Given the myriad high-quality tablet choices out there, I've found it difficult to recommend previous Archos tablets.
Unfortunately, its new 101 XS (also known as the Gen10) does little to change my opinion of the company's tablet-making abilities. While Archos is definitely starting to take performance more seriously, it still has a long way to go to breaking its habit of seemingly tacking on features without fully thinking them out and then charging too much for the package. While the tablet comes with a keyboard accessory, it still fails to be worthy of its $400 price.
The Archos 101 XS sports a 10.1-inch screen and ships with both the tablet slate and an additional keyboard accessory, known as the coverboard. The coverboard will not be sold separately, and as of now, buying the tablet is the only way to get one. When on the go, you can attach the slate and coverboard to each other magnetically, with the keyboard facing the tablet's screen. While in this mode, the package stays together securely and can be easily transported, but it can also be difficult to separate them without getting a fingernail into the mix. A small cavity or "lip" along the edge would have solved this.
The tablet itself is one of the thinnest 10-inchers on the market, measuring a thin 0.31 inch and weighing 1.4 pounds. The coverboard is 0.2 inch thick and weighs 0.6 pound.
|Archos 101 XS||Asus Transformer Pad TF300||Apple iPad (2012)||Asus Eee Pad Slider||Archos G9 101|
|Weight in pounds||1.4||1.4||1.34||2.14||1.44|
|Width in inches (landscape)||10.4||10.4||9.5||10.7||10.9|
|Height in inches||6.4||7.1||7.3||7.1||6.5|
|Depth in inches||0.31||0.32||0.34||0.75||0.5|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||1.1||0.8||0.8||1||1.2|
On the left edge, from top to bottom are the microSD slot (supporting up 64GB-capacity cards), Micro-USB, a headphone jack, and a Mini-HDMI port. On the right edge, toward the bottom is the power/sleep button and volume rocker. On the G9 series, the power button was too sharp and stuck out too far to make the tablet comfortable to hold. Archos addressed this with the 101 XS, but may have overcompensated as the now duller power button is a bit too flush with the edge of the tablet, making it difficult to find with your fingers.
On the left side bezel is a front-facing camera and on the opposite bezel is a 2.5-inch-long speaker aligned vertically. The included power adapter plugs into either the Micro-USB port on the slate or the coverboard. Unfortunately, the cable doesn't lock into the port and easily falls out if touched or if the tablet is moved just a little. When swiping your finger across the screen, a metal edge can be felt where the screen meets the bezel. While I doubt you'd be in danger of injuring yourself while swiping, it's an annoyance that points to an overall build-quality issue that Archos tablets can't seem to shake. A metal plate covers most of the back of the tablet, but thanks to the shoddiness of its implementation (you can easily get a fingernail under the plate and lift it up a bit), it feels less like a well-thought-out addition and more like a last-minute tack-on.
To connect the tablet to the coverboard, lay the coverboard down flat, flip up its built-in stand, line up the small metal plates on the bottom of the tablet to the magnets on the coverboard's surface, and attach the slate horizontally to the coverboard so that it leans slightly back against the stand. I don't mean to make it sound complicated; it's actually a very simple procedure. So, how strongly is it attached? Well, as long as both pieces are securely connected, you can pick up the tablet and the coverboard will remain attached to it (as long as you aren't jerking it around).
The flip side, however, is a different story. Since the tablet only leans against the stand and isn't held together by the strongest magnets in the world, tilt it forward just a little and the slate detaches, falling to whatever fate awaits it. This can be a problem when attempting to balance it on your lap as well. Unless you prefer large cracks in your tablet's screen, it's best to use the combo on a flat, stable surface. If Archos had included some type of locking mechanism, even if optional, the tablet could have proved a much more versatile device.
The coverboard itself is smaller than the $150 keyboard/dock attachment for the Asus Transformer line, and feels more cramped as a result. Also, while the Transformer dock includes a touch pad, mouse buttons, a panel to rest your palms, a full-size USB input, full-size SD card slot, and a built-in battery, the coverboard includes only a Micro-USB connection in the back for charging. The lack of a touch pad was probably the most noticeable omission, as having to tap the screen to open links or make selections feels awkward. Thankfully, Archos took at least one page from Asus' Transformer book of success, by including shortcut keys like back, home, search, a Wi-fi on-off toggle, and brightness, among others.
As I indicated, typing on the coverboard feels cramped compared with on the Transformer board because of the limited space and lack of a palm rest. That being said, I have large hands; according to some CNET-ers with smaller appendages, typing on the coverboard didn't feel cramped at all. One thing we did agree on, though, was that the coverboard keys don't achieve the same high level of tactile response the Transformer's keys do. They're just a bit too soft and don't depress as satisfyingly.
The coverboard is a thoughtful addition held back by the lack of a secure attachment mechanism and a touch pad. Also, a larger typing space would have made this more appealing to those of us with larger hands.