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The Archos 101 is the 10-inch tablet Android needed in 2010. Thin, light, and affordably priced at $299 (8GB) and $399 (16GB), the Archos 101 is the first decent presentation of Android 2.2 we've seen on an iPad-size screen.
Unfortunately, Archos' timing is terrible. The 10-inch tablets making headlines these days are all running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), and the Archos 101 is making no promises to support Google's latest, greatest OS. Still, if you're looking for a 10-inch tablet--you need it now, and you need it cheap--the Archos 101 isn't a bad way to go.
Unlike most of the Android tablets we've seen in the wake of the iPad, the Archos 101 actually looks good next to Apple's tablet. Comparably sized at about 10.5 inches wide, 6 inches high, and 0.33 inch thick, the Archos 101 feels like a real tablet--not an oversize smartphone.
The first thing we noticed about the Archos 101 is how light it is. At around 16 ounces, it weighs about as much as a pint of beer and is noticeably lighter than the iPad. How Archos was able to achieve this light weight is no mystery, though. Instead of the aluminum-and-glass construction used on the iPad, the Archos design is mostly plastic and its construction easily bends under pressure. Granted, tablets are fairly fragile devices inherently, but the 101 wins no points for ruggedness.
Another design detail that experienced Android users will notice is the Archos 101's lack of tactile navigation buttons. Perhaps a prediction of Google's moving all navigation controls to the touch screen in Android 3.0, Archos has customized Android 2.2 with onscreen controls for home, back, and menu, running down the right edge of the screen. The end result is actually ideal for tablets, since it allows the navigation controls to reorient regardless of how the device is held.
Archos also goes a little off the Android script when it comes to connectivity. For better or worse, all of the 101's ports are crowded onto the left edge of the device--and, boy, there are a ton of ports. You get standard sockets for headphones, a power adapter, and a Micro-USB port for syncing to a computer. Archos also throws in a Mini-HDMI port for output to a TV, and a standard USB host port for connecting an external keyboard or thumbdrive.
Also included on the Archos 101 is a front-facing camera that can shoot both video and stills at a VGA resolution (640x480 pixels). A Fring video chat application comes preinstalled that will work with the camera, along with the pinhole mic found on the same side.
A kickstand is also included, located on the back. The stand folds out from the middle and folds out far enough to prop up the tablet at a slight (30-degree) angle, which helps with touch-screen typing, but can also be used to keep the tablet upright for videos or a photo slideshow.
As far as software goes, you're looking at an Android 2.2 device, minus the conveniences of Google's proprietary apps, including Android Marketplace, Gmail, and Maps. You get the stock Android 2.2 e-mail app and Web browser, along with Archos' remixed versions of the Android music player, photo viewer, and video player.
As a peace gesture, Archos offers its own app store called AppsLib, for those looking to go through the motions. As we've noted in previous Archos tablet reviews, the content just isn't there. It's like taking a trip through a flea market. There are plenty of knockoffs and hastily produced games and demos, but the brand names aren't around.
What's more interesting are the hardware features. The Archos 101 doesn't offer cellular connections or GPS, but you do get 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a few rare features that may win some over. For example, you get a full-size USB port that supports connected keyboards and thumbdrives. You won't find that on a high-end Android tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and certainly not on the iPad. There's also a Mini-HDMI port that mirrors the onscreen view to a TV--perfect for playing videos or showing off Web sites.
Of course, not all of the specs are winners. In spite of its iPad-like size, the 101's screen has poor viewing angles, limited brightness, and a 1,024x600-pixel resolution that doesn't live up to its HD video playback capabilities. Video output over an HDMI cable (not included) maxes out at an HD-worthy 720p.
Another disappointment is the lack of full Adobe Flash 10 support. It's a complaint we make about tablets twice the price of the Archos 101--but regardless of the bargain you think you're getting, it's frustrating to come across broken Flash players while browsing the Web.
Without the Google Marketplace or official suite of Google mobile apps, the Archos 101 can't deliver the same breadth and quality of practical uses as a comparably priced official Android smartphone. What it does offer is a uniquely large screen to work with at a relatively affordable price.
The biggest advantage of the large screen is Web browsing. Unlike the squinting and pinching experience of smartphones and smaller tablets, Web pages appear at their natural size on a 10-inch screen. It's not the most responsive screen, or the prettiest, but it does justice to sites such as NYTimes.com and CNN (minus the Flash video content).
Along with the distinction of being the least expensive 10-inch tablet we've reviewed, the Archos 101 is the lightest 10-incher yet. It's also remarkably thin. Add it all up, and you have an inexpensive tablet for e-mail and Web browsing from the couch. Provided your expectations are proportional to the price you're paying, the Archos 101 may be a perfect fit as a couch companion.
Surprisingly, this tablet isn't the video playback dream you would think. There's plenty of codec support for everything from XVID to MPEG-4, with oodles of HD resolution support. The problem is--the screen's viewing angles are crud and the screen brightness is too restrained for a vivid video experience. The HDMI output is a nice option, but it doesn't help if you're trying to watch videos on the go.
Archos rates the 101's battery life at 10 hours of Web browsing, 8 hours of video, or 36 hours of music playback. With screen brightness set at half and some content that won't tax the processor too much, we think Archos' estimates are reasonable considering our experience so far. It would be difficult for us to resist the temptation of cranking the screen up to full blast, but your capacity for restraint may differ. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Web site load time (in seconds; lower is better)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
|Archos 101 8GB||5.8||11||177||133||1,106:1|
The Archos 101 Android 2.2 tablet isn't the fastest, brightest, or most impressive tablet we've seen. It's big and cheap, and delivers core Android functionality with a few bells and whistles (HDMI, USB host), but for the most part it's an outdated tool with limited use beyond Web browsing and e-mail.