The tablet market is dominated, we all know, by Apple. Apple is arguably the lone American success story in the consumer electronics space. All of Apple’s serious competition comes from companies outside the US, and nearly all of those are in Asia. Samsung and LG represent the Korean vanguard, with ZTE, Pantech and Huawei making inroads to the North American market now. HTC is based out of Taiwan; while Japan brings us Sony. Europe’s presence in the US market is minimal, particularly now with the dissolution of the Sony Ericsson venture. Nokia has tied itself to Microsoft and is only now beginning to release products that can compete on specification and features, if not on mindshare. 

And then there’s Archos. Based in France, Archos has been producing consumer electronics since 1988, with a strong focus on what some think the tablet is best suited at: entertainment. Prior to the iPad, there was the Archos 5 Internet Tablet. Released in 2008, the 5 established the mold that other tablets would soon follow, ARM based internals, varying screen sizes and storage capacities, WiFi and 3G capabilities and a Linux-based OS. The web browsing experience was less than spectacular on these early models because of the resistive touch screens and janky early browsers. The media performance, though was spectacular for the time, with DVD-quality video on a 5” 800x480 display; bearing in mind that at the time HD video was a challenge for desktops, let alone laptops or handheld devices. And with storage starting at 30GB, these were the ultimate solution for movie watching while on a long flight. 

That was four years ago, the Archos G9 Turbo series is what we're here to discuss today. A lot has changed, while other things have stayed the same. We first caught wind of these tablets last year when they were touted as the fastest Android tablets in the world thanks to the 1.5 GHz clock on the TI OMAP4460 dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC. Delays in producing these top models meant falling behind NVIDIA’s Tegra 3, the current “World’s Fastest” title holder. And while the Android tablet market was still pretty shallow last July when these were announced, it’s a deep wide sea now. So how does the French entrant fare? 

An Aside

Let’s cover this quickly. What do we do on our tablets? Media? Yep. Gaming? Yep. Browsing? Yep. E-mail? Yep. Productivity? I recently wrote a long e-mail on the 101 G9 Turbo, and was surprised to find that by the second paragraph I was able to get decent accuracy and passable speed. The issue is that with each tablet form factor the experience is pretty different. But would I want to write on it? Probably not. I’m no artist, but a few minutes in Draw Something tells me this is not the ideal canvas for art. There’s lots of task management, note and scheduling apps available on the market, but their utility is limited by the likelihood that you’d rather pull out your tablet than your cell phone when you’re looking to make a note or update your schedule. The phones cellular modem makes it a more potent on-the-go device, so the tablet stays a step behind. 

But these issues with productivity are a result of the tablet form factor itself, and this does not leave the category without its advantages, particular for lightweight web browsing, media consumption, gaming and e-mail. So these are the areas we’ll focus on in this and upcoming tablet reviews. And before the naysayers begin hollering, yes, the iPad has grown ever stronger as a productivity device. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Android has its most stable and refined experience, both in tablet and phone form factor; but the 4th iteration of Android remains unable to overcome all Android’s issues; just as the iPad’s new resolution and iOS 5.1 haven’t overcome the staid UI design and somewhat clunky multi-tasking. 

Turbo Means Faster

The G9 series comes in two flavors, the 80 and the 101, whose names correspond to their sizes, 8” and 10.1” respectively. Each is available with 8GB of NAND or, in a nod to Archos’s traditional strength in media players,  a 250 GB HDD option. We’re taking a look at the 8 GB models of both the 80 and 101 G9 Turbo. 
 
