Review Price £179.99
Hands-on: Archos GamePad 2 review
What is the Archos GamePad 2?The GamePad 2 is Archos's second attempt at a handheld games console. The first did not set the world alight, criticised for its poor controls, disappointing build and unremarkable performance. We went hands-on with the Archos GamePad 2 to find out whether the second is much better.
Archos GamePad 2 – Design The Archos GamePad 2 instantly looks and feels a good deal better than the first-generation GamePad model. Naff-looking grey plastic and a raised screen surround has been replaced with a slick-looking glossy black top layer where the screen surround joins, seam-free, with the actual screen.
It still looks slightly odd – we're not used to seeing oversized tablets with physical controls that look like oversized PS Vitas – and it will earn you a few distainful glances on the bus/train, but it's a significant improvement on the first-generation model.
What hasn't changed much is the weight. The Archos GamePad 2 is a very light gaming tablet, and at 9.9mm thick it's reasonably slim too. The creakiness of the first GamePad is mostly gone, and the GamePad 2 has a textured plastic rear to give you fingers somewhere grippy to rest.
It is – predictably – not as neatly finished as something like a PS Vita. All the ports on its body are uncovered, and there is a certain residual placticky-ness here. The screen is also not topped with a particularly strong toughened glass – the screen distorts under mild pressure.
The exposed sockets may not look fantastic, but they do give the Archos GamePad 2 decent flexibility. You get a mini HDMI socket, a microUSB charge/transfer socket, a microSD card slot and the usual headphone jack.
You get 8GB (£179) or 16GB (~ £219) of internal memory as standard, but thanks to a pair of pre-installed 3D Gameloft games, you're left with as little as 1.7GB of storage – that microSD memory card socket is important.
There are dual speakers on the front of the GamePad 2, in order to give a real stereo effect while you're playing or watching a film. Top volume is decent for an Android tablet, but sound quality remains fairly poor, with a thin, bass-light tone that sounds harsh at high volumes.
Archos GamePad 2 – Physical ControlsThe most important factor of a tablet like this, though, is the physical controllers. The Archos GamePad 2 provides loads of them.
There are two shoulder buttons on each side, a D-pad, a four button array and two analogue sticks. To our fingers, the sticks and the D-pad feel much improved over the first-generation model.
There's a good degree of resistance to the sticks – although in our test model it wasn't consistent between them, suggesting that the QA process isn't as rigorous as it would be with an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller (no surprise there). Positioning of the controls is fairly good too – a 7-inch tablet is much larger than the sort of gaming controls most of us are used to, but Archos has done a pretty good job here.
Archos GamePad 2 – ScreenThe screen is where some of the hit of packing gaming optimisation into a budget Android device is felt. It has a decent 1,280 x 800 pixel IPS screen, but it's nothing like as good as the incredibly sharp 1,920 x 1,200 screen of the Nexus 7 2, which has the same-size 7-inch display.
Reds are a little muted too, but otherwise the screen is fairly good. Contrast and colour tone are both sound. However, it fares best indoors as the screen surface appears to be pretty reflective. With all of the minor compromises considered, the screen is still light years ahead of the original GamePad's.
The lower resolution screen is pretty evident in games, though. Playing Asphalt 8, the jagged edges of objects are evident in a way they simply aren't on a higher pixel density screen. This could be solved with anti-aliasing, but you're not going to get that very often in Android games.
Archos GamePad 2 – Specs and PerformanceThere are slightly less evident compromises in its core components. The Archos GamePad 2 uses a quad-core 1.6GHz Rockchip processor - with a Mali-400 GPU - and 2GB of RAM.
There's almost zero lag in general operation. This is largely down to the decision to use a vanilla core version of Android 4.2.2, rather than a custom interface. Archos has tended to use 'standard' Android in the majority of its tablets, but it's still worth applauding here, given something like the GamePad 2 wouldn't have the development budget to produce a worthwhile, brand new interface. Making such things is not easy.
Using standard Android also helps make the GamePad 2 all the more flexible. It can do just about anything any other Android tablet can do. It has Google Play access, it has Google apps. There's no 3G version at present, and no GPS, but you do get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a user-facing camera.
Almost all Android apps should have no problem working here.
Archos GamePad 2 – Games and SupportGames are what the GamePad 2 is really concerned with, though. It has been developed in partnership with Gameloft, which has produced titles with full optimisation for the tablet's physical controls.
Full versions of Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 4 come pre-installed, and work very well with the GamePad 2's controls. The latter in particular benefits from the half-decent analogue sticks, giving a roughly console-like experience.
We did notice that the Mali-400 version of the pre-installed Asphalt 8 didn't have the same level of graphical effects you'd see on a iPad 4 version of the game, though, and – as already noted – the limited screen resolution is apparent in 3D games in particular.
For games that don’t have native support for physical controllers, you can patch in your own. There’s simple on-screen mapping function that’s one of the few core additions to the Android UI. It lets you drag analogue sticks onto the screen, which map onto the controls. We’ll wait for our review unit to see how successful it is.
GamePad vs GamePad 2 - no contest
First ImpressionsThe Archos GamePad 2 is clearly much better than its predecessor. It looks better, feels much more like a serious product than an opportunistic toy – which the first was on the verge of becoming. The form of the GamePad is still questionable, and when the Vita is available for less money – and the Nexus 7 2 for a similar outlay – it’s never going to reach the top of our most-wanted list. But if you love the idea of what’s on offer here, the GamePad 2 probably won’t disappoint.
Next, read our Wikipad 7 review