Archos 101 - Internet Tablet Review


Book Reviewer
ARCHOS 101 Internet Tablet Review

I have waited with baited breath and an unusual degree of indecision to make my latest gadget purchase; I actually needed something, which in itself is a huge surprise (especially to my wife). With a laptop dying and that being the sole means of non alcoholic entertainment in my trappist monk-esque existence (as I’m largely confined to a military Travelodge in the dark hours and flogged to death by my Lords and masters when its light), I needed a replacement.

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So, what to do, I needed something that could play films, music, surf the internet and perhaps but not hugely important, play the odd game. So what were my options: buy a new laptop or perhaps one of these new fangled tablets. I wrestled with the options and in the end plumped for a Macbook Pro, but when my wife was suddenly taken ill with a lengthy admission looking likely and the laptop not yet delivered I pondered a tablet as an option for my technophobe partner.

The most obvious choice was an Ipad or Ipad2, I’m neither an Apple fan-bois or an Apple hater – but having experienced the faff of getting movies onto my sons iTouch via iTunes I was reluctant but the more I played with the demonstration tablets in John Lewis the more I liked it as it just worked, but still the hassle factor, lack of freebie apps and the price tag were sufficient negatives and so I looked elsewhere.

The Android market is booming and whilst it most certainly it currently has limits and issues, largely because it’s expanded so quickly, its market is less controlled and hence open to malware issues and its new tablet OS is so new there are very few tablet specific apps available. The latter point seems to becoming addressed rather rapidly as developers see Android as a quicker and more widespread way to earn money. How the Apple vs Android battle develops will be interesting but for now, I choose to look at the Galaxy Tab (old version), Motorola Xoom and the Archos 101. Sadly I couldn’t get to play with a real Xoom which (in simple terms) is all bar the logo the same specification as the Ipad2 with the huge advantage (to me) that you can add media via MicroSDHC cards, which at £12 for a 16Gb card means I could have huge rafts of media available for long trips and NO iTunes hassle – winner! My experience with the Galaxy Tab was great: lovely screen, slick/smooth operation, a Wifi and a 3G version , superb graphics, expandable via SDHC but sadly none were available under £399 despite a new version being released imminently. I was however tempted but wandered about the high street until I spied an Archos 101 (demonstrator) being sold cheap in a small electrical shop. Worth a look I thought.

So, onto the device in question – I’d looked at the Archos when it was launched last year. A colleague and I had looked longingly at the same magazine then declared we wouldn’t be early adopters as despite its seemingly great specification we noted some concerned reviews. The Archos 101 is named after its screen size and hence sports a 10.1” capacitive multi-touch screen that is a tad prone to greasy fingerprints as it doesn’t have the same treated glass as the Ipad/Tab and Xooms. It has an ARM A8 single core processor running at 1Ghz and 8Gb of flash memory yet a bare 256M of RAM which may make the geeks alarm bells ring, but wait! Archos has history of developing fine media players and as that was what I principally wanted I decided to delve deeper.

I’d cunningly taken along a USB hard disc containing a range of films and music and asked if I could have a decent play and was given permission. The first thing I noted was the tablet had picked up a free Wifi signal from a local café – although fairly weak the standard browser downloaded content very quickly and rendered the screens nicely. The screen showed bright, vibrant colours and the screen size/resolution was, to me, just right. I tried the BBC website and immediately noted that the videos didn’t play which I though was odd as the Archos ships with Android 2.1 (upgradable) which supports Flash. Then I discovered that you have to upgrade this yourself.

So, with that I tried to play my first film. The system quickly found my USB hard disc (500Mb which it powered nicely) and it automatically catalogued all of my films. What happened next amazed me, I tried a huge variety of films with differing formats and sizes and it played every single one with ease, even a huge 2.5Gb HD film. In each instance the playback was smooth, the colours crisp and without a hint of blurring. I did notice the screen is quite reflective and had to move around a lot to avoid having shadows/reflections but that’s nothing a cheap screen protector shouldn’t be able to resolve.

