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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  • hans007 - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    the screen isnt TN. Its MVA. has much better viewing angles than the TN screen tablets like the acer ones. Reply
  • Rick83 - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    there is a full size USB-port which works as such (once enabled by the "enable 3G port" button), besides allowing the use of the 3G sticks on (some?) GSM networks.
    You can plug external hard drives, USB hubs, USB HID devices and even some DACs into that port, and they will work as expected.
    That port is, next to the media playback and the high end CPU one of the key features of the device, and shouldn't be put aside erroneously.

    On the other hand, the test lacks the current problems of the device: WPA was broken for quite a while, GPS can be flaky and HDMI was also having issues in the last firmwares.

    Also, Archos positions itself as a "feature device" in my opinion. It doers a lot, but it doesn't do many things very well, and testing isn't as exhaustive as elsewhere.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    Most tablets without full sized USB ports still allow the same functionality thru a $15 adapter, at least Samsung and ASUS do. Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I tried to connect a device to the rear full-sized USB on each of the devices, and wasn't pleased with the fit. These ports are designed for one use and trying to squeeze a simple USB cable in was awkward at best. We try to return review devices unmarred, so I wasn't interested in testing that port much. I am confident that it and the microUSB port would be good for external storage.

    I didn't test earlier versions of the device and had no trouble with my WPA2 set-up. As for GPS, I dont consider it an integral part of the tablet experience and made no effort to use it. If readers want us to test GPS on every device I will give it a try. And I didn't encounter any issues with the HDMI testing, though it was limited to ensuring it worked on my TV.

    I have to disagree that Archos "doesn't do many things very well" because of two key things they are doing well. These tablets are the only ones I would even bother considering doing our Media Test Suite on; that's a big plus. Further, they're willing to push updates and respond to issues quickly. During testing we received two updates which primarily dealt with bugs and tweaking features. HDMI is one of the most difficult connectors to work with because HDCP handshake issues can be borked with the smallest changes. If there were issues in the most recent firmwares, I'm confident Archos will address them. If all this bug chasing is a result of inexhaustive testing, well, at least they're fixing problems as they come up.

    Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, May 24, 2012 - link

    Some other features, that are not common to all tablets and probably missing in the review are out of the box NTFS and CIFS support.
    Also the USB-DAC support is unique to the Archos tablets.

    I also explicitely added the "many" to that quote, because they do some things much better than others, but those are their defining features. On the wider front, their development is understandably rushed and falls short on testing (like the "bubble" issue on the first wave of hardware, where the back was not sufficiently tough to prevent stresses from holding the device to create screen artifacts. Also, it's great to have that awesome video codec support (also thanks to the OMAP 4460 and it's great decoding engine), but the HDMI issues (which are being fixed for the most part) are lessening the impact of being able to play 1080p30.

    I've followed the reception of the device for a while, (waiting for another 5 inch device to make it to market) and while the regular updates are helpful, oftentimes they have to fix grave issues introduced by the previous one.

    Owning an Archos is always a mixed bag, but it's probably the closest you can get to owning a PC in the tablet space, as the amount of features and the lack of custom "enhancements" to the UI give you a clean basic system, with a lot of freedom to tinker, and great support for ROM developers.

    This is refreshing, because all the other tablet vendors just strive to be the next Apple, dumbing the UIs down (eg. "simplifying") and going for maximum lock-in. On the other hand, testing is usually quite good, so that things work out of the box, and not a year after release and at 85%.

    Anyway, it's great to finally see a review of the "ultimate G9", even if it's a bit light no the "history" these devices have.
    Reply
  • g00ey - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I've been wondering for a while how you can safely use you're home computer as a media server for your portable device with which you roam around freely around the country and cross-country while listening to music or watching a movie that is on your home-drive.

    I'm not sure if CIFS is such a good idea to share things over the internet. In a closed network? yes, in a more open network over the internet? Presumably no.

    If I were to share over the net I would prefer a secure connection which rules out the http and ftp protocols. I've tried to mount sftp and ssh volumes over the Internet but the performance is really bad.
    Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    You probably already use it on your internal network on your NAS for your media though. Just load it over to your device for when not home or use like WebDAV or something. Or just use some DLNA-solution. You'd be fine as long as you connect to a VPN. If it's fast enough is another matter, but a DLNA-server can encode and stream it. Not supporting it (SMB/CIFS) is a pain when your home and want to access your media. Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    A better screen would have made this an ideal in car entertainment center!

    Without the extra brightness and viewing angles, however, it just can't be used for such. Oh well.
    Reply
  • npaladin2000 - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I bought one of these. Nice media device, good for gaming. The 8 inch one is a nice size for eReading too, with the nook and Kindle apps. That's my primary use for it, that and some Tapatalk. it's unfortunate that some games don't take full advantage of the 4:3 screen, but the 16:9 stuff works well enough. And it's nice to be able to buy a STOCK ICS device.

    I do get wierded out by the viewing angles at times, but only when I'm holding it in my hands. The kickstand does a good job of keeping it at a viewable angle. And I can usually easily adjust my grip to get a viewable angle as well.
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I bought an Acer 7" Iconia tablet with no 3G option because I thought it would not matter. However, I have found it to be a major shortcoming and I would not purchase another tablet without some sort of 3G or 4G connectivity. The major advantage of a tablet is portability, but without some sort of data plan, when you are on a trip, travelling around, the tablet is worthless, when the portability should make it the ideal choice. (I dont really play games on it or watch videos, mainly use for e-mail, web browsing, GPS)

    I guess you would not necessarily expect 3G at these prices, but it is a critical function to me after living without it.

    And I know you can purchase a hot spot device, but who wants to carry around another device just to get connectivity.
    Reply

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