Archos was making touchscreen tablets well before the iPad existed, but that doesn't mean the company operates in the shadow of Apple's device any less than the next competitor. Now Archos is aiming to step out from that darkness with the 80 G9 tablet. With a 1080p screen, HDMI output and speedy 1-GHz ARM processor, the 80 G9 will likely turn heads given its $299 price tag. But how does it compare with the increasingly crowded market of budget tablets?
Editor's note: Portions of this review were taken from the review of the Archos 101 G9.
Our first reaction to the Archos 80 G9's design was "blah"--and that's about how it remained. Its gravelly silver plastic exterior doesn't look flashy or dull, just unassuming. The smooth, beveled and relatively thin shape gears you up for a comfortable experience, but quickly lets you down. As soon as we took hold of the G9, we felt a little cheated. The beveled side edges seem unnecessarily thick, so it's a pretty wide hold and a far reach for your thumbs to get to the middle of the screen when you're holding the tablet horizontally. Also, the front-facing camera is in the middle of the left face of the tablet, right where we always put our thumb.
Like its larger brother, the 101 G9, the Archos 80 suffers from cheap build quality; a little finger pressure is enough to cause white flashes on the display when light from the screen's backlight peeks through. The plastic body creaks a bit in your hands, which doesn't inspire confidence.
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At 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.5 inches and 1.1 pounds, the Archos 80 G9--while about average size for an 8-inch tablet--feels light. Vizio's competing tablet, at 8.1 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches, weighs a heftier 1.2 pounds, and Velocity Micro's Cruz T408 also comes in at 1.1 pounds.
The left side of the tablet has a Power button, microUSB, mini HDMI, headphone jack, and a microSD card slot. The right side is bare save for the volume rocker.
One feature that we thoroughly enjoyed was the built-in kickstand. It's great for viewing movies or just setting up on the desk for easy typing and navigation. Another cool addition is an on-board slot for a 3G stick that Archos says will also double as a USB port.
What's not so cool is the Archos 80 G9 itself. After sitting on our desk idle for 30 minutes, the back left by the speaker--where our fingers would go if we were holding the device--registered a disturbing 107 degrees.
Display and Audio
The Archos 80 G9's 8-inch 1024 x 768 screen is a mixed bag. Icons and buttons on the Honeycomb operating system's interface looked colorful and vivid, as did 1080p trailers for The Avengers and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. However, the display is very glossy, picks up fingerprints very easily, and has limited viewing angles. Ultimately, if you're not in a low-lighted area with the screen on full brightness, things get frustratingly hard to see.
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A single speaker on the back of the Archos 80 G9 produced clear but somewhat distant audio. When we listened to Pearl Jam's "Black," the guitar riffs were crisp but Eddie Vedder's voice sounded tinny. Though it was louder than the Pandigital Nova, Vizio's 8-inch tablet offered better sound.
Software and Interface
Running the Android 3.2 Honeycomb operating system, the 80 G9 provides a rather unspoiled navigation that never froze. There was little to no delay in responsiveness, and we had no problems when moving through the menus and apps. Navigation is pretty intuitive and relies mostly on three simple touch buttons: a back button, a home button, and a recent apps button for switching between apps.
There are five window panes where you can organize your apps, and they're convenient and easy to flip through. The main menu is clean and fairly customizable. You can ditch icons you don't want, and tapping the Apps or + key will bring up an additional menu for accessing your apps, widgets, and wallpapers.
Whether in portrait or landscape mode, typing on the Archos 80 G9's keyboard was a pleasure. While we would have preferred haptic feedback, it was perfectly calibrated. We also appreciated the dedicated .com key.
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Archos keeps things light on the software side, which is a good thing. The Archos Music and Video apps both have slick interfaces with animated jacket artwork. Within Music, users can do the usual things, including sorting their content by artist, album, and more. Video offers much the same functionality with filters for Recently Added, Recently Played, Movies, and TV shows.
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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.
An Archos Remote Control app allows the 80 G9 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 80 G9 is connected to a home theater system.
Archos touts the 80 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.
Standard Google apps--such as Gmail, Gallery, Movie Studio, and Talk--are pre-installed, and the Archos 80 G9 has access to the Android Market. However, a recent firmware update made it impossible for us to download anything from the store. We were able to make a few downloads for testing purposes before this happened, but the problem had not been solved by the time of publication. Archos told us an update was on the way.
Powered by a 1-GHz ARM dual-core CORTEX A9 OMAP 4 processor, the Archos 80 G9 scored 3,109 on our Benchmark CPU test, putting it well ahead of the 2,708 category average for Android tablets. The 80 G9 bested the $289 Vizio 8-inch tablet, which runs a 1-GHz processor and scored 1,527. Its quick performance also outshined the Velocity Micro Cruz (1,411), which has a 1-GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU.
With an AN3DBench graphics score of 7,503, the tablet again surpassed the category average of 7,037, as well as the Vizio's score (7,454).
Numbers aside, our hands-on experience with the 80 G9 was impressive. Multitouch gestures and swiping were very enjoyable, and the performance was overall a good experience. Playing Angry Birds was a pleasure; the capacitive touchscreen never misread our zooms as clicks or vice versa, and birds only flew when flung. Taps were responsive, and overall, we had no complaints.
The 80 G9 provides a smooth browsing experience. Streaming high-definition YouTube videos gave the tablet no problems, and we cruised through elaborate sites easily. Laptopmag.com took about 8 seconds to load, and sites such as The New York Times rendered even faster.
Like the Archos 101 G9, and unlike many other tablets on the market, the 80 G9 lacks a rear-facing camera, but it does have a front-facing camera that can capture movies in 720p (1280 x 720). In general, colors in images were somewhat muted and lacked detail. Video-chatting capability, while easily accessible through the pre-loaded Google Talk app, was slow and choppy. Voices echoed, and faces were dull.
The 80 G9 lasted for 7 hours and 21 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi), about 20 minutes longer than the category average of 6 hours and 59 minutes. That's longer than the Vizio, which lasted for 6 hours and 54 minutes, but not as long as The Sony Tablet S (8:31).
The $299 version of the Archos 80 G9 we tested was equipped with a 1-GHz processor and 8GB of Flash memory. A $319 version will feature 16GB of storage and a 1.2-GHz processor, and a $369 version will bump the storage up to 250GB with an ultra-thin hard drive. The latter will also weigh approximately 4.7 ounces more and measure 0.1 inches thicker than the Flash-based models. Later this year, a 1.5-GHz processor will also be available.
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In the world of sub-$300 Android tablets, the Archos 80 G9 is one of the better options, but that's not saying much. While we like that it offers full access to the Android Market, snappy performance, and fun media apps, it's far from perfect. The lackluster build quality, high temperatures, and less-than-stellar screen all should give buyers pause. But, if you're looking for an inexpensive tablet, you could do worse than the Archos 80 G9.