Then to music, on my HDD I had a sample of my eclectic music tastes. Once again the Archos just got on with playing everything and also demonstrated quite a nifty native media player. I will add that the speakers aren’t great. They probably border on the acceptable, but for solo use I suspect the option to use headphones will be better as there were more options for altering the sound effects.

Suspecting I was overstaying my welcome, I started negotions on price. Starting at £190 for the 8Gb version and rising to £238 for the 16Gb the Archos is quite cheap, but still, shy boys get no sweets, so I was a happy chap when I walked away with the ex-demonstrator 8Gb version for a cheeky £120. A real bargain in my eyes. The retailer was happy to admit they’d sold precious few, largely as they were outshadowed by the Ipad, in his opinion.

Once home I quickly started by upgrading the firmware which took 3 minutes once I had a wifi connection and that gave me Android 2.2 (Froyo) with a raft of Archos updates too. Then I downloaded (via a youtube demonstration) the official Android Market replacing the Archos specific offering – why, from this I could then download Gmail, Google Maps and most importantly of all Flash 10.2. So, within 30minutes of being home the device was up to date and I had also copied a selection of films/music/photos onto a 32Mb MicroSDHC card and was ready for my wife.
Here is the real review, as I’ve said before my wife is a technophobe. She has eschewed a Blackberry/Iphone for a 1996 Nokia candybar phone and is disdainful of all my gadgets. So it was with a little trepidation I presented the tablet and showed her the three basic functions – how to play films, listen to music and use it as a digital photoframe. My tutorials completed in mere minutes she asked was there more, yes, Angry Birds (free!) and Google Sky. With this I left her to it.

Days later I was back in again and the first thing she said was how delighted she was – it had saved her sanity through nights of drug induced sleeplessness. She loved the quality of the films (but agreed the screen was too reflective) and could watch three before the battery died; said the sound with earphones was spot on and spent many an hour gazing out the ward windows at stars. Now she’s back home (and so is my lovely Macbook) the acid test – do we keep it, or slap it on Ebay? Well, she’s sold on it. For the price it will be handy for on call nights, holidays and time spent commuting/travelling as it is such a neat size.

So in summary our impression is that the Archos 101 is a good budget alternative to the likes of the Ipad, Galaxy Tab and the Motorola Xoom. It lacks the prestige and marketing veneers of the other brands but despite what many may say it has certainly shown itself to be an excellent media player, great for surfing and really compact. It’s no Ipad I will be the first to admit, its build quality is ok but there is too much plastic, the screen is ok but its not glass, but what you get for less than half the price of an Ipad, is a tablet that works and as a media player it excels! With the addition of vanilla Android market you have access to a plethora of free and sometimes useful apps. Archos appear to be actually making a decent job of providing firmware updates and the OS hasn’t been any trouble at all, with only one or two minor crashes experienced, usually when we’ve tried to do too many things at once.

In my opinion I’d be looking at something like this for an Op Tour or even the daily commute, certainly until the market matures, and on a VFM basis it wins over its competitors that are almost double its retail price. Retailing at under £200 now this is most definitely worthy of 4 Mr Potato Heads, and if you’re a canny Ebay sniper you could get yourself a bargain.
Nice review. I'll never get an iPad but may look at alternatives should I ever require one. I owned one of the very first archos media players back in 2003(?) and it's good to see they're still bringing out solid products now.


Book Reviewer
In this instance, price and availability were an issue. As I'd just splashed out on the Macbook my gadget fund was low and I needed something quickly, the Archos happily fitted the bill, otherwise I think the Xoom (on paper) looks to be great and there are a whole raft of new Android based tablets due out imminently which will be serious contendors for the Ipads place in the high street,

But as I said the Archos 101 is still a great media player, handling everything from .AVI to .MKA files.

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