Here, hidden beneath the 1024 x 768 IPS panel, we have a "lowly" single-core processor clocked at 1 GHz, using ARM Cortex A8 technology. It does, however, have 1 GB of RAM, which isn't nothing, plus 16 GB of storage. Like most of Archos' devices, it has a potpourri of ports: mini-HDMI, USB 2.0 Host, 3.5 mm audio, micro-USB and the power supply. It has a front-facing VGA webcam, a rear-facing 2-Megapixel photo/video sensor and Wi-Fi b/g/n, but no Bluetooth.
The Archos 97 Carbon will be going on sale at the recommended price of £219.
At first glance, the 97 Carbon looks quite fetching. At 9.7" with a 4:3 aspect ratio, it has more or less copied the dimensions of the ever-relevant iPad. The frame surrounding the screen is wide, but not too wide, and the buttons are all located on the same edge. The body consists of three distinct sections, each in a different material. There's the screen, a plastic border surrounding it, and the carbon/metal alloy back taking up the bulk of the device.
We were surprised to find the camera sensor in a curious location on the back. It's almost as though the designers closed their eyes and pointed their finger to a random spot on the shell. But ultimately it wasn't a bad choice, because you can hold the tablet any which way you like and your hand never blocks the sensor.
The mass certainly isn't as well distributed as it is on the iPad. The two are roughly similar in weight, but something about the 97 Carbon just makes it feel heavier in your hands.
The finishing is pretty far from what you'd call perfect, although we wouldn't call it a massacre, either. When you handle the slate you can hear tiny, little creaks due to the three-section build. It doesn't quite give the same impression of solidity that you have with Archos' other tablets, which feel more like an indivisible, unified whole.
Also worth noting, the 97 Carbon has no brightness sensor, so it doesn't automatically adjust the backlighting to fit the light in the room.
So, Archos has finally moved on to IPS displays... We have to say, we'd grown pretty tired of the excruciatingly narrow viewing angles on the TN screens in Archos' past several generations of tablets. You have to admit, the company can't really hide behind the old "cost" excuse anymore when even the "who's that" brands are launching 7-inch and 10-inch tablets (such as the Ainol Novo7 Aurora and Dust TC9-A10WB) with IPS displays for under £150.
The 545:1 contrast is a little disappointing for an IPS display. We're used to much better ratios, even on low-cost IPS tablets, where they sometimes go as high as 850:1.
The brightness, on the other hand, is one of the 97 Carbon's strong suits, reaching 360 cd/m². This isn't the highest we've seen, but it's enough backlighting to provide great legibility outdoors.
Add to that some very wide viewing angles (you only begin to lose contrast at the very extremities), and you have a respectable screen, especially compared to Archos' past tablets.
As for the colour rendering, blacks, greys, reds, cyans and flesh come out with an accuracy that's rare on this type of screen. However, if colour accuracy were in Leeds, then the greens, blues, yellows and purples would be off hiking somewhere in the Andes. So when you take the two extremes and mash them together, you get an average Delta E of 6.8. (Delta E measures the difference between the ideal, intended colours and the ones that appear onscreen; three and below is considered perfectly accurate.) To compare this to two other 9.7" 4:3 tablets, the latest iPad has an astounding Delta E of 2.2 and the budget Dust TC9-A10WB has 5.9.
The ghosting time is 25 ms, which is slightly higher than usual for IPS; we found no motion interpolation on the 97 Carbon. (Motion interpolation is when a black frame is inserted every 3 or 4 frames to make the animation appear more fluid.)
All in all, even with nearly half the contrast of its Apple, Asus and Acer counterparts, the 97 Carbon's display is enjoyable to look at because the overall rendering is still high enough to provide a more-than-adequate visual experience. Most importantly, Archos has stepped up its display game, which is something we've been desperately waiting to see...
Archos has no tricks up its sleeve regarding its integration of Google's operating system. This is pure Ice Cream Sandwich, with its minimalist interface and basic widgets and apps (Google+, Gmail, Google Play, GTalk, Play Music...). When unlocking the tablet, you can set it to either open the homescreen or go straight to the camera function.
Archos didn't arrange its widgets into a novel and enjoyable interface overlay the way Acer did with its "Ring". The video player actually functions outside of Android, meaning that you can't get to the shortcuts on your homescreen until you stop your video and close the player.
