Everyone wants to touch it. No that’s not a new Nicki Minaj club hit. It’s the current way the tech wind blows. Fondle-friendly touchscreen tablets are multiplying.  It seems a new contender enters the competitively turbid waters bi-monthly. Exaggeration, maybe! But you get the message. An army of slabs is mounting, collectively pointing their WiFi antennas at Apple’s iOS darlings–and for good reason.

So the tablet trend is not slowing down. The days of the mouse might be numbered, but the merit of a good companion keyboard is hard to dispute. Enter the new Archos 101 XS Android tablet, the flagship slate from the freshly minted Gen X10 tablet line from Archos.  It’s sporting the delicious Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 Android OS, impressively thin form factor and an innovative companion keyboard/docking system. There are a slew of notable features, functions and software. So let’s jump in with both hands for a scrutinizing caress.

Hardware

Cranking under the hood, the Archos 101 XS tablet makes use of a OMAP 4470 CPU (dual core TI clocked at 1.5GHz) with a PowerVR SGX544 GPU (which is getting extremely long in the tooth -ed.) The dual core TI is the exact same processor in the Galaxy Tab 2 (OMAP 4430 clocks at 1GHz). Gaze at this sexy slim new slab through a nice sizeable 10.1-inch screen. Unfortunately glory is held at arms length with that paltry 1280 x 800 screen resolution. Users will also find 16GB of flash memory storage, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI-out and a 720p front camera.

All this comes together adequately when time comes to lay hands on the little sucker. Right off the bat, I commend the thin form factor. Not many tablets are this thin at the 10.1 screen size. The Archos 101 XS  touts a 15% thinner design than the iPad 3 and weighs a meager 21 ounces (approx 2 human hearts). The Magnetic Coverboard is not bad either. While far from perfect, the Coverboard greatly expands the comfort options. Archos understands, some applications benefit heavily from a keyboard. The Coverboard gets ahead of this idea in a few key ways. The cover attaches magnectically and functions as a full QWERTY keyboard. It also shows ingenuity was at the helm conceptually, with the flip-up magnetic kickstand. It holds the 101 XS upright and simulates a laptop-style user experience.  The Coverboard gets its juice from the tablet. However the QWERTY will charge the tablet when plugged into a power outlet with the included DC-in port. Close it all down and now the Coverboard pulls quadruple duty as a protective cover. It’s smart, without question.

It also lacks elegance and style. The kickstand works efficiently and is clearly the work of careful planning. But something is off. It looks and feels rather clunky. I want it tucked away and out of sight. A sliding door to hide the kickstand might work. The plastics used also fall far short of sophisticated and… Why white? It only further intensifies the financially conservative construction. There are no striking lines or classy designs. Instead, we get a lot of obnoxious logos and a back surface that shows signs of DSH. The unit arrived with scuff marks–undoubtedly obtained in the box during transit. But more appear–as if by magic. It is the most masochistic device I think I have ever worked with. It’s soft skin and homely appearance leave much to be desired, aesthetically.

Software

The included applications and software make for valiant compensation. Again the OS is the most recent Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 with “Jelly Bean” around the corner this fall. One of the standout pieces is Office Suite Pro 6. It makes the keyboard sing many familiar tunes (Excel, Word, PowerPoint and all). There are several top grade games on deck, such as Fruits Ninja and Spider Man.

On the Marketplace, Archos offers a thing called the Archos Remote app. Download this on your Android phone to remotely control your Archos 101 XS or… Download and install ­­­ the app on your Archos 101 XS to control your phone or other Android device of choice. The app is intuitive and fun to use. Pair this with the included Media Center application and that HDMI-out for a great media experience. I connected the Archos 101 XS to a 27-inch LCD monitor via HDMI to stream movies and music from my computer over my home network. Now with the remote control app, I can have my Android mobile device take  control of the 101 XS. It all took about 10min.Very snazzy!

Benchmarks

But enough talk! Now I give you… Numbers! Yay!

As you see. The browser is among the fastest we’ve tested. Some have even seen higher averages. This little colorless puppy literally “surfs” the web with grace and speed.

Games performance is higher than the average. But the overachieving iPad puts the 101 XS to shame, if only numerically. That 61fps may seem far from the top competitor, but the performance is still hassle- and dip-free. There is very little noticeable drop in framerate while gaming and the screen keeps things sharp and as crisp as you would hope from the 1280 x 800 screen resolution. The 101 XS is a fine gaming tablet. I should also note, when pushing 1080p within a benching environment, the 101 XS averaged 39fps after 15 consecutive tests. Not too shabby at all!

Camera

The onboard 720 front camera takes decent enough pictures, I suppose. But we all know a tablet is hardly a conducive “soul stealer.” The camera is clearly meant for video chat/conference calling, primarily. In this it is subpar. Video is noticeable blurry and not so smooth. I don’t recommend it for lofty biz chats if you’re looking to impress the overseas investor or the like.

Conclusion

Hey I like the Archos 101 XS. Yet, I can’t recommend users pull the trigger now. The price just isn’t competitive enough to offset its shortcomings. One of which is the battery life, in addition to what is stated above. The battery averages 4-hrs! That’s a significant handicap for travel use. But this and the video chat issues could and should be touched up with firmware updates and such.

Still, it does much of what I want from a tablet and does it well. The UI is clean and intuitive, but not worth writing home. Browsing the internet should be like turning pages at this point and the Archos 101 XS offers one of the quickest browsers around. Wifi was flawless with no recognized connection losses. It handles the ubiquitous keyboard issue with useful innovation, if not style. All buttons and functions are easily accessible and responsive. But is it Early-Adopter worthy? You could definitely do worse. Fence-riders watch that wind, see which way it blows and keep your eye out for better solutions or a worthy price drop.

Editor Rating:

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Good

Bottom Line:

The Archos 101 XS does a lot right but it still needs time in the oven. There are some great ideas here and I understand the cost versus the expense of the selected components. But this one just isn’t quite ready for its close up!

 

Pros

  • Lightening fast web browser
  • 4-in-1 Coverboard w/ QWERTY
  • OfficeSuite  Pro 6
  • Competitive graphic crunching prowess

Cons

  • …but not competitively priced
  • Not ideal for video chat
  • Not ideal for travel
  • Design flaws



Shawn Sanders

 
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.