a proprietary USB connection, rather than a Bluetooth connection that would require power), but there is a microUSB port on the rear that allows it to act as a pass-through charging dock for the tablet.You’ll also find sockets for USB connections, mini HDMI and microSD dotted around the tablet’s edge, though there’s no 3G slot. With 16GB of onboard storage, that microSD card allows for up to 64GB of expansion (or 128GB theoretically, if that card SDXC card size ever went mainstream). All the usual sensors (G-Sensor, compass) and connectivity options (Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0) are onboard, as well as a 720p webcam.
With a snappy ARM Cortex A9 processor and 1GB of RAM, the 101 XS is responsive, even when under a heavy multitasking load and running intensive, 3D gaming apps. Even though the screen isn’t full HD, it’s perfectly capable of outputting 1080p video, stutter free over HDMI, with average usage squeezing 10 hours out of the battery according to the on-hand Archos representative at the launch event. Typing on the keyboard was as comfortable as any similarly sized tablet keyboard; despite the low profile, we could see a user getting plenty of real work done with the 101 XS.We’re also keen on Archos’s approach to apps. A number of good looking Archos-built apps come pre-installed (we’re particularly taken with the Video app, which has good-looking flowing artwork and movie info pulled from TMDB, regardless of the source of your clip), while bloatware is kept to a minimum thanks to opt-in installations during start-up. On the whole, they’re apps you’re likely to want onboard anyway, such as 3D racing game Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, and a tenner’s worth of OfficeSuite Pro 6, a perfect match for the bundled keyboard if you’re looking to get some real work done. Full Google certification means that the usual raft of native Google apps (Gmail, YouTube, Maps et all) are included too, as well as access to the full Google Play Store.
With a widescreen ratio, excellent file-type support (AVI, MP4, MOV, 3GP, MPG, MKV, FLV and more) and the attractive video app, the Archos 101 XS is well set for a media player. But while viewing angles are reasonably good, the 1280×800 resolution, in the age of the Retina display, is looking a little aged. That said, it’s more than a match for rival Android tablets.
Priced at £299, it comes in at a fair wad of cash less than the similarly-keyboard-packing ASUS models do, and not too much higher than the rumoured pricing for Microsoft’s Windows 8 Surface tablet. Archos haven’t had massive amounts of luck with their tablets so far, but the 101 XS sees them getting lots right. We’ll have a full review shortly, but this is definitely one tablet/keyboard combo to keep an eye on.