The Latest Android from Archos: The 101 Internet Tablet
Product Category: Android Tablet
Price: $299.99 (8 GB), $349.99 (16 GB)
Specifications: 10.5 inch 1024x600 Touchscreen, Android 2.2, Front-facing Camera (1.3 MP), 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, 8 GB Onboard Memory, Micro SD Card slot, 4,000 mA battery, 1.0 Ghz AP S5PC110 Processor, Bluetooth 2.1
- Large screen;
- Multiple connectivity options (USB, micro-USB, HDMI);
- Great battery life.
- Limited viewing angles;
- Poor camera;
- Has difficulty handling processor intensive apps.
Summary: The latest Android tablet from Archos offers a 10 inch screen, a panoply of ports (USB, Micro-USB, Mini-HDMI, and more), and enough battery life to get you through the day. However, it lacks the processing power of more expensive models and also has one or two fatal flaws such as a low resolution front-facing camera. Is the Archos worth the investment of your hard earned money, or should you wait for another entrant into the mid-range tablet field? Check out my review and see for yourself!
Figure 1: The Archos 101 ready to be unboxed and reviewed!
The Archos 101 Internet Tablet arrived in a black shrink wrapped box with a picture of the device prominently featured. I removed the plastic wrapping and opened the box to find the following items stored inside: tablet, micro-USB cable, wall charger.
I removed the Archos 101 from the box, peeled off the plastic sticky sheet designed to protect the screen and examined the device. While the tablet’s screen measured 10.1 inches diagonally, it had an oblong shape that clearly was meant to be held in a horizontal “landscape” position. Since the Archos 101 has an accelerometer, I knew that it could also be used in a “portrait” orientation, but holding it that way felt awkward given its weight distribution. Regardless of the orientation, I found the Archos 101 easy to hold for extended periods of time and using it with one hand was not a problem in a landscape orientation. The tablet seemed to be well made, but it is not nearly as well manufactured as more expensive tablets. The screen, not surprisingly, is a fingerprint magnet.
Figure 2: The Archos 101 is solidly constructed for a mid-range tablet. [Photo courtesy of Archos]
The left side of the Archos 101 (as defined when holding it horizontally) contains all of the ports and buttons, and there are a lot of them. This includes a volume rocker, power button, headphone jack, full sized USB port, Micro-USB port, Micro-SD card slot, Mini-HDMI port, and AC power port. The front of the device has an LED flash to the left of the screen and a pinhole microphone is a few inches below the flash. I turned the Archos 101 over to find two speakers and a kickstand in the middle that could be folded out to hold up the tablet when placed on a flat surface.
Figure 3: This is the kickstand on the back of the device.
The physical exterior of the Archos 101 revealed interesting design decisions, but I knew I wouldn’t fully understand its capabilities until I powered it on and used the operating system.
Apps and Performance
After charging the Archos 101 for a few hours, I turned it on and was greeted by an Archos splash screen. After connecting to my Wi-Fi network and installing the latest Archos 101 firmware, I was finally able to explore the operating system. The Archos 101 runs the stock version of Android 2.2 (Froyo) which is not optimized for tablet devices. However, this did not detract from my experience using the tablet. In a departure from most devices that run Android 2.2, the Archos 101 does not include the standard Search, Home, Settings, and Back hardware buttons. Instead, these features are displayed as software buttons that are always present on the screen.
The Archos 101 has the usual Android apps like a music player (“Music&rdquo, picture viewer (“Gallery&rdquo and web browser (“Brower&rdquo as well as an Archos specific app called AppsLib. The AppsLib app is designed to provide access to Android apps approved by Archos to run on the 101. This includes standouts like Angry Birds, but, compared to the Android Market, the selection of apps was quite small.
Figure 4: The built-in AppsLib allowed me to download and run Angry Birds on the Archos 101.
Fortunately, I was able to use the Arctools app to install the Android Market which greatly expanded the number of apps that could be installed to the Archos 101. Having access to the full Android Market made me feel much better about the usability of the device.
