The new $369 Archos 101 G9 tablet continues the company's tradition of building mobile devices with strong multimedia capabilities. This 10-inch tablet features an HDMI output, a built-in kickstand, and even a remote control app to command the slate like a TV from the sofa. The tablet market, however, is a crowded field with a slim margin for error. Apple's iPad 2 rules the roost, and premium challengers such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 are in hot pursuit, hoping to woo customers away from iOS with luxurious designs. Users also have more affordable options, including innovative devices such as the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer that merge laptop-style functionality with a Honeycomb tablet. Find out if this affordable Honeycomb slate has enough media skills to tempt you away from other devices.
Clad in bland gray plastic, the Archos 101 G9 won't impress anyone with its design. Measuring 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.5 inches and weighing 1.4 pounds, the tablet thankfully isn't too heavy or bulky compared to other 10-inch slates. For instance, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 (10.1 inches) tips the scales at 1.25 pounds, the Sony Tablet S (9.4-inch) at 1.3 pounds, and Apple's iPad 2 (9.7 inches) weighs in at 1.34 pounds. Still, the G9's gray plastic surface makes the device feel like it should be much lighter.
The 101 G9 is also thicker than the iPad 2 (0.34 inches), and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (0.34 inches). While the Sony Tablet S measures a chunky 0.75 inches at one end, it tapers to a trim 0.3 inches and has the comfortable ergonomics of a magazine. Our test unit used an 8GB SSD, but Archos also sells a 250GB hard drive version of the 101 G9 that's slightly heavier and thicker (1.7 pounds, 0.6 inches). The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, which handily supports a keyboard attachment, is close in size to the 101 G9 (10.7 x 6.9 x 0.5 inches) but weighs a lighter 1.4 pounds.
Archos says the 101 G9 is strengthened by a steel frame under its skin, but the device's back flexes when pressed. In fact, a little finger pressure is enough to cause white flashes on the display when light from the screen's backlight peeks through. With the G9 held in landscape mode, the slate's left side--where fingers typically touch--also gets uncomfortably hot after a few minutes of use. In fact, we measured a temperature of 107 degrees at this spot after playing a video for 15 minutes.
Around the 101 G9 are the usual connections and controls, including a volume rocker on the right, a front-facing camera next to the screen, and a microUSB port, a micro SD card reader, a headphone jack, and a power button to the left. There's also a mini HDMI port to output video to monitors and TVs, and a full-size USB port designed specifically to accept an Archos 3G Stick accessory, which is not available in the United States. A single speaker sits on the back, along with a flip-out kickstand for propping the device up in landscape orientation.
Display and Audio
Big-screen tablet fans will appreciate the Archos 101 G9's vast 10.1-inch display. It features the same sharp 1280 x 800 WXGA resolution as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom, and it packs more pixels than the iPad 2's smaller 9.7-inch (1024 x 768) screen. The 101 G9's display looks bright, too, but colors appeared washed out and muted to us. Watching the YouTube HD trailer for The Immortals on the tablet's big screen was certainly engaging, but flesh tones had a bluish tinge and were much warmer and lifelike on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Colors, such as the glint of gold-trimmed armor, also has less shine. Thanks to its IPS screen, Samsung's flagship tablet also provides wider viewing angles.
Audio on the Archos 101 G9 was loud but unimpressive. Bass guitar-heavy tracks such as "Islands" by the XX and the reggae classic "Pressure Drop" by Toots and the Maytals sounded flat, one-dimensional, and tinny. However, the G9 easily filled a standard-sized room.
Software and Interface
Running stock Android 3.2 Honeycomb, the Archos 101 G9 offers plenty of room for customization. There are five home screens to tailor to your tastes by adding widgets and application shortcuts. Like on other Honeycomb devices, a notification bar sits on the bottom of the screen and features futuristic icons for Back, Home, and recently opened apps. To the right is a settings area to quickly see network status, battery level, plus date and time. System-wide notifications are displayed here, too, and it's possible to dive into the full settings menu from this location.
The Archos 101 G9 relies on the standard Android keyboard, which has big keys that are easy to hit but doesn't offer much in the way of special features. You won't find innovative text input methods such as Skype, which makes one-handed writing simple, or the fancy split keys of Swiftkey X. There are dedicated buttons for often-used symbols such as ".com", comma and @, but you must tap a punctuation key to access more options. Those who enjoy a little buzz when they type will be disappointed that haptic feedback isn't an option.
Apps and Multimedia
Long before the arrival of Android, Archos cut its chops as a maker of portable entertainment devices, so it's not surprising that the company pre-loads a few of its own media-centric applications on the 101 G9. Its Music and Video apps offer a snazzy interface with animated jacket artwork. Within Music, users can do the usual things, including sorting their content by artist, album, etc. Video offers much the same functionality with filters for Recently Added, Recently Played, Movies, and TV shows.