 
Tablet Specification Comparison
  ASUS Transformer Pad 300 Apple's new iPad (2012) Archos 80 G9 Turbo Archos 101 G9 Turbo
Dimensions 263 x 180.8 x 9.9mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 226 x 155 x 11.7mm 276 x 167 x 12.6mm
Display 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 8-inch 1024 x 768 TN 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 TN
Weight 635g 652g 465g (Flash) / 599g (HDD) 649g (Flash) / 755g (HDD)
Processor

NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30L (4 x Cortex A9)

Apple A5X (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX 543MP4)

1.5GHz TI OMAP 4460 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX540) 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4460 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX540)
Connectivity WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 3G (in Europe) WiFi , Optional 3G (in Europe)
Memory 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Storage 16GB + microSD 16GB—64GB 8GB Flash / 250GB HDD + microSD 8GB Flash / 250GB HDD + microSD
Battery 24.4Whr 42.5Whr ?? ??
Pricing $399 $499—$829 $249 8GB, $349 250GB HDD $299 8GB, $369 250GB HDD
 
Apple and Samsung cornered the market on super thin slates with minimalist designs, leaving plenty of room for diversity in the rest of the tablet space. Archos has opted for a landscape-biased design that emphasizes media playback, complete with a kickstand on the back. The front of each model is mostly featureless, with a black metal bezel around the screen and a 720p front-facing camera centered along the left edge. The top and bottom of the device are barren while the right features the volume buttons. Set just below mid-line the volume button is a little awkward to reach, and when held in portrait it’s easy to hit accidentally. The left side of the device is thicker than the right and features the rest of the ports. For connectivity, microHDMI and microUSB are available, and a microSD slot provides expandable storage. A ⅛” RCA port and single microphone are included and a status LED sits near the bottom left corner of the tablet. The only thing truly out of place is the LED, which is really only visible when the tablet is propped or laying flat and viewed from the left side. Held in either portrait or landscape the LED would be hidden behind your hand or just otherwise out of site. 

The left side is squared off and thicker than the tapered right edge, giving a strong preference to holding it in your left hand for one-handed operation. Though not as thick as some tablets, this is still nowhere near iPad 2 thin. The thickness isn’t an issue, though, as the shape is easy to hold and the nearly 1.5 lbs weight of the 101 is well balanced. If you opt for the 250GB model, though, you’ll make great use of that kickstand, as the magnetic drive adds another quarter pound in weight. Construction is plasticky, and an unsatisfying gap exists between the bezel and the screen beneath. This doesn’t feel like a device that could survive a fall without cosmetic damage. The back is a large expanse of grey plastic, with the aforementioned kickstand, and four rubber feet for when the kickstand’s neatly tucked away.

US readers need not pay any attention to the cut-out on the back; that spot is reserved for the optional 3G stick available through Archos to European buyers. The single speaker resides on the back so audio is easy to muffle by laying the tablet flat or covering the port with your hand. In an ideal world this whole tablet would be carved out of single piece of plastic or unobtainium and still cost the same amount. But this is the real world, and so for bargain prices, you typically get bargain construction. Dealbreaker? Not hardly. Low quality materials not withstanding, the ergonomics and utility of the tablet’s body make the plastics a nonissue.
The Display and Software
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  • jjj - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    Wish you had the HDD versions too,to see how the perf and battery life are impacted.
    As for the tablet ,too bad the screen is TN.
    Why no wifi tests? And ofc, as always, wish you had better battery life tests and some storage perf testing.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I'm curious how the HDD would perform with an OS like Android. It seems tablet OSs are well optimized for NAND and predictable read/write speeds unlike what you get with hard drives. Reply
  • Souka - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    *sigh*

    fast cpu = good
    poor display and battery life = bad

    too many other options out there for a tablet that misses out on 2 of 3 important factors in a tablet design.

    My $.02
    Reply
  • dkfx77 - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Well, in fact the OS doesnt use the HDD. They got a 4GB flash mem for the system. Then the HDD is only used for your files, not for Android.
    So I guess, as far as u dont play a video or listen to mp3 files, it wont affect the battery that much...
    Reply
  • dkfx77 - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    It also saves the HDD life expectancy cause you know, not read every 10sec... Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I worry about our WiFi tests, for a few reasons. First, the objectiveness of our reception tests are marred by the fact that our data is different for each of our testers. We test in our homes, and since we don't all live together in a massive AnandVille campus in North Carolina, that means that each of us would want to test WiFi reception we would each have our own test routine and our own test data. Seeing as how I would be comparing it to just the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, my data wouldn't be all that interesting. I did take the tablets on a walk along side that Galaxy Tab, to see when they'd drop out, and they all dropped out at the same time. Those outdoor shots are actually on my deck, as far from my router as you can get and still be on the property, and all devices acted the same.

