By December 2, 2010

ARCHOS 101 internet tablet review

ARCHOS_101_it_ambianceThe Archos 101 is one of the most eagerly anticipated tablets expected this side of Christmas. As companies race to get their products to market are they simply cutting corners and churning out rubbish?

 

What’s in the box?

  • ARCHOS 101 internet tablet
  • Standard USB cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • US/UK/EU plug fittings
  • legal and safety notice
  • power charger

The ten second review:

  • Device: ARCHOS 101 internet tablet
  • Price: £269.99 & £299.99
  • Summary: Android tablet with emphasis on media playback and weight
  • Best of: Kick stand, media support, 3D gaming, Android 2.2
  • Worst of: Build quality issues, shipping with Android 2.1
  • Buy it now from: Archos.com

Specifications:

  • Internal: 8 or 16 GB flash memory
  • External: Micro SD Slot (SDHC compatible)
  • High resolution capacitive multitouch screen, 1024×600 pixels (WXVGA), 10.1” TFT LCD
  • Android 2.2 Froyo
  • ARM Cortex A8 at 1 GHz with DSP
  • Graphic accelerator: 3D OpenGL ES 2.0
  • Video Playback
    . MPEG-4 HD (up to 720p, 30 [email protected])
    . MPEG-4 ([email protected] AVI, up to DVD resolution, 30 [email protected])
    . H.264 HD ([email protected] up to 720p, 30 [email protected])
    . WMV9/VC1 (AP up to 720p 30 [email protected])
    . M-JPEG (Motion JPEG Video) in VGA resolution
    With optional plug-in (downloadable on www.archos.com):
    . Cinema: MPEG-2 (up to DVD resolution MP/D1, 30 [email protected] Mbps)
    With the above codecs, the device can play video files with the following extensions: AVI, MP4, MKV, MOV, WMV, MPG, PS, TS, VOB, FLV, RM, RMVB, ASF, 3GP
  • Audio Playback
    . MP3 CBR & VBR
    . WMA, WMA-Pro 5.1
    . WAV (PCM/ADPCM)
    . AAC, AAC+ 5.1
    . OGG Vorbis
    . FLAC
    With optional software plug-ins (downloadable on www.archos.com):
    . AC3 5.1
  • Photo viewer
    . JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
  • Support subtitles files with .srt, .ssa, .smi, .sub extensions
  • VGA Webcam
  • Pre-installed applications
    . Aldiko, Ebuddy, Wikipedia, Avecomics, HubKap, Deezer, Mewbox, Raging Thunderlite (a 3D car demo game), WordNewspaper, Touiteur, Fring
  • USB slave 2.0: Mass Storage Class (MSC)
  • Full size USB host: Mass Storage Class (MSC)
  • Micro SD (SDHC compatible)
  • HDMI output (Mini HDMI / HDMI cable sold separately)
  • WiFi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
  • Built-in speaker
  • Built-in leg stand
  • Built-in Microphone
  • G-sensor
  • Internal: Lithium Polymer battery
  • Dimensions & weight
    . 270 x 150 x 12 mm
    . 480 grams

Highlights

  • Large display
  • 8 or 16gb onboard storage
  • Major codec support
  • Weight
  • Kickstand
  • Loud speakers

Lowlights

  • Limited viewing angles
  • questionable construction
  • Low system memory

 

Looking around the device on the top and the bottom there is nothing.

 

ARCHOS_101_it_top_side

On the right-hand side again there is nothing.

ARCHOS_101_it_3-4

 

The left-hand side is very busy. There is a volume rocker, power button, 3.5 mm headset jack, USB port, mini HDMI port, micro-SD port, Micro USB port, power connector. The buttons actually feel the biz. They are clicky and solid. I was honestly surprised by this. The micro-sd card slot spring is. eager! Hot swapping cards in public places on the go will see eye-gouging micro-sd cards pinging across the place leading to possible lawsuits and you might loose your house. Be careful!

screen2

 

The front has a massive 10.1 inch capacitive touchscreen. To the left of this is the VGA web camera, above this is a small white square that appears to be some form of light detector.

 

ARCHOS_101_it_face_home_screen

The back has two ample speakers and a rather plush, brushed steel look. In the centre of this is a kickstand. On the far right are some symbols to depict what some of the ports are on the left-hand side of the device. The kickstand is of major significance, I’m off a lot of Archos recent creations have included one and on the 101 it proves to be one of the biggest assets. That said in the three weeks that I have had this tablet it is gone from super stiff and operating at all levels to just sliding down to its lowest level whenever used. The kickstand helps elevate the screen into the correct viewing angle when using another desk, quite a clever move by Archos here as the viewing angle is very limited.

Archos_101_sur_beAAquille_2-9b258

Review:

For the last few weeks I have been banging on about the Archos 101 on the podcast and having finally gotten my hands on it. I have spent three weeks working with it. Initially I was waiting for the latest firmware update to Android 2.2 to arrive so I could give it a proper review however my patience is running out.

The build quality is debatable. On the one hand this is a plastic affair with metal looks. On the other it is half the price of the iPad so we should expect 50% of the build quality. Archos have taken the time to explore a more satisfying approach to a plastic body, a patient pending build method that combines an aluminium frame and a plastic surround. Whilst it doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary is feels slightly solid. Yet in saying that I’m not 100% sure the unit would survive a 5 foot drop. The lightweight frame feels like any form of stress would be devastating to the structure.

