When Apple and Samsung were just in the planning stages of their respective tablets, Archos was already knee deep in it. Android was still just an idea Andy Rubin hadn’t quite fully fleshed out, when Archos introduced the Archos 5, a 3G equipped Portable Media Player with a browser and the kind of codec support that many of today's popular tablets can’t match. Tablets seemed like a logical next step for Android, and rumors of an iOS tablet had been brewing since before the iPhone, but it was Archos that made some of the earliest moves into this space. All this to say, minimal market penetration not withstanding, Archos deserves attention because of their longevity and persistence. 

We looked at the Archos G9 Turbo devices just a few months ago, and came away . . . impressed. Lofty promises of being “the world’s fastest tablets” haunted Archos to some extent, because the claims were made about a SKU that would take a nearly 8 months to finally see the light of day. In the interim, NVIDIA released its Tegra 3 SoC, in the ASUS Transformer Prime, and brought quad-core tablets into the conversation. We couldn’t quibble too much with Archos claims, though. Through some impressive refinement of the software, their two 1.5 GHz A9 cores were able to outperform almost every other Android tablet on the market, and even the aging SGX540 accompanying those cores found it still had legs (once it was properly clocked). While Archos had gotten the hardware and software right, they’d not done so well in design. The G9s were pedestrian at best. Dark grey, large bezels, plump and plain, these weren’t going to ever be described as pretty. Two out of three ain’t bad, and with pricing that undercut much of the competition, at the expense of refinement, it wasn’t hard to recommend to the media hungry tablet buyer. 

Solid internals, and software gets you most of the way there, but what do you do for the follow up? In Archos case they made it prettier. Say hello, to the Archos 101 XS. The entire product line will be referred to as the Gen10 XS, reminding us that this is the 10th generation of Archos tablets. I almost prefer 'Gen10' as a brand than the XS moniker. That said, those two letters do an effective job of describing the new tablets in a few different ways. We’ll start with the most obvious one. Where the G9 was drab and chunky, the XS (think Extra Small) is svelte and much more stylish. The silver on white body is attractive and though not unibody or made from some exotic ‘polycarbonate’ the fact that it’s a matte plastic feels much better to the touch than glossy plastics. The silver trim feels a bit cheaper than the white body, and scratched a bit before I could even get glamour shots done (from what I’m not sure). The design is a great advance over the G9s, and a satisfying departure from the staid designs that generally make it to market. Now, if something could have been done about those bezels.

The assortment of ports on the device is mostly unchanged, the left featuring the bulk of it with microUSB (for data and power), audio, miniHDMI and microSD card access. That microSD slot is a bit tricky; a large enough gap exists around the slot itself so that a careless user could actually slip the SD card between the frame and the body of the reader (yeah, that happened). The power button and activity LED now join the volume button on the right side of the device, and both buttons are quite a bit thinner than their forbears, and a bit squishy for that. The top of the device remains bare, and the back is featureless, which means both the USB slot for the optional 3G stick is gone, as is the kickstand. The bottom now has a set of pogo pins and a couple of magnets, more on those later. The front facing and lone camera remains to the left of the screen along with the mic, while to the right is the single speaker. 

ASUS Tablet Specification Comparison
  Archos 101 XS ASUS Transformer Pad 300 Series Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 ASUS Nexus 7
Dimensions 273 x 170 x 7.9mm 263 x 180.8 x 9.9mm 256.6 x 175.3 x 9.7mm 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm
Chassis Plastic Plastic Plastic Plastic + Rubber back
Display 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 MVA 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 PLS 7" 1280 x 800 IPS
Weight 600g 635g 580.6g 340g
Processor

1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 (2 x Cortex A9)

NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)

1.0GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9) 1.3 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)
Memory 1GB 1GB 1GB 1 GB
Storage 16GB + microSD slot 16GB/32GB + microSD slot 16GB + microSD slot 8 GB / 16 GB
Battery 25Whr 22Whr 26Whr 16 Whr
Pricing $399 $379/$399 $399 $199/$249

 

When it hits retail, in mid-September, the XS will come in at $399, including a keyboard case we’ll talk about later. This is a pretty decent amount of kit for a pretty reasonable amount of money. At that price it’s competing with the still available iPad 2, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 10.1” and the ASUS Transformer Pad TF300. We haven’t run the Tab 2 through the ringer, but it shares internals with the inexplicably expensive Motorola Xyboard, so we’ll consider it in the Tab 2’s stead. So, that’s how it looks and how it fits in the market, let’s see how it performs.

