Archos 101 XS

Score

Sections

Pros

  • Decent connectivity
  • Relatively low-cost
  • Respectable overall performance

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life
  • Some serious build problems
  • Could do with some stabilisation updates

Key Features

  • Review Price: £299.00
  • 101.in 1280 x 800 MVA screen
  • Magnetic QWERTY keyboard base
  • 1.5GHz dual-core CPU
  • 1GB RAM, 16GB RAM
  • microUSB x 2, microHDMI, microSD

Until now, Archos has tried to differentiate its Android tablets by being cheaper than the competition. The 10.in Archos 101 XS takes a different approach. Yes, it’s still pretty cheap but it also includes a neat keyboard dock that doubles as a protector for the screen while you’re lugging the thing about.

Raw specs are promising too. The Archos 101 XS has 16GB of internal memory, a dual-core 1.5GHz OMAP that offers dual companion cores and almost as many GPU cores as the popular Tegra 3 chip. We’ll find out exactly what it’s capable of later.

Archos 101 XS Design

For a keyboard-equipped tablet, the Archos 101 XS is impressively thin and light. The tablet itself is 8mm thick, and with the keyboard in tow the whole lot is just 15mm thick – still very portable. At under 600g, the tablet part is among the lightest 10.1in tabs.

The keyboard mechanism here is different from that of our favourite Android tablet hybrid range, though – the Asus Transformer team. Here, the join is based mostly on magnetism, rather than physically-locking parts. There are magnets to keep the Coverboard case in-place while clinging limpet-like onto the screen, and other magnets hold it in place when in its typing pose.

There’s no hinge mechanism at work here, so you have to manually plonk the tablet part into the keyboard dock to get the duo working together. The Coverboard keyboard base has a flip-up plastic flap that the tablet’s rear rests on, and while the default position is a bit severe, you can ease back the flap to alter the angle a little.

Doing this reveals the first of several hardware problems with the Archos 101 XS, though. The flap sticks to a metal panel on the tablet’s rear using magnets, and moving it up and down rear seems to interfere with the tablet’s internals, causing frankly disturbing screen blurring and cut-outs.

The screen issues don’t stop there, either. The front of the Archos 101 XS doesn’t use toughened Gorilla Glass, and the result is pretty clear in-use. Swipe a thumb across the screen with mid-to-firm pressure and a ripple of screen distortion will follow, like trailing a stick across the surface of a pond. There’s also a bit of flex to the tablet itself, which causes further screen unhappiness when the tablet is handled a bit too firmly – appearing as dark clouds on the display.

Another annoyance is that the power button is intermittently unresponsive when in sleep mode, as if the Archos 101 XS is a moody teenager that doesn’t want to be woken up. This is a problem that has affected previous Archos tablets, seemingly a tough one to iron out.

This is clearly not a top-notch tablet made lovingly with the best-quality materials available, but it does feel fairly good in-hand. The Archos 101 XS is constructed of an inner metal shell that pokes-out to form the screen surround and rear metal panel, plus an outer frame of soft touch plastic. Plastic overmoulding is Archos’s name for it.

The downside of using white soft touch plastic is that it attracts dirt more readily than an American politician. Within just a couple of hours of using the Archos XS 101, we had already accrued a few mysterious dark smudges.

What comes to characterise the Archos 101 XS is a mix of convenience and compromise. The keyboard design allows for an unusually slim bundle, but the keyboard dock can feel a little clumsy in-use and you’re tied to using the keyboard while attached it doesn’t integrate any wireless Bluetooth functionality.

Further inconvenience crops up when you don’t want to use the keyboard. The magnets don’t hold the two parts together back-to-front – and where exactly are you meant to stash a 26cm long keyboard module? The Archos 101 XS design is not as elegant as that of the Asus Transformer Pad 300.

There is a hint of cleverness to the keyboard, though. It communicates with the tablet using a trio of metal contacts on the tab’s bottom edge, and this not only relays the clacking of the keys, it also lets the keyboard module’s microUSB socket recharge the Archos 101 XS’s battery. You can still use the charge socket on the tablet’s left edge, but jacking a cable into the keyboard module’s rear looks much neater.

Archos 101 XS Connectivity

This rear microUSB socket is all the connectivity the keyboard offers, but the Archos 101 XS tablet itself doesn’t do too badly on its own. As is the norm with Archos tablets, all the connections are laid across the left edge, and the tablet’s buttons on the right.

The left edge holds the microSD slot, the microUSB charge socket, the 3.5mm headphone jack and the miniHDMI video output. This is the norm for Archos’s tablets, but covers all the main connectivity bases.

For wireless, the Archos 101 XS provides Wi-Fi (with Wi-Fi Direct), Bluetooth 3.0, and GPS. There’s no 3G mobile internet connectivity and no NFC, which is starting to become a standard addition in high-end smarpthones and tablets.

Archos 101 XS Keyboard – Typing Experience

We’ve covered how the keyboard looks and works, but what is it actually like to use? It is a huge upgrade over typing on a virtual keyboard, and the keys have a proper laptop-style action. The level of travel in the keys is impressive given how thin the keyboard module is, although their action could be a little crisper.

There’s also a good deal of flex in the keyboard part too. Although it is backed with a metal panel, it’s largely made of plastic. Anything but a light press causes the thing to bend a little. As such, it’s not as good for typing as an Asus Transformer tablet with keyboard attached, but give your fingers a few hours to bed into the XS 101’s ‘board and the difference turns out not to be quite so vast.

The Archos 101 also comes with the OfficeSuite Pro app pre-installed, which lets you create and edit Microsoft Office files. It normally costs a tenner, so it’s a particularly neat addition.