Archos is back with a sequel to its largely failed Gamepad, and it's certainly been listening to all the complaints closely. The Gamepad 2 is improved on all levels with faster innards, better screen, upgraded buttons and sticks plus even a better personalised control system. All that and the price is still pretty low. On the original Gamepad, at £119, you got a dual-core processor, TFT screen and average keys.
The new Gamepad 2 comes with a 7-inch HD IPS 1280 x 800 resolution display. It's great. Simple as that. We've come to expect a certain standard with displays now and this hits that level happily with 216ppi. Playing games of the resolution found on Android tablets is never going to tax the screen too badly. But looking at high-res images and videos is also possible thanks to the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS which, amazingly, comes with no skin so it works perfectly. You're effectively getting a gaming device and a pure Android tablet for your money.
The build is sleek, slim and lightweight. The back is grippy and slightly curved so it sits perfectly as your swing it about gaming for your life - even with sweaty gamer hands. It fits perfectly in your meathooks with solid feeling buttons including dual shoulder buttons, a D-pad and dual analogue sticks. The speakers have been moved into a front-facing position which we thought might get blocked by hands while gaming but actually is just channeled more towards your face. Not that we'd use speakers much as we like to save battery. And if you do use wireless headphones that shouldn't affect power much thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 built-in. But this isn't a huge issue, Archos has claimed.
The 5000mAh battery, which you'd usually find in 10-inch tablets is good for 10 hours of mixed tablet and gaming use. That equates, Archos claims, to 9 hours of HD video with Wi-Fi off on medium brightness, or 4 hours of high-end gaming. While that sounds impressive the device did get a little warm in the hand while we were using it - suggesting it was pretty taxing stuff on the processor.
Talking of power this comes with a 1.6GHz quad-core A9 Rockchip RK3188 processor and 600 MHz overclocked quad-core Mali 400 GPU plus 2GB RAM. Mali is ideal for games developers as they usually already optimised for it. On the games we played, running at full resolution, we didn't see so much as a slight glitch and load times were near instant. But it must be said we only played Gameloft titles who Archos has been working closely with to develop titles made for controller use. The Gamepad 2 is also ideal for playing old emulator titles, which it supports, using the HDMI-out to your big screen.
But Archos is aware that its compatibility with current, old and future Gameloft titles isn't enough. So it's also upgraded the popular mapping tool. The Gamepad 2 is compatible with non-physical game control titles thanks to this. The 3rd Gen Archos Game Mapping Tool offers stick sensitivity management, touch steering support and improved FPS target mode. You can set screen controls to buttons as you like by simply dragging and dropping. Before the end of the year virtual throttles and steering wheels will also be compatible. Profiles are shareable online so you can access other people's pre-set controls for games. Archos is leaving this open as it's aware that profiles are a very personal choice that should be left to the users.
Asphalt 8 Airborne and Modern Combat 4 Zero Hour come pre-installed on the tablet, without any download nonsense so you can play it on your way home from buying it at the shops. Both games ran perfectly and - now this is a good sign - we forgot we were on a tablet while playing them. That immersion has never happened to us while testing gaming tablets before, so kudos Archos.
The Archos Gamepad 2 will be available in November for £179 at 8GB with a 16GB version coming for between £200 and £220. Both will come with microSD expansion capable of 64GB and app-to-SD support.