After installing and using a few apps, I got a feel for the overall responsiveness of the Archos 101. While apps launched smoothly and ran well, using gestures like swiping and pinching didn’t seem as smooth as they did on other Android tablets. The Archos 101 never locked up on me, but it did inexplicably shut down and restart twice while I was testing it.
That being said, I was able to stream music from the Pandora app (over Wi-Fi) while playing Angry Birds with no issues. So, the Archos 101 is able to handle multitasking to a certain degree, but don’t expect it to do well with more processor intensive apps. I experienced this when I tried to stream music from Pandora while using the Google Earth app. While the former maintained the stream, the latter performed so slowly that it was practically unusable.
Connecting the Archos 101
Figure 5: The left side of the Archos 101 is loaded with ports.
I put the ports on the left side of the Archos 101 through their paces by using cables to connect a variety of devices to the tablet. I first used a micro-USB cable to connect a my laptop to the Archos 101. I was disappointed to find that the device cannot charge over USB which means that the wall charger is the only way to replenish the battery. By using the micro-USB cable, I was easily able to drag files between my laptop and the Archos 101.
I was happy to find that a standard pair of headphones works well with the Archos 101. However, I noticed that the volume has to be turned almost all the way up for any audio to be, well, audible.
The HDMI port allows the Archos to mirror its display to any monitor or television with an HDMI port. This is a nice feature to have if you want to use the Archos for making presentations or watching video stored on the tablet on a larger screen.
The standard USB port on the Archos 101 allowed me to connect both a keyboard and a USB thumb drive to the tablet, and they worked as expected.
Not a Good Optic
The Archos 101 has a built-in camera, but the image quality is really horrible. I would say that pictures and video captured with the tablet look like they were produced by a device made in 1999, but that would be too insulting to devices made in 1999. Archos must have made a decision to pick the cheapest image sensor they could find in order to keep the price low.
To give you an idea of how bad the built-in camera works, I've included two comparison images below.
Figure 6: This street scene was taken with the Archos 101.
Figure 7: This is the same scene taken with an iPhone 4 (resized down to the Archos 101's resolution of 640 x 480).
If the iPhone 4's camera represents perfect 20/20 vision, then the Archos 101's camera is a cyclops with an astigmatism.
The screen of the Archos 101 has very limited viewing angle. The screen quickly darkens unless you are positioned in front of and slightly below the screen. This effect is even more pronounced when watching video on the device. I’ve never seen a tablet that requires such a tight viewing angle, and I began to wonder if Archos intended it as an undocumented “security feature” which prevented anyone else from seeing what’s on the screen besides the person directly in front of it! I eventually adapted to keeping my head in the right position, but I was still annoyed by being limited in how I used the screen.
In addition to the limited viewing angles, the screen on the Archos 101 is not as bright as other tablets. This was disappointing since the large screen of the Archos 101 begs to be used as a video player. However, the picture quality was never vivid enough despite increasing the brightness setting to the highest level.
The Archos 101 really shines in the area of battery life. I used the tablet for three weeks, and I could go multiple days without charging under regular use. Of course, heavily using the Archos 101 with Wi-Fi turned on and the screen at maximum brightness will drain the battery faster, but it should still provide at least a day of use.
The Archos 101 occupies interesting territory in the large offering of tablets currently crowding the market. It offers performance that cheaper tablets can’t match, but it lacks the power of the dual core processors and the generous amounts of RAM offered by more expensive tablets. The Archos 101 is certainly a great value and, if you have to have an Android tablet now but can’t afford a Motorola Xoom, then it’s a good choice. However, I recommend waiting a few months because similarly priced tablets with equal or better features are sure to enter the mid-range tablet market.
Anjuan Simmons is an information technology consultant with a hunger for gadgets that is only tempered by the amount of free space in his house and how much he can carry on his person. In his spare time, he enjoys writing and speaking about all the ways that technology is changing our lives. You can read his blog, follow him on Twitter, or friend him on Facebook. Anjuan lives in Houston, Texas with his beautiful wife and three amazing kids.
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