As for the tablet's management of Android and its own components, suffice it to say that the Archos 97 Carbon isn't exactly the wunderkind of 2012. The RAM helps shoulder the processor to a certain extent, but the interface gets choppy and sort of lags all over the place. In raw figures, this tablet is only a few steps away from the Huawei Honor smartphone. Nothing really works smoothly on this tablet, whether it's transitioning from one Android screen to another, moving from one app to the next or multitasking. We even witnessed some abnormalities, such as one-third of the homescreen that still showed the image from the video we had just closed (see the image below).
This may not have been an absolute catastrophe—the tablet still worked—but it shows there's a lot of fine-tuning and optimising left to be done. A simple upgrade could easily correct some of the flaws we encountered while navigating through the system.
We simply cannot finish this section without mentioning the Wi-Fi function, because the 97 Carbon turned out to be a true disappointment when trying to connect online. The Wi-Fi b/g/n module has difficulty holding onto even a full-bar signal coming from a router or hotspot right next to the tablet. But, worse yet, even when connected with a full signal the 97 Carbon still has trouble delivering an acceptable performance. The download speed is 3 times slower than the iPad and two LG smartphones, and twice as slow as the Ainol Novo7 Aurora (a 7" low-cost Chinese tablet). The upload speeds are at best somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 times slower than these devices.
This is certainly not one of the fastest tablets in the industry for browsing the web, whether it's on the default browser or a third-party app like Chrome, Dolphin HD or Firefox. But, as we mentioned earlier, content is well-displayed and legible. It's more or less the same experience as on the Dust TC9-A10WB, meaning that it's sort of like using the first-generation iPad (all three tablets have an IPS display with 1024 x 768 resolution).
Even with our Full HD- and Retina-accustomed eyes, the 97 Carbon's display is still comfortable to read when holding the slate in landscape mode. In portrait mode, however, you'll want to become friends with the precise, yet choppy zoom.
Video playback on the 97 Carbon isn't as extensive as it should be coming from Archos. The multimedia player is cursory and the compatibility limited (MPEG-4, H.264, AVF, MP4, FLV and MKV and AVI containers). So if you want to watch videos in other formats, you'll have to download a third-party app. The playback leaves much to be desired in the upper registers of HD resolution, with serious choppiness in 1080p at both low and high speeds. And the tablet gives exactly the same performance when hooked up to a TV via HDMI.
There's much more compatibility for images (JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG) and music (MP3, WAV, FLAC, OGG, APE). The sound on the speakers is an utter fail, with zero dynamics and a perfectible volume level. With the volume on max, you have to struggle to pick out even the slightest detail.
You can play video games via Google Play, but you'll be better off sticking with Angry Birds or tower defence games, which have relatively little graphical content. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try a round of Shadowgun, but you'd better get used to shooting enemies and dodging bullets in the midst of choppy animation and standstills.
Archos is advertising 8 hours of battery life. That's a theoretical estimate which, you guessed it, doesn't stand the test of practice. To be fair, it isn't wildly off, either. During video playback we got an average life of 7 hours and 10 minutes with the Wi-Fi turned off. But with more varied use, the battery lasted less than 6 1/2 hours. You can blame this on the testy Wi-Fi connection, which is capable of losing two bars just by moving a few feet from the source. These times are 2 to 5 hours shorter than other 9" and 10" tablets we've reviewed. And don't forget, processor-intensive 3D games sap the power like nothing else!
- Overall satisfactory screen, wide viewing angles
- Easy on the eye
- Nice size and aspect ratio: 9.7" and 4:3
- Very low contrast for an IPS display
- Generally choppy
- Minimal 3D gaming performance
- Atrocious sound
- Disappointing Wi-Fi
- Mediocre camera
- Low battery life
Archos' Elements series started off on the wrong foot with the 97 Carbon. While the more-than-adequate screen, wide viewing angles (a first for Archos), size, aspect ratio and ICS are all undeniable strengths, it's all run by a processor that's way behind the times and the whole thing is in need of optimising. Plus, if you just search around a bit you're bound to find a better device at the same price. Who knows, maybe an update will help correct the stability issues.