One of our key complaints about the last batch of Archos tablets, the 70 and 101, was that the screen quality wasn’t great. Turn the screen the wrong way and the image would almost disappear – it’s an effect known as contrast shift and it affects almost all budget tablets and the vast majority of laptops.
The Apple iPad blasted away contrast shift problems with its IPS screen, thereby setting the standard by which all subsequent tablets would be judged. Archos’s G9 101 doesn’t have an IPS display, but it does offer remarkably good performance. Tilt the screen to as extreme an angle as you like and the image on-screen will stay perfectly visible. Archos deserves a pat on the back for including such a good panel in an affordable tablet – the similarly-priced Acer Iconia A100 didn’t.
Viewing angles = good, but it’s highly reflective
That said, contrast, black levels and colour reproduction can’t quite match the best tablet displays out there and the surface is highly reflective. Others 10.1in Android tablets offer a punchier image, although the 1280×800 pixel resolution is the same as you’ll find in every 10.1in Honeycomb tablet in town. This gives a pixel density of 149ppi – very low compared with the top smartphones, but still sufficient, as you tend to hold a tablet further away than a smartphone. It’s much sharper than the previous-gen Archos 101, which had a 1024×600 screen, with a pixel density of 117ppi.
The top-most screen layer is hard plastic rather than glass – and as such doesn’t feel quite as glorious under your finger as an iPad 2 screen. Tapping on it a bit harder than usual causes the screen to flash white momentarily too, which is a bit worrying and may be a bad indicator of its longevity. The touch layer is capacitive, though, and very responsive when not affected by the core software’s buggy bits. Multi-touch is fully supported, and while its ability to sense four points of contact at once is just “mid-range” in performance terms, it’s easily enough for any gestures we’ve come across.
This enables the usually pinch zooming web browsing gesture, and helps to make the G9 101 a decent sofa web surfer. Equip it with a 3G dongle and it’ll do the same while you’re out, although the widescreen aspect ratio makes it feel unwieldy when held upright. Unless you can hold it in two hands, this isn’t the best tablet to be lumbered with – like other 10.1 Android tablets. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad may not seem great for movies, but it is more comfortable to hold one-handed and feels altogether more compact – and Archos even offers its own tablet this shape, the Archos G9 80. We’ll be back with a review of that model soon.
Assuming you’re using it in a fairly favourable environment, the Archos G9 101 is very usable. The virtual keyboard is large and accurate, whether you’re tapping away in portrait or landscape aspects, and full Flash 10.1 support is on hand too. It’s just a pity that its operation isn’t a little smoother and that run-ins with bugs are quite so common.