Hands-on with the 13.3-inch Archos Family Pad tablet

Lightweight? No. Portable? Iffy. Awesome for around the house? Absolutely. And you won't believe the price.

The Archos FamilyPad is big. Really big. But its price is small. Surprisingly small.
The Archos FamilyPad is big. Really big. But its price is small. Surprisingly small. Archos

I first laid eyes on the Archos Family Pad at CES . And I needed both eyes to take in this behemoth of a tablet, which sports a whopping 13.3-inch screen.

At that size, you don't really travel with it -- though you could, no differently than you would with a 13.3-inch laptop (minus the keyboard, natch). No, the Family Pad is best suited to the family room, if not the kitchen, den, bedroom, or other semi-permanent spot. It's not a tablet you walk around with; it's a tablet you sit around with.

I liked the idea right away: a seriously roomy screen for surfing the Web, looking at recipes (without squinting), playing games, watching movies, and the like. Just one problem: What would it cost me? The 10-inch Nexus 10 starts at $399, the 9.7-inch iPad at $499. Surely a 13.3-inch Archos would run, what, $699? $799?

Nope: $299.99. That's the price for a 13.3-inch Android tablet running Jelly Bean (aka Android 4.1). Color me impressed.

Now for the bad news?

But also skeptical: Archos must have cut some corners to get the price that low. And most spec-hounds will immediately zero in on the screen resolution: 1,280x800 pixels. That is fairly low by today's standards, but think of it this way: most 13.3-inch laptops run at a very similar 1,366x768 pixels, and nobody complains about that.

And in my real-world testing, I thought the Family Pad's IPS screen looked pretty good: bright, colorful, and sufficiently sharp for playing Jetpack Joyride, reading CNET, streaming Hulu Plus videos, and other tablety tasks. Plus, it's a 10-point multitouch screen, which in theory would allow more than two people to get in on some multiplayer game action. ("Gather 'round the tablet, kids!")

Most of the other specs belie the low price: a 1.6GHz dual-core CPU, a quad-core Mali 400 MP GPU, 1GB of RAM, dual cameras, dual speakers, and a boatload of expansion options. The Family Pad does come up a bit short in the storage department, with only 8GB onboard, but you can easily expand that with microSD cards, same as on most Android tablets.

I did find it a bit sluggish at multitasking, like trying to play a game while other apps were installing. And the two small speakers, which reside at one of the narrow ends of the tablet, aren't nearly loud enough. Also, my demo unit didn't come with a stand, though a small one is normally included. This thing desperately needs a stand, especially if you plan to interact with it on a countertop or coffee table.

How big is too big?

Indeed, holding the Family Pad for long periods, even if it's just sitting in your lap, can get uncomfortable. This big baby weighs around 2.9 pounds -- less than most laptops, but because you're constantly holding it, it feels heavier. Plus, you simply can't use it one-handed, and that limits its versatility.

I'm also not wild about Archos' proprietary charger, which has a pin-style connector, not the more common Micro-USB. (The Family Pad itself does have Micro-USB ports, though -- two of them.) So, yeah, one more AC adapter to keep track of. Of course, because the tablet probably won't travel much, maybe that's not such a big deal. I haven't had the unit long enough to speak to battery life (an Archos rep promised two weeks of standby, which seems optimistic), but I will say it's unusually slow to charge.

So is the Family Pad perfect? No. Does it deliver a hell of a lot of bang for the buck? Definitely. At times I can't help wondering if it's impractically large -- maybe a 10-inch tablet is sufficient for around the house -- but every time I look at the thing (or play a game of pinball on it), I can't help breaking out in a goofy grin.

The Family Pad goes on sale at the end of February. Archos doesn't yet have a product page up on its site; I'll update the post when it's live.

Update: It appears the Family Pad is now going by the name FamilyPad 2. Alas, as of late March, it's still not available for purchase.

 

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