Hands on with the Archos 10.1

I feel like we are finally starting to see decent Android tablets come into play. They aren’t the super dual core, Tegra 2 monsters we’ve seen sneakies of, but actual usable tablets. The Galaxy Tab really set a bar as far as quality and design goes, despite the arguments to the contrary. Archos has long been a supported of Android on their devices, though their previous attempts in the market have been unsuccessful due to some quality issues. Archos’ never say die attitude has brought them back with a whole cache of different devices in every shape and size, all running Android 2.2. Today, I was able to spend some time with their flagship, the Archos 101.

When you first turn the Archos 101 on, it’s pretty quick. Swipes from screen to screen are nice, and everything glides like it should. Archos has made quite a few changes to the stock 2.2 build of Android to accommodate their soft buttons and features. The lack of Google Apps, like the Android Market, kind of ruins the experience, though you are able to sideload apps. Sideloading apps is quick, and everything I could throw at it worked great. The hardware itself feels pretty solid, and the kickstand folds all the way back, giving you the ability to stand the tablet up on either side of the long plane of the tablet. It’s awkwardly long and narrow; you probably won’t take this tablet out of the house for much. With it’s battery life, however, you certainly could. It’s 2200MaH battery inside gave me just about 12 hours of video playback or gaming before I was given the red blinker. Speaking of gaming and movies, the built in speakers on this thing are very nice and loud, but still maintained quality.

Unfortunately, the nice things I have to say about the device have come to a close. When I came back to the tablet after an overnight charge, it was almost as though I was using a different device. The 101 had become sluggish in even the most basic tasks, and just about refused to  rotate when I turned the tablet. After rebooting the tablet, I was greeted with a warning that there was insufficient space on the tablet, and I needed to remove some things. In case you weren’t aware, this thing has 16 Gb of internal storage. I had installed MAYBE 15 apps. I went and looked around the filesystem and discovered that only 256 mb had been reserved in a separate space for apps. While poking around the settings in hope for a resolution, I noticed that where you would normally find “move to SD card” there was “move to internal storage” though nothing was installed on the SD card I had put in the device. Additionally, only two of the applications that had come preloaded would move to internal storage, and nothing else would. I also noticed another button in the settings that disturbed me. It was labeled “Format and reboot” and did exactly that. Once it powered back on, the smooth enjoyable experience I had at the beginning was back. Unfortunately, I was able to re-create my lagtastic experience once I began filling up that 256mb space again.

I can’t help but point out that a good majority of the people I know who are interested in this device were interested in it because of the price and the size. After all, it’s cheaper than the Tab, and 10″ so it’s made of pure awesome, right? No. The Galaxy Tab beats this device in every conceivable way, except screen size if you consider that to be a benefit, which I do not. Like Archos’ previous devices, it is completely lacking in polish, and I suspect that the reason it does not have the Android Market on it has more to do with the device failing Google’s test suite for Market deployment than anything else. In order for this device to be usable, Archos needs to step in and correct some of these rather significant errors. I feel that if that happens, or it if gets modded to a more polished rom (eg: CyanogenMod) it will be a really great tablet. Until then, unfortunately, the 10.1 is exactly what it looks like in black and white — a cheap tablet.