Archos 101 XS 10.1in Android tablet review
Magnetic keyblet combo, anyone?
Archos has built a decent business making budget Android tablets, so I suspect the word 'merde' echoed loudly around the Igny HQ when Google pulled the rug asunder with its low Nexus 7 pricing. Archos hasn’t given up though and has now released a new device pitched as a budget alternative to the Asus Transformer Pad .
Archos 101 XS 10.1in Android tablet and keyboard combo
The 101 XS has two distinct parts. The tablet bares a resemblance to the Archos G9 101  except at 8mm front-to-back its much thinner and 50g lighter. The other part is called the coverboard – it’s part keyboard and part screen cover. It’s even lighter at a mere 200g and only 5mm thick.
To dock the two together you simply fold up the kickstand at the back of the coverboard and drop the tablet into place. Everything is held together by the miracle of magnetism – one on the kickstand and two in the trough the tablet rests in.
Magnetic mix and match
Separate the two pieces and place them together keyboard-to-screen and magnetic strips around the periphery hold the two parts together in a 13mm thick sandwich which protects both screen and keyboard. It’s all damnably clever and works rather well.
While docked I picked the unit by the tablet and waved it around vigorously and the two parts stayed stuck together. Since the whole caboodle is plastic, it’s not as robust nor solid as the Asus Transformer but you’d have to work at being extremely clumsy to break it.
Glass screen with a plastic casing that's surprisingly robust
Unlike some earlier Archos devices the 10.1in 1290 x 800 screen is made of glass rather than plastic but it’s still a bit ordinary in terms of colours and viewing angles when compared to the panels now used by Asus or Samsung. Give the tablet a twist, or poke the screen too fiercely and you can see ripple effects but, again, it’s easy enough to not do either, so I wouldn’t want to make too big a deal of it.
The downsides of the dock/tablet design are the lack of screen angle adjustment, no battery in the coverboard and very shallow key travel. But something has to give in the name of reduced size, weight and price. While the keyboard may be a bit cramped and shallow, the layout is well thought out with plenty of Android-specific shortcuts and handy foreign letters marked on the keys.
OK, so the Transformer keyboard is better, but the Archos coverboard is certainly an improvment on many third-party Bluetooth keyboards or no keyboard at all for that matter. Yet when it comes to ports and connectors, the coverboard only has a microUSB slot, so you can connect it to mains power and use it as a charging stand, as well as a keyboard. The tablet has the expected microUSB (On-The-Go), mini HDMI and MicroSD slots.
The Archos 101 XS uses the the same dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor with 1GB of RAM as the recently announced Kindle Fire HD. It’s a chip that Jeff Bezos said is better than a Tegra 3 but this is not the time or place to start getting bogged down in comparative floating point operations per-second  (at 34:48).
AnTuTu and Sunspider results
According to the AnTuTu benchmark numbers the 4470 is similar in performance to the basic 1.3GHz T30L Tegra 3 and, in use, the Archos 101 XS feels very much the same. That means the tablet is more than capable of keeping up with the Tegra 3 Joneses, and will do everything you want it to including playing the latest games and 1080p video. Using Chrome, the 101 XS also returned a very impressive Sunspider browser speed score of just over 1400.
The one howling failure of the 101 XS is the speaker - my God but it’s a shallow, raucous and grating affair. It’s plenty loud enough but that just gives it more scope to drag its sonic talons across your eardrums.
Speaker dock coming soon
Where the left hand speaker should be is a 1.3Mp webcam – the 101 XS only has the one camera – but frankly Archos would have been better advised to double the speaker count and move the webcam. That would make it easier on both the eye and ear. Thankfully, there is a bespoke speaker dock coming soon.
Running the show is Android 4.0.4 in near enough vanilla form and Archos has committed to a Jelly Bean update before the end of the year. Also on the software side you get the excellent OfficeSuite Pro 6, which is worth a tenner and Archos’ own video and music players that not only support UPnP and SMB networking but, in the case of the video player, all manner of file types including VOB and TS and most common subtitle types.
On-board movie player supports a wide range of formats
The battery fitted inside the tablet is rated at a rather puny 6800mAh, another sacrifice to the twin Gods of weight and thinness, which means you are looking at no more than 5 hours 30 of HD video playback or around 7 hours of more general use with the Wi-Fi on.
If the Archos 101 XS sounds like a good idea but one that’s just a bit too big – or at £299 too expensive or has the wrong aspect ratio screen – there will be 16:9 8in and 4:3 9.7in variations on the theme along in the next few months. If the 97XS hits the shelves for £250 or less, I reckon that could be the one to buy.
A likeable and affordable keyblet combo
After a week with the Archos 101 XS I find myself rather fond of it. This is thanks mainly to the clever and well executed coverboard design and the keyboard which is impressive for something so thin and light. The tablet part won’t keep the engineers at Asus awake at night, but remember for the price of a Transformer Pad, you can buy an Archos 101 XS and two-thirds of an 8GB Nexus 7. ®
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