Uncomfortable controls, poor battery life and a dire screen make the Archos GamePad a bitter disappointment for Android joystick junkies.
Like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, the Archos GamePad is an attempt to bolt a proper gaming controller to an Android-based device.
It's a 7-inch tablet running Android 4.1 with physical buttons and sticks bolted onto its sides, and boasts a dual-core CPU and quad-core Mali 400 graphics processor. There's 8GB of internal storage onboard and an expansion slot for a microSD card.
The Archos GamePad can be bought directly from the manufacturer for £130.
As the number of worthwhile Android games has grown over the past few years, the viability of a dedicated gaming tablet has risen. Just this week we've seen the unveiling of Nvidia's Project Shield, and the Wikipad and Razer Edge have been in development for some time.
French company Archos has beaten them both to the punch with the GamePad -- although as is often the case, being first doesn't always equal success. At £130, the Archos GamePad is attractively priced -- roughly the same as a Nintendo 3DS, in fact -- but from that point onwards it's all downhill.
The physical controls are painful to use and don't offer the kind of precision you'd expect. The LCD screen is cheap and nasty, and the battery life is laughable. Worst of all, the GamePad won't run some big-name Android titles, including Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series.
The idea of a gaming tablet is certainly very appealing, but we'd advise that you wait for other, better examples to come along instead of dropping any hard-earned cash on this.
If you've ever handled an Archos product before, the GamePad won't hold any genuine surprises. The silver plastic casing is robust enough, but it positively drips with cheapness and is nowhere near as desirable as the iPad mini or Kindle Fire HD.
Your eyes will naturally be drawn to the legion of buttons, pads and sticks that festoon the tablet's bodywork. As well as dual analogue slider nubs, you've got six action buttons, two shoulder triggers, Start and Select keys and a four-button D-pad.
The arrangement looks sensible enough, but that D-pad is a real bone of contention -- because it's four separate keys, hitting diagonals is difficult, and performing a single sweeping motion (like a quarter-circle required to perform Ryu's fireball in Street Fighter II) is nigh-on impossible.
It's one of the worst pads I've ever had the misfortune to use -- and I used to own an Atari Jaguar. The analogue nubs fare little better. Although they mimic the single nub seen on the PlayStation Portable, the movement is stiff and awkward.
The Archos GamePad's 7-inch 1,024x600-pixel screen is another crushing disappointment. The 170ppi resolution is distinctly lacking when compared to the likes of the Nexus 7 and iPad mini, and viewing angles are abysmal. Colours also look washed out and drab.
With a dual-core CPU at its heart and the same graphics processor as the Samsung Galaxy S3, you'd expect reasonably decent performance from the Archos GamePad. This is true to a degree, although it naturally can't compare to the likes of the Nexus 7 when it comes to raw power. The big issue here is that the GamePad doesn't seem capable of harnessing its strength without throwing a hissy fit every now and then.
Prolonged pauses are commonplace, and I lost track of the number of times I was faced with the infamous 'App Not Responding' dialogue box. A recent firmware update has improved this issue slightly, but the GamePad remains a very buggy and unstable piece of technology.
You'd expect Archos to really hit the nail on the head when it comes to gaming -- after all, this has been christened the GamePad for a reason. Sadly, the tablet fails to live up to this promise. The controls make playing games frustratingly uncomfortable, and the pre-installed Mapping Tool is a little too unpredictable to rely upon.
The concept behind the Mapping Tool is straightforward enough -- if a game is in the pre-loaded database, then as soon as you open it up the GamePad will automatically assign physical keys to on-screen inputs. The trouble is, it's not an exact science -- sometimes, control arrangements fail to work properly, forcing you to remap the interface yourself or reboot the game entirely.
Beyond these irksome issues lurks an even worse problem: the Archos GamePad is incompatible with a worrying number of popular Android titles. Games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Max Payne and Raiden Legacy all refuse to download to the device when accessed on the Google Play store.
The fragmented nature of the Android hardware market means such problems are commonplace, but you'd think Archos would have made sure the GamePad could play Grand Theft Auto -- one of the most popular games on the Google Play store -- at the very least.
The Archos GamePad comes with 8GB of internal storage, of which around 6GB is available for use. That amount of memory doesn't go very far -- especially when you take into account the large download size of some games. Thankfully, the Archos GamePad comes with a microSD card slot, allowing you to add up to 64GB of additional space.
With dedicated handhelds such as the 3DS and PlayStation Vita struggling with less than stellar battery life, the Archos GamePad could have scored some real points for offering plenty of stamina. Again, this isn't the case -- the tablet's power cell has all the staying power of a drunk boxer with a glass jaw.
My tests revealed about 4 hours of video playback, but as soon as you use the device for its intended purpose -- gaming -- that figure drops by more than half. Worryingly, even when the GamePad is fully charged, the battery drains in around 8-10 hours, even if it's sitting idle.
In case you were wondering, there's no rear-facing camera on the Archos GamePad, just like the Nexus 7. The front-facing snapper is intended primarily for making video calls, and the quality is predictably awful.
Given the rapid rise in the quality of Android games, the time is certainly right for a device of this kind -- something with a big screen that could be used for proper gaming as well as all the other cool stuff you usually do on a tablet. Somewhere along the line though, the Archos GamePad went from being a neat idea to a car-crash.
The controls are awkward and uncomfortable, the screen is of poor quality and the battery life is so bad you can't even take it out of the house for a day before it starts gasping for air.
If you're genuinely interested in having gaming controls on your mobile device, either pick a dedicated handheld -- like the 3DS or PS Vita -- or search around for a cheap Xperia Play. There are plenty of phone cases that give your Android blower console-like controls that connect via Bluetooth too. Alternatively, you could keep your powder dry for the upcoming Project Shield from Nvidia, which is likely to be very expensive, but at least it'll be built by a company with gaming pedigree.