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Archos 101 G9 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Great price point.
  • Detachable 3G dongle.
  • High resolution screen.

The Bad

  • Unresponsive screen.
  • Slow performance.
  • Not great build quality.
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When is a tablet not a tablet? When it’s an Archos 101 G9. Made by the company perhaps best known for it’s portable music and video players, the Archos G9 101 places an emphasis here is more on music and audio playback and codec support. Archos says that you play practically any video and music file that you care to throw at the 101 G9 out of the box.

Include an HDMI-out option, 1080p video playback and in one sense you’ve got an external hard drive with a big screen bolted on that happens to run Android.

The Archos 101 G9 is very attractively priced; £270 for this 8GB edition makes it one of the cheapest Android tablets on the market. Running Android 3.2 Honeycomb, it’s as up to date as things gets software-wise, at least before Ice Cream Sandwich lands.

Tantalisingly, there’s 16GB and 250GB tablets due to hit the Archos G9 range over the coming months. As well as including more storage, these also include faster chips

The 8GB version however is the one that’s available now and the one we’re reviewing here. Let’s see how it stands up.


Archos G9 101 design and build

As you might have guessed from the name, the Archos G9 101 features a 10.1-inch screen. It’s capacitive, features a healthy resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and has some great viewing angles. All the more impressive considering there’s no IPS (in place switching) like you get on the Apple iPad.

The Archos G9 101’s screen is covered by a protective plastic layer that’s a tad reflective for our liking. When we were outside or in using the G9 101 in conditions with strong overhead lighting, we would get a measure of glare which hampered viewing. While this means that watching movies on a train ride home could be a problem, it’s less of a gripe for viewing videos indoors, on the sofa.

Instead of coming wrapped in brushed aluminium or fancy high-grade materials, Archos have coated the G9 101 in moulded plastic which, while not terrible to look at, isn’t pleasant to the touch. We appreciate that this is an efforts to drive the price down, but that doesn’t stop it from not feeling nice.

Sadly, this plasticky feeling extends to the touchscreen which isn’t the most responsive we’ve used and picks up fingerprints like a magnet. Thankfully, Archos includes a microfibre wipe cloth in the box.

Connectivity wise, there’s plenty of options here; mini HDMI, microSD and micro USB. In other words, plenty of ways to get your video content on to and off of the 101 G9. Sadly you don’t get a mini HDMI to HDMI cable in the box but you can’t really sniff at that considering the low price point.

8GB of internal storage came with our review unit, but we understand that there are faster Archos tablets in the pipeline with 16GB and a whopping 250GB of storage. So if this isn’t doing it for you, there are bigger versions on the horizon.

In a cool little twist, the Archos 101 G9 even comes with a hidden compartment for a 3G dongle to be slotted in, effectively allowing you to turn it into a fully functional 3G and Wi-Fi tablet. Sold separately for £50 and available to buy with a Three data plan, this is a pretty good selling angle; most 3G and Wi-Fi editions of tablets bulk up the price by £100 odd.

In a pinch, you could also use the dongle to plug in to your laptop or any other compatible device, just as you would with a regular mobile broadband stick. While this is a neat little trick, actually getting the stick in and out of the slot on the side is tricky, more fiddly than it should be.

On the back there’s a single external speaker and a kickstand on one side. Due to its positioning (and the fact that it’s made from plastic) it’s not an especially sturdy solution, but ok for propping up on most flat surfaces. Just don’t tap it in the top left corner or it’ll fall over.

Archos 101 G9 user interface

The interface of the 101 G9 is the basic Honeycomb look. So there’s the usual dark blue themes with electronic patterns and animated wallpapers which look great on that high-res screen. Those homescreens are customisable with rotating widgets and shortcuts too apps and contacts.

Though this is stock Honeycomb, that hasn’t stopped Archos replacing the default music and video apps with their own, or adding it’s own Archos Remote Control app. We’ll discuss the performance of the media apps in detail in the multimedia section, but we’ll talk about the Remote Control app here.

This Remote Control app is a great idea; is basically allows you to turn virtually any Android phone into a remote for any compatible Archos device which, naturally, includes the G9 101

This allowing you to pause and skip tracks and movies in the music and video apps. Using the volume rocker of the phone, you can easily adjust the volume of the audio that’s coming out of the tablet.

This is a great idea that fits perfectly in with Archos’ idea of tablet-as-external-hard-drive ethos. As both the 101 G9 and the phone you’re using at the remote have to be connected to the same Wi-Fi point for the app to work, it’s perfect for use in the living room, whether you’re watching a movie or blasting playlists through your TV’s speakers.


