Although the Archos G9 80 uses a standard TFT LCD screen, not the PVA or IPS types found on some more expensive tablets, its performance is better than expected. Viewing angles are far superior to Archos's previous efforts, whose pictures would fade into darkness when viewed from the wrong spot. The screen's not quite as vivid as the Archos G9 101's, but Archos explained that this is because the 80 isn't as movie-focused as its big brother (part of this may have been down to brightness settings too).
Nevertheless, its built-in video skills are superb. Our demo unit was packed with HD movies and they played back a treat. We'll give the G9 80 a proper examination once we get a unit in to review, but Archos claims it'll play full 1080p 42Mbps MKV files, which represent similar quality to what a top-notch Blu-ray can offer.
On the side of the tablet is a mini HDMI slot, which will let you watch these HD videos on your TV too. When plugged-in, the Archos G9 80 mirrors its display onto the TV, while keeping the tablet's own display live.
The G9 also sees the introduction of a new-look media player - it's about time too as the Archos 101's player looks decidedly stale these days. The new player features a cover flow-like system, displaying movie posters for each of your films. We're not sure how it'll cope with TV episodes and less-than-legit videos, but Archos says the software automatically nabs these pictures from the net, off an independent database. Although we weren't blown away by this software, the decent screen and excellent codec support should make this one of the best portable media players, ever.
Having only had a brief fondle of the new G9 series, we can't conclusively comment on battery life yet, but Archos claims it'll last for around 8 hours when playing video, or 10 of less strenuous tasks. That's less than the rock-solid 10 hours of the iPad, but a far better showing than most budget Android tablets.
All this for £199? It sounds like Archos may have a winning combo on its hands. One way it has managed to cut down manufacturing costs is by leaving out 3G connectivity from the basic package. There will be no 3G edition either, because this connectivity is supplied by an accessory - an Archos dongle. You'll be able to use this on your computer too, and it slots neatly into a port on the G9 80's back. It sits flush to the tablet's body when inserted and costs £49.99. Unfortunately, if you have no need for 3G, you're left with a simple plastic cover instead that jiggles under your finger. Something with a little more solidity would have been appreciated.
Archos hasn't escaped from the rather workmanlike feel of its previous tablets, but it has ditched several more serious problems that stopped us from wholeheartedly recommending those older models. With the Android Market in-tow, a fairly decent screen and a price tag around half the price of most other major tablets, this could be the first budget tablet that really offers all the functionality of the big boys.