Once, Archos was pretty much the main player in the media tablet game. Even as recently as the Archos 5 tablet, there simply wasn’t that much competition, and even less that offered the French company’s extensive native media playback.
However, in these days of affordable yet powerful Android tablets like the Google Nexus 7, another bog-standard Archos G9 simply wasn’t going to cut it. Good thing that Archos is kicking things up a notch with the Gen 10 101 XS then.
The Archos Gen 10/G10 family will have tablets of various sizes. However, first to market and the model we’re looking at is the 10.1in 101xs. Size aside, these aren’t just your usual plain tablets either, as they come with a keyboard base to turn them into the tablet equivalent of netbook replacements, a bit like an Asus Transformer lite.
The Archos 101 XS’ spec sheet reads like a dream considering its sub-£300 price. First off, the tablet comes with a keyboard ‘dock’ that turns it into a Transformer Pad 300 rival. The 10.1in 101xs also uses a 1,280 x 800 MVA display, which should offer comparable quality to IPS-based rivals and will beat the pants off some competitors still using TN screens.
It sports a dual-core (quad-core counting the companion cores) Omap 4470 with its main dual Cortex A9 cores running at up to 1.5GHz plus PowerVR SGX544 graphics, backed by 1GB of DDR2 RAM. There’s 16GB for storage, expandable through MicroSD.
On its left side, the 8mm-thin tablet manages to make room for a microUSB port with hosting, miniHDMI to connect to a TV or monitor, microSD slot to read cards or expand the memory, and the usual headphone jack.
On the tablet’s base is a proprietary charging contact, which can be used to charge the tablet through the keyboard dock – if the latter is connected to power with its own microUSB socket. That’s right, the base has another USB connector, and if you wanted to hook up bits through an adapter and hub, you could use this as a ‘base station’ for the tablet – a nice and thoughtful touch.
For now, the Archos 101 XS will only be available in white, with metal insets at the back and on the keyboard base. It’s a fairly slim and sleek tablet, though we do think the predominantly white finish makes it look a little toy-like, and it doesn’t do the perceptions of its size any favours.
Joining smoothly with the keyboard base – which Archos calls the “cover board” – thanks to its magnetic locking system, the 101 XS is a reasonably attractive package, but nowhere near the same league as the Asus Transformer family, especially since it suffers a few minor build quality issues.
We do really like that Archos has gone for a matt, pleasantly grippy finish, though again being white does it no favours as dirt shows up easily.
The keyboard dock, or Cover Board as Archos calls it, uses a slightly odd system to attach. First you need to put up a small support, then the 101 XS slides into a magnetic lock. The magnet used is incredibly strong, so much so that you can lift the ensemble by its board/base/dock without the tablet falling off.
The Cover Board has its own microUSB port, through which you can either attach the charger to juice up the tablet when it’s inserted, or connect a powered USB hub to turn the keyboard base into a true dock.
Typing on the keyboard is an average experience. The small keys have a decent amount of travel and feedback considering the space they have to work with, but layout isn’t ideal, especially the tiny right-shift key next to the ‘up’ cursor.
Performance and Software
While not a power-house to match quad-core titans like the many Tegra 3 tabs or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1’s Exynos, its decent specs should nevertheless keep the Archos Gen 10 humming along happily. 1080p HD movie playback certainly seemed to give this tablet little pause, and a few games we tried played smoothly.
It’s currently running the Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version of Android, but an update to Jelly Bean is in the wings and should be making its way to the 101xs before the end of the year.
As far as apps go, there’s a pre-installed full version of OfficeSuite Pro and Archos’ own Media Centre, which gives a similar experience to XMBC down to downloading the appropriate subs for any movie in your language of choice.
For all the details, performance results and our definitive verdict on the Archos 101 XS, have a read of our full review which will be coming soon. But at first blush, Archos seems to have created a decent budget tablet if you’re after something that lets you type ‘properly’.