Archos used to be known for large capacity tablet-style media players. Now it's making Android tablets and the media-centric 10.1-inch G9 is one of its latest. It's a media power-house, but is it a bit of a one-trick pony?
As you might expect from Archos, media playback is the main focus of the Android-powered G9 and it does the job well. Archos has bundled its own media player into the mix, which'll handle almost every audio and video format, and container, under the sun. It also comes packing TI's OMAP4 dual-core Cortex A9 clocked at 1GHz that will even tackle H.264 high-profile at full HD -- something a lot of other tablets simply can't manage.
Decent media playback deserves a great looking screen and thankfully Archos has delivered with a 10.1-inch, 1280x800 LCD. Although it's not IPS, the horizontal viewing angles are still really great. It's meant to be the same screen as used within the Motorola Xoom, so it's decent, especially considering the price.
Speaking of the price, for a 10.1-inch Honeycomb tablet, this thing is cheap. The 8GB version can be had for around the £250 mark, which makes it just over half the price of Apple's iPad 2, and cheaper than most decent Android tablets available in the UK today. Both 8 and 16GB models are expandable with microSD, so you've got plenty of space for storing media.
The tablet comes with optional 3G compatibility and here's where Archos really has done something right. For £50 you can add a network-unlocked 3G modem, which slots into an integrated USB port in the back of the device. The stick sits flush with the rest of the case and doesn't add any bulk to the tablet. Not only does that add 3G to your tablet, but the modem is a standard USB affair, meaning you can take it out of your tablet and shove it into your laptop for mobile computing -- no need for two data-plans.
The rest of the connectivity is pretty good too. You've got Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microUSB for charging and syncing, mini HDMI for connecting up to your TV, as well as the essential headphones port. The tablet also comes equipped with a mic and front facing camera for video chat that is also capable of recording mediocre 720p video, and stills that aren't anything to write home about. It's even got an integrated kickstand for landscape movie watching -- something I wish more devices came with.
For under £250 there's not a lot to fault the G9 on, though there is one rather big issue we can't ignore -- and that’s performance. Unfortunately being cheap comes at a price. While the G9 handles media with aplomb, the same can't be said for other tasks like web browsing. The processor in the G9 is fairly decent, but once you have more than one thing open, the whole experience starts to really chug. Archos does't list the amount of RAM in the G9, but a glance at the program manager tells me it's only 512MB. Trying to open and browse websites like Giz UK, if you have anything else open, really takes its toll on the device, producing a frustrating experience. Likewise, the same can be said for the standard Honeycomb interface, which runs great at first boot, but quickly becomes bogged down.
The build quality is OK. Not great, but OK. The button placement, however, is annoying. The power button is one end and the volume the other, but they both fall under where you would naturally place your hands. Considering they're used fairly infrequently in actual use, they should have been put on the top of the tablet, somewhere where you're not going to constantly hit them by accident.
The touchscreen can also be a bit off sometimes, and certainly not quite as responsive as I would have liked -- but then that might be down to sluggish performance. Talking of the screen, the thing is an absolute finger-print magnet, meaning that you'll need to keep a cloth handy, especially as it'll give your lock-screen grid passcode away in an instant.
It's cheap, plays media really well and looks pretty good. The performance of the thing can get really tiresome with limited RAM and the poor out-of-the-box task management of Honeycomb, but what do you expect for around £250? The expandable storage, kickstand and good connectivity make it a compelling experience for anyone looking for a tablet on a tight budget. I especially like the one 3G stick for both tablet and computer idea, which works superbly well.