The biggest and most notable difference between this tablet and anything Samsung, Advent, Viewsonic or Toshiba are racing to put out is the kickstand. On day one I thought it a bit stiff and a little cumbersome to pull out and put away again. A motion I figured I might become used to over time. Instead the stand loosened. Loosened so much that I felt the screw in the joint might fall out. When propping the 101 upright on a table in front of you using the stand would see it sliding down to it’s lowest position again and again. I contacted Archos and they recommended I return it for repair.

The Archos 101 does not include the marketplace or official Google apps. This has it’s drawbacks but also it’s advantages. This will limit the app count to those that are included in the Appslib and other independent market applications. Applibs has the beneift of having apps that are verified as working with the 101 by Archos themselves, as there will be a number of incompatibilities when trying to run apps from the official Marketplace. However,  Archos do not have to jump through the hoops Google lays out for those that wish to share the Google experience. I had the marketplace running via a well known and easy to do hack and whilst I noticed a couple of problems with app resolutions the experience was pleasing.

The specifications of the device are good, not great, just good. A meagre 256mb RAM is eaten up very quickly and has the community’s concern for the 2.2 upgrade and beyond. The Arm Cortex A8 processor might not be as cutting edge as some other tablet running the slightly less stable Tegra 2 processor from Nvidia. With stability in mind, Archos know their way around the A8 and have refined the software, even in the form of Android 2.1, to perform very well on it. The OpenGL 3D really eases the pressure on the processor and the likes of 3D games and HD video flow smoothly.

Archos a famed for the decoding of more video codecs than you can shake a stick at. There is an optional codec pack for some of the more expensive codec licenses to increase compatibility. Many users coming to Archos will initially see this as a bit of a swizz however it’s necessary to keep the price down, not all users will use these codecs and it’s nice to have the choice.

Battery life honestly impressed me. I was using this very heavily for days on end and charging was minimal. It was not a concern. Given the variety of tasks open to the device it’s impossible to lay out an average battery life but the Archos figures are not far from the truth, if anything they might be very modest. This will keep going as long as an iPad on similar tasks.

One of the big let downs was the lack of a convertor for the mini HDMI port to test the HDMI playback on my TV. From various demos around the web it was great to see Android, games and media being output from the whole new Archos range onto a TV. Some complaints have been made there is no composite connection but that’s life I guess, they can’t do everything.

Bluetooth 2.1 is present and I was able to successfully pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to the device. Combined this with the HDMI connectivity gives massive potential for the home entertainment and especially something to enjoy when on holiday. WIFI comes in the form of B, G and N. It snapped onto my home router , Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone and a Mi-Fi with no bother. One thing I couldn’t seem to resolve was loosing connection when on a screen timeout. A mild annoyance, especially when downloading a file and having to run to tend to a barking dog or a whistling kettle. The auto reconnect was usually successful upon return.

For the first time I resorted to streaming media from my computer to the device when in the house. As a seasoned media player user I keep my DVD collection ripped on computer and dump a large portion on a media player’s, normally, generous hard drive. This time around the drive space is extremely limited to 8gb or 16gb and with HD quality video reaching large percentages of that you’ll have to have a sizable SD card to travel with or a home network streaming solution. Streaming was a doddle and very reliable. Whilst you could challenge the stream connection by skipping around the timeline on larger files it never gave up and was pleasingly resilient.

The Archos 101 runs android 2.1 out of the box. An update to 2.2 has been promised over and over again however it seems to have missed all deadlines. I don’t entirely think it’s fair to review this device with 2.1 as this is not the operating system the tablet was built for. However, the temporary operating system of 2.1 is more than capable of handling everyday tasks. When 2.2 arrives I can only imagine things will get better. The speed increase alone will be welcome, that’s not to say the 101 is overly laggy. There is a certain amount of memory leakage and running multiple heavyweight programs will see the system bog down to a crawl. It is hoped that the firmware upgrade will sort this out.

Conclusion

I have been a big fan or Archos for a few years now. I have watched their product line closely and always given them the benefit of the doubt. Their Archos 5 Internet Tablet was a disaster for a short period of time but I stuck with it and was rewarded with one of the most complete portable media players on the marker. It is time to upgrade and I had high hopes for this 101 and it’s little sister the Archos 70. There has not been a repeat of the teething problems of the Archos 5, for the most the device runs incredibly well out of the box and with further firmware updates will see this steal a little piece of the market over the next 6 months.

With saying that, I believed in it so much I purchased it and it now pains me to say that it’s on it’s way back to France with a refund being issued. Archos rushed to get this out the door. The focus this time was on getting the software to work well and they took their eyes off the hardware. I was one of the folks who received a, now infamous, “Internet Table.” Loose screws, creaky panels and a wobbling a kickstand all became a little too distracting and began to ruin the experience.

The Android Tablet market is moving too fast and this will be out-dated quickly, if not already! It’s a shame that Archos packed in the minimum to get things to run. Their clever little tweaks to the system and the unquestionably useful approach to media still make this an attractive purchase and it will suite most. The software this time is a hit and the hardware a bit of a miss. I will miss the 101 and look forward to the next attempt from Archos at global tablet domination!

Review by: Gareth

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Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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