Archos G9 101 browser

The browser is the same stock Honeycomb one. So you get things like tabbed browsing and incognito mode built in, as well as the ability to sync bookmarks with Chrome on your desktop.

Flash plug-ins can be disabled from the settings menu, and you’ve got a clever battery saving option that disables the Wi-Fi whenever the tablet is on standby.

We like the Honeycomb browser a lot and it feels as at home on the Archos 101 G9 as it does on any other Android tablet we’ve seen this year. Image-heavy sites look particularly great on the big screen and text renders nicely and sharply. It looks as good as you’d expect on a big 10-inch plus screen with a 1280 x 800 pixel res.

Multimedia

As we said above, the underlying lattice of the touchscreen is occasionally visible on the Archos G9 101 which can occasionally ruin your enjoyment of movies, particularly in films with a lot of dark areas on screen (Tron: Legacy, The Matrix, etc).

Other than this, the Archos 101 G9 is a great device for playing videos on. We found it dead easy to transfer files from a PC through the microUSB connection. There’s a handy Files application which you can use to navigate various folders and find and play, for example, music stored on a microSD card. As promised, it can effortlessly play HD video files fantastically well on the big screen. Playback works perfectly with the Remote Control app which we installed and used on a Samsung Galaxy W.

A feature of the video player app we liked was that if you want you can let it search for missing info on from IMDB, and populating video files with virtual DVD covers and the like. It’s a movie equivalent of a ‘missing album art’ tool.

Sound through headphones on our review model was bad; we couldn’t find a pair of headphones that would play audio nicely through the 3.5mm port without encountering some kind of terrible distortion. We think this was a problem with our review unit however and isn’t representative of the range as a whole.

Sound played through the single speaker on the back by is pretty good, suitably loud enough for you to enjoy movies in your bedroom or listen to some music, but not the loudest or clearest playback we’ve experienced.

Finally, the front-facing camera of the Archos 101 G9. Or should we say the camera, period. In another cost-saving move, Archos has elected not to stick a more powerful, rear-facing camera on the 101 G9.

We can see the wisdom in this. Taking a picture on the fly from a phone makes sense. A phone is compact and easy to stablise in two hands if you’re taking a detailed shot. A tablet (especially one with a 10.1-inch screen) is less so.

Disregarding that, we didn’t find the front camera to be the best ever. It’s only a 1.3-megapixel deal so we weren’t expecting miracles to be fair. For videocalls over Skype or Google Talk, this will suffice. For self-portrait shots it’s less ideal; stretched across such a big screen, any pictures of your face you take end up looking grainy.


Performance

Aside from the video playback, we generally found the Archos G9 101 to be unresponsive, slow and generally nowhere near as good for general performance as other Android tablets we’ve seen.

Things like the screen rotating from landscape when we turned the tablet 90 degrees took a good two to three seconds. Tapping the home and back buttons resulted in the occasional lagged response that left us scratching our heads. If this can rip through 1080p video like it’s nothing, how come simple tasks like jumping to the home screen take so much apparent effort?

At times we found it hard to believe that there’s actually a dual core chip in there. Even the Xoom which, pre-3.1 Honeycomb, could’ve been described as slow, wasn’t this sluggish.

Occasionally, the touchscreen didn’t seem to recognises gestures or inputs at all, leading to all manner of typos and links being unintentionally clicked. Pinch to zoom gestures when browsing the web ought to be effortless, but it’s something of a grapple here.

There’s an option to recalibrate the touchscreen which seemed to help a little, but didn’t entirely solve the issues we were having.

Battery-wise, we found that the stated lifespan of 7 hours of video play and 10 hours of browsing time to be pretty much near to the mark; albeit with the Wi-Fi sleep mode enabled and us turning off the GPS judiciously when not needed.

Verdict

The Archos 101 G9 has undeniable media playing credentials, especially when it comes to video. We love how the Remote Control app works, allowing you to control the tablet’s media features from an Android phone. The optional 3G stick is a great idea as well, and the fact it can be used as a mobile broadband dongle elsewhere is a versatile move.

However the 101 G9 doesn’t stand up in other areas. We could live with the no frills design if the general performance was up to scratch, but it simply isn’t.

Knowledge that tablets in the G9 range – the Turbo 16GB and the Turbo 250GB – that have more storage and faster processors are incoming makes us less excited about this 8GB edition with a 1GHz chip. The Turbo range tablets are due to come with 1.2 and 1.5GHz CPUs installed and ought to offer a better performance. More than anything, the 8GB 101 G9 makes us excited for what’s to come.

Specification

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