Archos 101 XS tablet review
By Jim Martin | PC Advisor | Published: 12:37, 29 August 2012
The 101 is the first Android tablet we've seen from Archos' new XS range. The 101 means it has a 10.1in screen, and other sizes will follow, including 8in and 11.6in.
The tablet itself is attractive and one of the thinnest we've seen, measuring just 8mm thick. It comes with what Archos calls a 'Coverboard' - a keyboard stand which converts into a cover when you're not using the tablet.
It's held in place by stong magnets, although it doesn't snap into alignment like the iPad's Smart Cover. Magnets also hold the 101 XS firmly in place when docked onto the keyboard. A small stand flips up to support the back of the tablet and can be adjusted to change the tilt angle.
Push the stand down to get a comfortable viewing angle for typing, though, and the tablet will topple backwards. The only way around the problem is to type at arm's length which makes you look rather ridiculous and isn't even possible if you're on a train or plane.
Overall, the combo is only a millimetre or so thicker than the new iPad with a Smart Cover, but it weighs more at shade over 900g. (The iPad with a Smart Cover weighs just under 800g, since you ask.)
A more useful comparison, of course, is with the Asus Transformer Pad 300. This is much thicker (23mm) and heavier (1.15kg) but has a battery built into the keyboard dock which effectively doubles battery life.
In terms of specifications, the 101 XS is a match for the Transformer thanks to its TI OMAP 4470 CPU, which runs at 1.5GHz, and 1GB of RAM. The 10.1in screen has the same resolution as the Transformer's at 1280 x 800 pixels.
There's 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, a GPS receiver, a 720p front-facing camera (no rear camera) and a mono, front-facing speaker.
Currently, the 101 XS is available only in white, and with 16GB of storage. We hope to see a black model and 32GB capacity options, although the latter isn't a major issue thanks to the micro-SD card slot. You can add up to 64GB extra by slotting in a card.
Inevitably, there's some trade-off between thinness and rigidity. However, it's nothing which concerns us. The plastic chassis is bonded to paper-thin steel and feels solid in the hands.
The white, matte finish is a slight concern as our review model became noticeably grubby after just a few days. More of an issue, though is the power and volume buttons. These are flush with the edge of the case, making them hard to locate. They don't have a positive click, either, so you tend to press them harder than necessary.
On the left-hand side are micro-SD, -USB and -HDMI ports, plus a headphone socket. At the bottom is an X-pin connector which creates the connection to the coverboard for typing. There are other accessories including a charging cradle which has USB and audio ports, and a Boombox - a speaker dock which holds the 101 XS at a sensible angle for watching videos, although it's primarily designed for listening to music.
Power comes from a TI OMAP 4470 running at 1.5GHz, along with 1GB of RAM. In Geek Bench, it managed 1407 on average. That's almost 200 points faster than the Transformer Pad 300 and on a par with Google's Nexus 7.
Screen and speaker
As we've already said, the screen has the now-standard 1280 x 800 pixels, which is just about enough for this size, but more would have been nice. The glossy finish means it's hugely reflective, and the average brightness means this can't be overcome by simply ramping the brightness slider to the max.
Colours, viewing angles and contrast are all decent, but we noticed that pressing too hard on the screen left ripples, something we haven't seen with other tablets. It's likely a consequence of being so thin, but it's worrying nonetheless.
The front-mounted speaker is a bonus, as that's there speakers should be, and makes it louder than it would otherwise be.
The keyboard dock is one of the main reasons to buy the 101 XS. Having an external keyboard frees up a lot of screen space, and is much faster to type on than an on-screen version.
The 101 XS's keyboard has 'proper' separated keys with just enough travel to give feedback for quick typing. Impressive stuff considering it's just 5mm thick. It also has plenty of shortcut keys so you almost never need to touch the screen. You can even tap the Home button to wake the tablet so you don't have to feel around for the power button.
When typing on a desk, the keyboard works well, and we almost reached normal typing speed in less than an hour. However, things aren't so great if you try and type on your lap where the keyboard isn't supported in the middle. We found the keyboard seemed to lose its connection with the tablet when typing with normal force, so keystrokes didn't register. Only by typing softly could we get characters to appear.
Essentially, Archos has left Ice Cream Sandwich untouched. The only additions are music and video players, although the standard Android versions are still there as well.
The full version of OfficeSuite Pro 6 is installed, as is Angry Birds and Archos Remote. Archos says there will be an update to Jelly Bean by the end of the year.
Note: this review is based on a pre-production sample of the Archos 101 XS. We were told the final build quality would be the same, but the plastic material used would be more resistant to scratches.
There's no doubt that the 101 XS is Archos' best tablet to date and it's a decent attempt to undercut rivals, notably Asus Transformer Pad 300. It's £100 cheaper and the keyboard dock is far less fiddly. However, the dock was reliable only when on a desk in our tests, and other build quality issues surrounding the buttons and screen mean we can't recommend the 101 XS unequivocal