The G9 101 is the latest in a long line of Archos's attempts to crack the Android tablet market. None of its previous efforts have quite hit the jackpot, suffering from uninspiring build, rubbish screens and a lack of Android Market support. The Archos G9 101 solves most of these problems, while significantly undercutting the RRP of all the tablet big guns. But it's not without a sacrifice or two. The question is whether a £100 saving makes these worthwhile.
Functionality-wise the Archos G9 101 is a revelation within the manufacturer's tablet line-up, boasting both software and hardware more up to the task of offering a satisfying tabular experience than any which came before. However, design-wise, it's business as usual. If you want a tablet that feels and looks like a slice of gadget heaven, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPad 2, this isn't it.
In a pure design spec sense, it doesn't sound too bad. 12.6mm thick and weighing 644g, it offers similar dimensions to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. However, it lacks the solidity and hint of luxury build that several more expensive alternatives have.
It's a practical and self-conscious design choice to an extent, though. Archos waved goodbye to the oh-so-trendy machined aluminium of the iPad 2 in order to lower costs, instead opting for what it calls plastic overmoulding. Inside the G9 101 is a metal cage housing the tablet's vital organs, which pokes out as the screen surround - the single bit of metal on show. The rest of the device is covered by two lightly curved bits of metallic grey plastic, which form the front and back of the body.
In the never-ending tech war of form versus function, Archos has taken the side of function - which comes with the bonus of practicality. Flip the tablet over and this utilitarian leaning is clear to see. The speaker output is clearly visible - a dotted grill - there are four rubber doodads to protect the body when laid flat, a plastic kick stand cuts deep and conspicuous lines into the chassis and there's an equally-visible cut-out for the optional 3G stick (a £50 accessory).
These features give the Archos G9 101 Swiss Army Knife-like flexibility, but also ensure that it's not a pretty tablet. The kick stand isn't particularly sturdy, using an all-plastic design that feels weaker than the metal-and-plastic of the previous Archos 101. It easily holds the tablet's weight, though.
Connectivity is also, predictably, pretty decent. The left edge holds the 3.5mm headphone jack, the screen mirroring microHDMI output, microSD slot and microUSB, used for charging and data transfer. The full-size USB port which the 3G dongle plugs into - covered by a fitted plastic bung when not in use - has bags of potential too. Although not yet activated as a general-purpose USB port, Archos says an incoming firmware update will allow you to attach keyboards, mice and external hard drives. That's pretty neat, and missing from most Android tablets.
Your hand and the volume control want the same spot, and you can't win
The practical approach doesn't always take the user experience into account enough, though - there are downsides other than not being able to feel smug and superior just by holding it. When held "normally", in landscape orientation with the Archos logo facing the right way up, your hands fall over the volume controls on the right side, and the headphone jack and microHDMI slot on the left. This is a significant usability failing, making it too easy to accidentally change the volume while watching a video - and having a hand over a headphone plug isn't comfortable. You can adopt Apple's "you're holding it wrong" motto, and say the tablet should be gripped lower down, but the most comfortable "natural" grip does raise these problems.