While having a big 10-inch tablet to swipe your finger around is great fun for games and apps, when it comes to getting proper work done, it's much more comfortable typing on a proper keyboard.
With this in mind, Archos has brought to life the 101 XS, a 10.1-inch tablet that has a keyboard dock that handily doubles as a protective cover -- similar to Asus' Transformer line of tablets.
With a price tag of £300, it undercuts the cheaper of the Transformers -- the-- by a healthy £100. But does that make it the bargain it first appears to be?
The Archos 101 XS will be available to buy from mid-September.
Design and build quality
The Archos 101 XS is a 10.1-inch device, which should immediately tell you it's less hand- and pocket-friendly than smaller 7-inch tablets such as the. On the other hand, the larger screen real estate makes full-sized slates much better suited to watching video, browsing the web or using any apps that require more space.
I won't try to argue which size is better, as it's totally down to what you need a tablet for. If you're looking for a device you can slip into a jacket pocket and pull out easily on a train or a short-haul flight, a smaller tablet will be more suited to you. If most of your tablet time is likely to be spent browsing the web and watching YouTube clips from your sofa, or working at your desk, a bigger screen will come in handy.
The 101 XS measures 273mm wide and 170mm tall, which is pretty standard for 10-inch slates. More impressive is the atom-splitting 8mm thickness, which makes it one of the slimmest tablets on the market. By comparison, the iPad measures 9.4mm thick and the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 -- arguably the 101 XS's closest rival -- is a chubbier 10mm. Whether you really need a tablet that slim is debatable, but it does make it feel pretty good in your hand.
Looks-wise, the 101 XS has a silver metal back, surrounded by white plastic with a silver bezel around the screen. It's far from the most beautiful design I've seen, but I'm sure it will appeal to at least a few of you. The use of metal panels and solid-feeling plastic makes the 101 XS seem pretty durable and capable of taking a few knocks.
Annoyingly though, both the white edging and the aluminium panel like nothing more than to pick up every piece of dirt they come into contact with. It shows off the tiniest of scuffs. If you're planning on taking this tablet anywhere fancy, I highly recommend you keep a pack of wet wipes handy to give it a quick polish.
Around the edges you'll find a micro-USB port that handles both data transfer and charging (which is nice of it), mini-HDMI for hooking up a big tellybox, a microSD card slot for increasing the 16GB internal capacity and a 3.5mm headphone jack for, well, headphones.
A massive problem I quickly found with the headphone port was that the tablet wouldn't work properly with earphones that feature a built-in microphone and remote. Although music is audible, it's distorted and altered to the point of being totally unlistenable. Given that a good proportion of earphones on sale nowadays feature these mics, it's something of a problem.
I tested it with several pairs (including on-ear cans) that use mics and they all threw up the same problem. That's a huge shame as the audio quality is otherwise high. A pair ofthat didn't have a mic built into the cable was able to play the music normally. But If you've spent a couple of hundred quid on some delicious new 'phones with a mic, don't expect to use them with the 101 XS.
Coverboard keyboard dock
Supplied in the box with the 101 XS is a screen cover that can be used as a keyboard dock, turning your 10-inch slate into something resembling a netbook. It's an idea that's already proved very useful on tablets such as theand it's a great way of making a purely touch-based device more comfortable for typing on at length. Sadly though, I'm not convinced Archos has made such a good job of its dock.
I'll begin with the positives. The Coverboard, as Archos likes to call it, functions as a protective hard cover, using the same metal panelling found on the tablet to repel any attacking objects that would otherwise harm the screen. Pull it apart and inside is an Android-specific keyboard with a flip-out stand that lets you dock the tablet and type away as if it were a laptop.
When the cover is on your tablet, it only fattens to 13mm thick, which is considerably slimmer than the 23mm of the Asus Transformer Prime. The magnets used to keep the tablet docked keep it fairly secure, so long as you're not moving it around.
On the downside, Archos' attempts to make the cover so thin have resulted in it feeling very cheap. It's extremely easy to bend. It connects to the front of the tablet using magnets but unlike the iPad's Smart Cover, it has no bar guiding it in -- you have to spend a moment positioning it correctly so everything lines up, which is a little annoying.
The magnets don't seem to be particularly strong either. Archos has evidently made them weak enough for you to easily peel the cover off, but I'm pretty sure if you popped it in a rucksack and bumped it through airport security, you'd open your bag to find the two pieces separated.
A big issue for me though is the stand that supports the tablet when it's docked. It's a plastic flap that you need to manually fold out and then fold again, which sits flush against the base when not in use. When it's in the upright position, however, it's very exposed and feels as though even a slightly heavy hand would cause it to snap off. It's a very inelegant and risky solution to the 'how do we stick the keyboard to the tablet?' problem.
The keyboard itself is fairly standard. The keys are spaced evenly across the surface and are about as easy to type on as the Asus Transformer, or indeed any 10-inch netbook. If you've got huge hands you might struggle, but I found it perfectly usable. You'll probably want to put it on a secure surface as it's a bit too lightweight to sit comfortably on your lap and you can't alter the rather steep angle of the screen.
I noticed the tablet didn't always recognise the keyboard was attached, meaning I wasn't able to type. Archos assures me this was simply a firmware issue on the very early sample I was testing and won't be evident on the finished model. Here's hoping.