Archos knew it needed to do something a little different with the Archos 101 XS – the company’s latest 10.1 Android 4.0-toting tablet.
The tablet game has changed so much in the last year that to get yourself noticed and sway users away from purchasing an iPad you need to offer something a little extra.
In the case of the Archos 101 XS, this little extra comes in the form of the Coverboard – a magnetic keyboard that also acts as protection to the tablet and a docking station for the 101 XS.
This isn’t something that’s new – Archos knows very well that it is up against the rather popular Asus Transformer Prime in this category but it does, on paper at least, proves to be a superior option.
Where the Transformer Prime Infinity is quite chunky in the hand with its keyboard dock – 17mm in thickness – Archos has done everything it can to shave the millimetres down. In the keyboard case, the Archos 101 XS measures a mere 13mm, which is just 1mm thicker than the new iPad.
When it comes to the Coverboard, there’s no hinges to deal with either – the thing connects to the tablet through the use of magnets. And they are strong, too. We had no problems picking the device up from its screen, as the keyboard followed suit, supported only by the magnets and a small kick-stand.
It feels surprisingly sturdy when attached, even if it doesn’t feel that smooth when you take the cover off of the tablet.
Given that the Coverboard touches the screen, it felt a little weird sliding the thing across the panel – the sides are rubberised to prevent any scratches – but you can also prise it off like you would a laptop cover. Both ways did take some getting used to, however.
The good thing about having the cover is that you have no fear chucking the tablet in your bag after you have used it – it just makes the Archos 101 XS that little bit more durable.
As for the keyboard, just don’t expect miracles. On the plus side, the keyboard is fully optimised for Android. This means that there are hot-keys to get you to the different screens and options that are available on the OS. Once you work out where they are, the keyboard is great to use but we can’t see this ever being a replacement to a real laptop.
Those who ever have had problems with a netbook’s keyboard will have a bit of a nightmare here. The keys are very close together and while it is a full QWERTY chiclet keyboard, you can’t help feel that ease of use has been sacrificed by Archos to make the cover as thin as possible.
According to an Archos spokesperson, 5mm – the thickness of the cover – is the absolute minimum you can have for a keyboard and, after many different prototypes, that is what they opted for.
We do need to give the Coverboard a more extensive trial but it was difficult for us to touchtype on a keyboard of this size – we were impressed by the idea of it though.
Unlike the Transformer Prime’s dock Archos’ keyboard doesn’t have any battery power, but there is a proprietary USB connector on the back so you can charge the tablet through the device. Interestingly, this is one of the first times Archos has gone down the proprietary route, but it was the only way it could fit a connector on the ultra-thin cover.
As for the actual tablet, it is really thin at just 8mm and weighs a mere 600g. The tablet has a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 display and looks-wise it is the business. Although there’s no sign of Gorilla Glass, Archos has opted for a bind fiber casing and a metal frame. This is said to give it enough strength to not smash when dropped on its corner. It certainly feels durable.
On the front there is a thin speaker grill and a front-facing 720p camera. Flip it over and there’s no camera to be seen, so you want be able to go out and about and take photos with the Archos 101 XS. We have seen enough people try and do this with an iPad, however, and this can only be a good thing.
Connections-wise there’s USB, mini HDMI out and a microSD card slot. This will definitely come in handy as the Archos 101 XS only comes with 16GB storage as standard – any more and you will have to use the expandable memory.
It only comes in the silver-white colour too – we’re guessing this is to help with the manufacturing process of the tablet.
There’s also Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi direct and Bluetooth 4.0 on board, as well as a microphone and GPS.
When tried out the multi-tasking capabilities of the Archos 101 XS in our hands on and were impressed with what we saw.
The tablet comes with a multi-core Arm A9 chipset clocked to 1.5GHz which isn’t mind-blowing but there was no noticeable lag when we tried outAsphalt 6, checking out TechRadar on the web and loading up OfficeSuite Pro 6 – which comes free with the tablet.
The viewing angle on the screen was great too, even in direct sunlight.
Those who like their Android vanilla will be pleased to hear that the Archos 101 XS has no overlay whatsoever, so what you get is full Ice Cream Sandwich as Google intended and it is fully Google certified too.
This is definitely a good thing, but Archos has also added a number of its own services to the device. On board is the Archos Media Centre with its video carousel, which is decent enough to use. It’s good with metadata, too, so any movie you load into it will come up with information about the film and even the option of subtitles should you need them.
Considering Archos’ pedigree is in delivering a decent media experience, regardless of the codec you use, it’s nice to see this on board. There’s also the usual Google Video and Music portals as well.
Couple this with mini-HDMI port and streaming capabilities and what you have is a very competent media device.
The Archos 101 XS is a well-designed, nice looking device but, and we’ll say it again, don’t go expecting too much from its keyboard functionality. While it is a nice added extra – and one that apparently doesn’t take anything away from the tablet’s 10-hour battery life – it won’t impress those who crave the professional feel of the Transformer Prime. It seems that a loss of inches doesn’t really equal quality.
This niggle aside, though, Archos looks as though it may well finally have a contender in the Android tablet market. We won’t be able to say for certain, though, until we test it extensively in our upcoming Archos 101 XS review.
The Archos 101 XS release date is mid September and will be priced at £299.99.
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