Archos 101 and 80 G9 tablets hands-on

As Archos unveiled their latest products in the UK, we managed to get our hands on the new G9 tablets, which come in 10- and 8-inch screen sizes. They represent exceptional value for money, being the cheapest Honeycomb tablets we’ve seen so far. 

As much can be expected from Archos who have something of a history in producing tablets at the more affordable end of the market. They are not newcomers to Android either, having produced their first Android tablet in 2009. 

In presenting the tablets, Henri Crohas, Archos founder and CEO, outlined how they managed to make the tablets so affordable. In summarising the current state of the tablet market, Crohas pointed the finger at all those trying to create an “iPad killer”. The results, Crohas summarised, was a range of tablets that not only offered similar hardware specs to Apple’s “magical” tablet, but also landing at the same price point.

“We have developed our own solutions”, Crohas stated “which are cheaper.” Rather than offering you a precision machined alloy body, or a single sheet of glass at the front, the Archos G9 tablets are designed to be more affordable.

The result is that the G9 tablets are finished in the familiar grey plastic we’ve seen before and the display has a soft surface which doesn’t feel as snappy as they glossy rivals. The look and feel is nothing to get excited about, but the glowing face of Android 3.1 beneath it is.

This is the first time that we’ve seen Archos tablets legitimately rolling out with Android Market, and the suite of Google apps, from the off. Worryingly Crohas said: “Google certification has only just started, not finished”, so there is something of a question mark hanging over the Archos tablets.

We wouldn’t liken it to the executioner's axe, but shipping with an up-to-date and complete Android platform, with all that Google goodness, will make a difference to a wide range of consumers who don’t want to hack or mod their tablet to restore such features.

So far we’ve seen Honeycomb tablets running on the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset. The Archos tablets are equipped with a 1.5GHz Texas Instruments OMAP4 processor. Crohas claimed this was “less expensive … more powerful”, but we have to wonder whether it will be able to use this power efficiently and how the experience will transpire.

Another change is the 250GB hard drive option. Most tablets are equipped with solid state memory and usually in 16GB or 32GB options. You’ll get a 16GB option from Archos, but the hard drive option is more interesting.

Crohas detailed that because they wanted to include a mechanical hard drive they had to make some changes to Honeycomb. This included restructuring the file system, so again, it is a slight unknown. 

There are a few Archos specific apps on board, but they haven’t run Honeycomb off the road and what we saw looked as naked as our Motorola Xoom. One area of interest will be the video player which looked pretty slick, with Archos stating that it would play 1080p H.264 High Profile video, pushed as “Blu-ray quality”, with an on-board mini HDMI ready to plug into your TV. 

In the hands the Archos 101 G9 did feel a little creaky and the cover for the 3G dongle slot did feel a little loose. We also got our hands on this 3G dongle, which Archos will sell to you for £49.99, which can be slotted flush into the G9 tablets to offer you a connection on the go. 

In the box you’ll get the dongle and a PAYG SIM card, offering 3 days of 3G coverage for free, then you’ll be facing a bill of £5 a day, or £10 for 3 days of use. 3G provision will come thanks to partnerships in each territory, in the UK it will be 3, although we get the impression that contracts aren’t signed, so there may be some changes here.

There is no doubting that the Archos G9 tablets are excellent value for money starting at £199 and £249 for the 8- and 10-inch respectively. But it’s difficult to ignore the difference in quality between these tablets and something like the Asus Eee Pad, which looks and feels good in your hands. 

Of course, much of the success of the Archos tablets will come down to their real-world performance and whether the experience comes across as excellent value for money or too much penny pinching. We'll be reviewing them in full, expected in early September.



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