Archos hasn’t quite managed to set the tablet world alight, despite coming up with some neat and innovative ideas including last year’s Archos 101 G9 featuring a detachable 3G dongle. However, the Archos 101 XS is shaping up to be its best effort yet, an Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet packing a magnetic cover that doubles as a keyboard.
We had a chance to play with the Archos 101 XS, part of the new ‘Gen 10’ Archos family, and were left suitably impressed. The tablet is a wide 10-incher that’s impressively slender at just 8mm (almost matching the super-slim Toshiba AT200). The metal frame does bend when tugged on, but still feels sturdy enough to throw in a bag when hitting the road.
And you don’t have to worry about the 10.1-inch screen getting scratched, thanks to the bundled magnetic cover that snaps over the front. Best of all, the inside of the cover features a physical keyboard that doubles as a stand. Flip up a tab at the top of the ‘Coverboard’, and the tablet slides into place and holds firm courtesy of the powerful magnets contained inside the cover. Those magnets are seriously strong too – we grabbed the tablet and swung it around with the cover attached, and it didn’t slip an inch.
The tab can be adjusted to change the viewing angle, so you get a perfect view of your work or movies. If you feel like belting out an email or finishing off some work, the keyboard is a great little solution. It takes a little while to adjust to the tiny keys after working on a full-sized board, but Archos has kindly included some Android-specific keys that bring up menus, take you to the desktop and more. You also get media keys for pausing and skipping through movies and music. The keys are just 5mm deep, giving enough of a tactile feedback without making the Coverboard overly bulky.
Archos told us the keyboard is simply a bonus, to compete with rivals such as the Asus Transformer Prime. The emphasis is still very much on enjoying movies and games on the go, and we were impressed by the crisp, colourful visuals when watching trailers and playing games such as Asphalt 6. The ARM Cortex-A9 processor keeps everything running smoothly, backed up by 1GB of RAM. Viewing angles on the 10.1-inch display are excellent and we didn’t struggle to see when the sun was shining on the screen.
Archos has also created a free remote control app, perfect if you want to hook the tablet up to your TV via HDMI and enjoy a film at home.
The 101 XS lacks a rear-facing camera, which we’re not too sad to see – we’re much happier that Archos included a front-facing lens instead, for chatting over Skype. Android Ice Cream Sandwich appears in its vanilla form, with a deliberate intention of not adding clunky or superfluous overlays, and Archos promised an update to Jelly Bean before the end of the year. We were also promised around 10 hours of battery life with moderate use, or four to six hours with heavy gaming and media playback.
The Archos 101 XS will be out mid-September with a price tag of £299. Smaller versions (Archos 97 XS and Archos 80 XS) will also be available, which we’re hoping to see in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for a full review!