    As far as our WiFi throughput tests, that's another of our tests that we're hit or miss on reporting. With an all plastic chassis there should be no issues like the Transformer Prime experienced. And in practice I had no issues using the device on WiFi, though I didn't do any large file downloads. Will remember your note next time, though.

    All that said, what's wrong with our battery life tests?!? They're consistent and getting better! We're working to tweak them so there's less opportunities for browsers to cache the files and bolster their Web Browsing scores. And as for the playback tests, I love watching Quantum of Solace over and over again. Don't you? :)
    Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Trade for Casino Royale. ;) Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    The screen is MVA, Archos used to use TN and I would have rejected them then basically because of that detail. There might exist some good TN-panels but on a tablet I want something with good viewing angles and the Archos screen (don't have one) should do that. More worryingly a TN panel would have washed out in sunlight and not be viewable in strong sunlight outside though. That said I still liked following them because of their long heritage in the PMP/Tablet field. Acer was also someone I did not count when they used TN screens.

    Other tablets that use MVA screens is for example the Motorola Xoom. PVA is used on some of Acer's later models too. You should really do it justice by evaluating the actual use of the display, describing it and give a small representation of how it is to look at subjectively, that it has a weak backlight (or backlight setting) doesn't really say if it is worse then a HTC Flyer screen which is a TN-screen with low (-er) viewing angles and prone to wash out so it would be trouble to use outside in the sun. At least you mentioned it would be pressed and hardly readable or barely in sunlight in the HTC Flyer review.
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Also you can get the Archos G9's (both 101 and 80) with 16GB internal storage at least in Europe. Cheaper to get a MicroSD card though. Don't know if they increase the internal app storage with the larger model.

    Also I guess it's good enough that you review the screens and gave a more in depth representation at the display page/section. Calling it TN might have stretch it and gave the wrong impression though. Good to point out that the quality and uniformity seems to be worse on the 80 though. Others have described the screen on the 80 G9 as good or good enough definitively not the worse there is or worse in class and at least have not been bothered (much) by shifting colors with normal viewing angles (say up to 45). The 101 might still be noticeable better though. Nobody expects Archos to have the best screens but adequate is enough.

    As long as their customers is happy with it. Might not have much to put up against newer ICS tablets as far as the 101 is concerned though, but at least it's not running Tegra 2. Then again it's only a speed bump on an older model. It is not price competitive any more.
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Sony Mobile is still based in Lund (Sweden, they moved their London head office back to where most of their engineers are) with a few thousand employees there. Their new Japanese CEO will be based in Lund and Tokyo. Good to see it being taken over by the Japanese that might give them better management culture though. The Tablets was a venture from Sony in Japan though, don't not if they will fold it into Sony Mobile. They were really late to get some good or at least decent Android devices out but lately recovered some and has a good mind share in Sweden. Don't know how the other guys in Lund fairs presumably ST-Ericsson (former EMP guys) took a huge hit when Nokia decided they wouldn't release any (more) Symbian or MeeGo products on their chips despite being signed on as an supplier, they even had a MeeGo BSP more or less ready. At least they seem to have entered the Android game now with some customers in China (with their built in TD-SCDMA baseband) plus now on new Sony Mobile phones. It's basically up the Japanese to not force all the mobile professionals (not working on base stations) to go to the Chinese companies which already has a presence here. Some plurality is good and some continuance is good rather then closing shop and reorganizing in other companies which means some stuff would just fall out of history. Reply

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