The Archos 101 is powered by a 1GHz ARM A8 Cortex processor, the same type used in several of last year's top-end Android smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S. However, performance here doesn't quite match the standards set by these smartphones.
With Android 2.2 installed, there's still some lag throughout the tablet's interface, and the occasional multi-second loading blip as the Archos 101 does the computing equivalent of counting its coppers at the post office counter. It demands more patience than an iPad, but there are ways to tweak the tablet's performance. With the custom UI LauncherPro installed, this lag decreased slightly - to an extent that we quickly learned to live with.
Performance within apps is solid though. Android doesn't have the same level of high-end games as Apple's iPhone does, but the 3D games we tested had no problems running here.
Touchscreen performance is disappointing. Archos makes a big fuss about the 101's multi-touch capacitive touchscreen in the tablet's marketing blurb, but its performance is mediocre. We spent the first few hours of use convinced we were prodding a resistive panel, so limited is the responsiveness of the touchscreen. Whether it's the software or hardware at fault, the touchscreen is not sensitive enough to compete with the Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab.
There's a grid pattern overlaid across the whole screen, visible when it catches the light. It's presumably part of the device's touchscreen layer and is not visible at other times, but is another indication that you're using an "affordable" device rather than a premium tablet contender.
The multi-touch gesture does work as expected though, zooming in and out of web pages, and photos within the gallery app. When browsing, the benefits of the large 10.1in screen quickly outweigh the quibbles of the less-than-perfect touchscreen - and while performance isn't exemplary, the level of lag is acceptable. This is a very good device for browsing the net while lounging in front of the TV - home ground for any ~10in tablet.
Archos's product history is firmly wedged in the personal video player sector. Before the iPod Touch offered an affordable solution for buyers looking for a small-screen video player, Archos was the top video PMP player, for a while at least. It is reassuring then to see the Archos 101 includes a wide array of codec compatibilities, including MKV, H.264 and VOB DVD rips.
Performance is good, with DVD-quality files playing with no issues. Picture quality is less impressive. Decent quality files still showed significant digital artefacting, much more than Creative's rival Ziio 7 tablet, negating the benefits of the tablet's widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and generous screen real estate.
The screen itself is unusually dim too, with the standard brightness setting not far off the maximum. Ropey viewing angles matched with iffy brightness mean you have to be careful about how you angle the tablet. Thankfully, the commuter's video-watching pose, with the Archos 101 resting on - or held down nearby your - knees while seated gives good results. That said, the screen needs to be angled away from your face slightly to avoid losing most of the picture's detail due to the flawed viewing angles.