But Archos wants to start from scratch with this second generation of the GamePad, as though the first were some sort of trial run that should never have been. This time the 7-inch capacitive touchscreen is an IPS panel with 1280 x 800 pixels and the processor is a 1.6 GHz Rockchip RK3188 (ARM Cortex-A9) with 2 GB of RAM. There's 8 GB of onboard storage, expandable via microSD for up to 64 extra gigs.
A micro-USB port for charging and data transfers, a mini-HDMI output and a 3.5mm audio jack make up the physical connectivity, while Wi-Fi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 make up the wireless. Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is the operating system, to which Archos added a few extra apps such as its renowned media player and two full games compatible with the physical controls: Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 4.
The Archos GamePad 2 sells for around £150, depending on the retailer.
DESIGN & HANDLING
Archos has done some remarkable work improving the handling and ergonomics. The GamePad 2 sits much better in the hands and is still quite light. Like the first time around, Archos struck the right idea by putting the speaker outputs on the front instead of along the sides or the back where your hands would block them while you hold it. The subtle curves on either side of the back make it that much more comfortable to hold. The design is sober, much more stylish than the first GamePad, and with higher quality finish.
Most of the controls are the same as on the first GamePad: two analogue sticks, A, B, X and Y on the right and the D-pad on the left, plus Start and Select. Except the GamePad 2 has two new shoulder buttons for a total of four; they're much more manoeuvrable, more precise, more fluid to use. Our only complaint is that they didn't switch the positions of the left joystick and the D-pad; it would have been far more comfortable than to have your thumb constantly bent to the side while you play. That said, retro gamers who use the D-pad more often might prefer this setup.
Archos has revamped the D-pad, bringing it from simply four buttons arranged in a cross to a real, fully directional navigator with high precision in the diagonals. The shoulder buttons sit perfectly under your index fingers, ready to be pressed. Even before turning the GamePad 2 on, you can tell the experience will be infinitely more promising than the first.
The left side of the tablet heats up a bit when you play more graphically complex games, but not enough to worry about.
This is Archos' finest mobile display to date. For one thing, by deciding to go with an IPS panel instead of the mediocre TN screen that afflicted the first GamePad, the firm guaranteed its new baby virtually flawless viewing angles. The 934:1 contrast and brightness of up to 393 cd/m² are equally gratifying, a combination that provides excellent legibility indoors and acceptable visibility outdoors, despite the glossy surface. But, as always with devices like this, you'll want to avoid positioning direct light sources behind you, as they'll cause reflections and glare.
It's weird, the GamePad 2 has faithful colours. We're used to seeing astronomically high Delta E's on Archos devices (the first GamePad had a dE of 10.3—where three and below is ideal), but Archos went and screwed up the routine by making a screen with superbly natural, accurate tones and an average dE of 3.3, which is just shy of flawless. Greys look remarkable, as do flesh tones, which just happen to be the shades that make movies look best on a screen like this! The colour temperature is stable across the spectrum at a nearly spotless 6,622 K, effectively avoiding any exaggerated tones.
The display has a ghosting time of 29 milliseconds, which is quite long for IPS, but Archos strikes back with an impressive 74 ms touch response time (similar to the first iPad Mini).
Of course, when it comes to resolution the GamePad 2 simply can't compete with the 1920 x 1200 pixels featured on the better known 7-inch Android slate that is the Google Nexus 7. But either way, 1280 x 800 pixels is still plenty for a 7-inch screen, providing perfectly acceptable legibility in the interface, online and in apps.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
It is not in Archos' ways to fundamentally disrupt the order Google establishes with its operating system, so the GamePad 2 pretty much features Android in its unadulterated state, with the exception of a few of the brand's in-house wallpapers and apps.
The exclusive apps are: Archos Music and Archos Video Player, both of which look cool and support just about any file type, plus Archos Remote Control and Game Zone. The standard Google apps (Gmail, Hangout, Google+, YouTube, Chrome, etc.) also come pre-installed, as does the free version of OfficeSuite 7.
Most everything runs smoothly, but we did notice some minor lags when coming out of sleep mode and a few unfortunate transitions between certain apps, especially when jumping from one game to another or when turning on or saving the mapping tool.
The Internet runs fast and fluid on the GamePad 2, as do zooming and scrolling. The screen's high definition makes content easy to read (although not as much as on the Nexus 7 or iPad Mini with Retina Display, of course).
Archos Video Player has been the star of its last several generations of tablets. From SD and Full HD to MKV and AVI, it will read the great majority of files you throw at it with perfect fluidity. As an added plus, it's able to remotely access and stream files stored on other devices.
There are two things to consider when talking about the GamePad 2 as a portable console. First, there's the internal hardware: Rockchip's latest quad-core processor with its Mali-400 MP4 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. These are easily capable of running anything from retro emulators to the latest 3D games from Google Play Store (or Archos Game Zone). The only drawback is you won't get the juiciest graphics possible on more complex recent titles; they'll just run smoothly.
The second thing to take into consideration is the external hardware. Archos really worked on the GamePad's compatibility, and we salute them for it. Also, there's the mapping tool that allows you to quickly and easily assign a given touch or accelerometer command to the button of your choice.
The list of compatible games is growing by the day, although we noticed some minor issues with some of them. In Grand Theft Auto III, for example, the left analogue stick didn't always respond correctly. Which button or action it is that doesn't respond or that responds too slowly will depend on the game.
But when all the controls work as they should—and they usually do—games become really fun to play, especially FPSs or when you hook the console up to a TV via a mini-HDMI/HDMI cable (not included). Archos has made real progress with this tablet-console concept.
Archos also seems to have learned its lesson from the first GamePad: no low capacity batteries on a portable gaming console. In addition to the more power-efficient chip, the battery has been upped from 3,000 mAh to 5,000 mAh. The GamePad 2 lasts for a bit more than 7 hours of video playback, and around 7½ hours with varied usage including e-mails, Internet, movies, etc. For straight-up gaming, it lasts anywhere from 4½ hours to 5 hours and 20 minutes on average, depending what kind of game you're playing. The GamePad 2 charges quickly, in just under 2½ hours.
The front-facing camera is clearly not one of Archos' priorities here. Pictures look washed out and murky and videos have crazy amounts of latency and ghosting. It's hardly even worth it for video calls. Don't bother.