Apple iPad, that’s the name of the tablet on everyone’s lips – be it the discounted first version or the new iPad II. Failing that, there’s the new Android 3 based tablets with it’s new user interface. And good though they all are, they’re out of reach of those who are financially challenged – myself included. So what are our options? There’s the cheap and cheerful badged tablets from the likes of Maplin and Currys, and that adorn Ebay, which will come installed with anything from Android 1.6 to 2.2 installed, or a branded bespoke unit from the likes of Archos.
These cheap tablets range from under a £100 to around £170 but be careful.
- Smaller 7-8″ screens will require lots of scrolling around when viewing some web sites, a 10″ screen is the smallest sized display you should go for if you want to see web sites as they were meant to be viewed.
- Tablets sporting anything less than Android 2.2 can be severely limited in functionality – for example you can’t install apps on a memory card you have to use the meagre amount of built-in memory, the memory card is for data, photos and media only. Not all apps will run on versions of Android earlier that 2.1 either.
- Many of the cheaper tablets will feature resistive screens – these don’t support the two-finger zoom movement that has become synonymous with handheld devices and means you’ll have to resort to pressing keys on the device somewhere to zoom in and out.
At around £200, the 8Gb Archos 101 Internet Tablet is not cheap as chips, but it’s still around £150 cheaper than the cheapest iPad or Android 3 tablet so this places it firmly in the middle priced market sector. The build quality is good with brushed aluminium abounding and a good sized 16:9 ratio wide screen – this tablet is obviously biased towards media and, to be honest, this is Archos’ heritage.
The 8Gb of memory is split into memory to run the tablet and a good sized pseudo-SD memory card for the installation of apps. This saves you having to purchase and additional memory card – it runs and works straight out of the box. There’s a built in adjustable stand too so that you can place the item at the right angle on any level surface. The HDMI socket enables you to connect the unit to your TV/monitor, whilst the USB hub allows you to connect a mouse and keyboard – we’ve got ourselves a netbook replacement that’s ultra-portable.
The forward facing camera serves as a decent quality web cam for over the Internet communications and the storage capacity can be further expanded with a memory slot. The sound quality from the well-spaced stereo speakers is pretty decent too.
Built-in Wi-Fi enables the tablet to connect to most G or N wireless home and business networks with strong WPA2, or the lesser WEP, security at upto 150 mbps. Range on the device seems pretty good too, connecting at good speed to my router two floors above me.
The Lithium Polymer battery seems to perform well, delivering plenty of usable time between charges with the wireless network adaptor continuously switched on.
I’ve never used it, but a Bluetooth connection facility is also available.
My tablet’s primary function is as a test-bed for the web sites I build. The included Android browser is OK, but I’d highly recommend the Opera browser app. This is an excellent browser that can speed up your network browsing considerably over the built-in browser and provides lots of features that are commonly only available in desktop browsers. Furthermore, if you use Opera on your desktop then you can synchronise the two together and share your favourites and a whole lot more.
No Android Market
Strangely, there was no Android Market installed on the unit out of the box – the supplied AppsLib severely limiting the number of apps that can be installed. Why? Haven’t the foggiest idea. Anyway, to the rescue is ArcTools, a great utility that installs Google’s own Market application and a host of other standard Android apps that aren’t shipped with the Archos tablet. It’s highly recommended.
Once installed I found very few apps from Google Market that would not work on the Archos and all the apps upgrade as normal.
- The screen doesn’t appear to be running at it’s native resolution for a start – the web site states that the screen’s resolution is 1,024 x 600 but there are artefacts on the characters suggesting that this isn’t the screen’s real resolution.
- The unit doesn’t always wake up from sleep mode properly – it’ll wake up but the screen doesn’t always illuminate. A couple of presses of the power button gets everything working properly again.
- Despite the 1GHz processor the performance can be a little tardy at times.
- A problem with a lot of these devices, not just the Archos, is that if you’re a fast typist the keyboard will not keep up with you. I’ve heard this compliant of the iPad II too, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this.
A little frustrating some times, it’s not as polished as an iPad for sure. However, having used one of the cheaper tablets and returned it to the retailer for not being fit for purpose, the Archos 101 is a decent tablet. My HTC Desire S mobile phone is altogether smoother to operate with fewer foibles, but the screen size is limited if beautifully crisp. If Archos solved the screen resolution problem and the device awoke from sleep properly I’d love it. As it is, it’s a great device for using whilst watching the TV, or in bed, and is a credible alternative to my netbook a lot of the time.