Using the Archos apps, you can access music and video on devices connected to your home network either with SMB or UPnP protocol. We were able to stream music and video files from both an Apple MacBook Pro and a Windows 7 laptop connected to the same wireless router. Playback was both smooth and easy to set up, but album artwork did not appear in our music list that was pulled from external servers.
Archos touts the 101 G9's ability to play a variety of media formats, including H.264 HD, MPEG4, and up to 13 flavors of MPEG2 video codecs. The device also supports rare OGG Vorbis and FLAC audio formats along with the common MP3, WAV, and AAC varieties. On our tests, we dragged and dropped--then successfully viewed--both Xvid and AVI video files on the tablet without thinking once about compatibility.
An Archos Remote Control app also allows the device to be commanded by an Android smartphone connected to the same Wi-Fi network. It didn't take long to set up the app on our Samsung Galaxy S II running Android Gingerbread, and it allowed us to open and control apps from any of the tablet's home screens . We easily highlighted and launched the Music and Video apps, flipped through our library, and played content without laying a finger on the tablet. It's a nice feature for controlling the device from the couch, especially when you're outputting video to a big HDTV and the slate is out of reach. One oversight, though, is the app's lack of a volume control, which would be handy if the 101 G9 is connected to a home theater system.
Using the mini HDMI port and Archos' $5.99 cable, we easily mirrored the screen's content on a 46-inch HDTV. Sample movie trailers and 720p Xvid files (1280 x 720) looked sharp on the set, but they were nowhere near Blu-ray HD quality (1080p) . When we installed the Netflix app and played a few HD selections, image quality was worse, with visible blocks and pixelation.
You also get the usual Google apps that come standard with Honeycomb (Gmail, Talk plus Music, and Movie Studio). The Archos 101 G9 also has access to the latest version of the Android Marketplace, which offers books as well as more than 200,000 apps for download.
Unlike many tablets on the market, the Archos 101 G9 lacks a rear-facing camera, but it does have a front-facing device which can capture movies in 720p (1280 x 720). Test video we took was clear with no visible blurring, but it did look grainy, with muted colors. Conducting video calls over Google Talk was successful, though image quality was low, with stuttering and out-of-sync audio. The camera is also positioned poorly--on the short side of the tablet as opposed to the long side--so it's easy to accidentally cover the camera when holding the device during video chats.
Powered by a 1-GHz Texas Instruments Cortex A9 dual-core processor backed up by 512MB of RAM, the Archos 101 G9 handled itself well on our benchmark tests. It managed a Linpack score of 37.5 (single-thread), four points above the average Android device. Its Benchmark CPU result of 2,880 is also 172 points higher than the typical score we currently see. Still, this wasn't enough to best the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 (3,057, Tegra 2), ASUS Eee Pad Transformer (3,125, Tegra 2) and the Motorola Xoom (2,996, Tegra 2). However, the Fusion Garage Grid10 (2,503.7, Tegra 2) couldn't keep up with the Archos 101 G9.
The tablet also demonstrated some 3D graphics muscle, with the device managing a high 7,378 on the An3DBench test. This is 341 points more than the average tablet's score, but not faster than the Eee Pad Transformer (8,579), Galaxy Tab 10.1 (7,616), Motorola Xoom (7,571), and the Grid10 (7,535).
In anecdotal testing, apps and menus opened quickly, and rounds of Angry Birds (pre-installed) were silky smooth. As mentioned above, locally stored 720p videos played without a hitch.
Longevity isn't one of the Archos 101 G9's strengths. The tablet lasted 5 hours and 59 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi), about 1 hour less than the average Android tablet (6:57). The Wi-Fi version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 managed a long 8 hours and 23 minutes, while the Motorola Xoom squeezed a full 8 hours on a single charge. The ASUS Eee Pad, however, outpaced them all, running for 8 hours and 30 minutes.
Pricing and Value
Archos sells the 101 G9 in several configurations, including the 8GB model we tested for $369, powered by a 1-GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor. There is a 16GB model with a faster 1.2-GHz CPU costing $399, while a $449 version boasts a 250GB mechanical hard drive and 1.2-GHz A9 CPU.
The Archos 101 G9 offers plenty of features for $369, including a big 10.1-inch screen, Android Honeycomb, and even HDMI output. However, its poor build quality, short battery life, and high operating temperature make it a bad deal at any price. Users should take a look at the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer ($390 for 16GB), an excellent bargain offering faster performance, longer battery life, and a slick keyboard accessory for just $30 more than the 101 G9. For more money, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 ($499) or the Apple iPad 2 ($499) also offer compelling designs plus excellent performance.