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  • rwei - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    ...wait, what? But iOS didn't exist yet, how could there be rumors of it being used on a tablet? Or do you just mean an Apple tablet in general? Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Fair enough, though, most likely, iOS did exist; we just didn't know about it yet. Reply
  • wsjudd - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    Pedantic mode on:

    The weights in the first table have varying units and spacing (or, for the first one, no units at all).

    Weight 600 635g 580.6g 340 g
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Fixed. Thanks.
    Cheers.

    Jason
    Reply
  • vthl - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    it feels a little biased and intentional sometimes ..... certain devices always left out of the charts for no reason...... earlier it was macbook pro retina from the samsung Samsung Series 7 notebook in display comparison now nexus 7 etc has been from few comparison lists (but not all).... if you people haven't tested those products in any of the benchmark you are comparing with .... care to put a note in the chart itself (not tested) . Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    So, a lot of this has to do with the fact that, though we have standard ways of running tests, we don't necessarily have a standard series of tests we perform on all devices. Some of that has to do with time or other resources, some of that has to do with value. Some tests are only pertinent if the value deviates in anyway from expectations. Take, for instance, Anand's recent analysis of IO performance in tablets. Previously, we wouldn't have though to check. As it became an issue, with SoC performance and software putting a higher load on IO, Anand took to analyzing the issue. Given the value focus of the Archos lines, I expect that IO performance won't be groundbreaking. And that might matter. So, I'll look into it, but that involves coordinating with Anand to ensure my testing methodology matches his.
    And yes, we don't test every device. I'm going to reveal a secret to you all. We're not a large team, all sitting together in a technology playroom, testing devices from sun up till . . . well, sun up. For only a few of us is this our full-time job, and for the rest, we do our best to ensure that the most interesting things make it to the site. And sometimes, we never get chance to find out.
    Feel free to let us know when you want to take a closer look at a particular comparison and we'll try and put it together for you. Thanks for reading.

    Jason
    Reply
  • Wwhat - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    Is it me or does this several page article omit to name its sensors? A small spec list with such things might be appropriate with reviews (even if they are advertisement ones)

    And while I'm posting: I also was surprised to see how light the nexus is compared to the other tablets, that makes a huge difference I think.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    Lightness is a big plus for one-handed operation of a tablet, and I think it's a component in the growing popularity of smaller tablets. A 1.3 lbs device is fine sitting on my couch, but if I'm standing in a subway car, or playing a game, my arm's can get a little weary. I'd much prefer a lighter device then.

    As to your other comments, we take all our reader comments into account (even if they are unnecessarily snarky), so I'll try to do better. In this case, the only thing omitted from the usual set of radios is the light sensor.
    Reply
  • xaueious - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - link

    I wouldn't be so quick to give Archos any credit for optimizing the browser performance. TI OMAP4 always had an edge in the Sunspider benchmarks, and the performance here is inline with those results. It was TI that did any of the work, not Archos. To be precise, the TI OMAP4 reference was optimized targeting the Galaxy Nexus to begin with, so there's nothing to see here.

    The ASUS Transformer TF300 with Android 4.1.1 scores 1343.5 ms in the stock browser. Jellybean really changes the landscape of the browser benchmarks. I don't think ICS utilizes Tegra 3 fully.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    This is actually a story we've been trying to tell for sometime. While OEMs take the credit, silicon vendors are often doing the heavy lifting with software performance. As often as not, though, the optimizations that a TI or Qualcomm build into the Android versions shipped to OEMs are left out, in favor of aesthetically or function tweaked browsers, widgets and app drawers. So, while I agree TI merits a lot of the praise here, we like to encourage OEMs to follow Archos lead, so we'll give them some love, too. That said, Archos didn't just take a build and run it. The OEM sets the governor, and finalizes clock speeds, and also decides whether or not to use a particular silicon feature, and in which way. In this case, Archos made changes to the way that instructions are guided towards the low-power cores, GPU and CGPU; their goal being a boost to performance compared to a more conservative stock build.
    And then there's Jelly Bean. As always, we test as quickly and as much as possible. The TF300 just got its Jelly Bean build this week, and the delta between its JB Sunspider score and the ICS one is massive. So, who's to say that the Archos JB build won't also break new ground? In which case, the TF300 with 4.1.1 serves mainly to demonstrate what's to come. But doesn't negate the performance of the OMAP 4470.

    Thanks for the comments. Keep them coming.

    Jason
    Reply

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