The GamePad has a 7" TN screen with 1024 x 600 pixels and runs on a 1.6 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor and 1 GB of RAM. There's 8 GB of built-in storage that can be boosted with up to 64 GB more via the built-in microSD card slot. Connections comprise a mini-HDMI port and a 3.5 mm headphones jack. The OS is Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Archos GamePad is out now for around £130.
Archos has managed to keep the device relatively compact—after all, it's not easy to shove a load of buttons around the screen without creating bulk—but there's still room for improvement when it comes to design and handling. The two analogue sticks, for example, are positioned slightly too low down, which your thumbs will definitely start to feel after a few minutes of gaming. The L1/R1 trigger keys fall perfectly under your index fingers, but this merely reinforces the feeling that the sticks aren't quite in right place for your thumbs to use naturally. Plus, in order to keep the device reasonably slim, the second L1/R1 triggers have been transformed into round buttons placed at the outer edges of each strip of controls (see above).
The analogue sticks have such a short and stiff trajectory of movement that controlling them with any kind of intricacy or precision is problematic. So with an FPS game or a third-person 3D platform game, your movements soon become chaotic, jolty and seriously lacking in fluidity. It's almost enough to make you miss the touchscreen controls ...
The speakers are located on the front of the tablet, just under the analogue sticks. They therefore often end up under your thumbs or covered by the palms of your hands.
The product finish is fine, with no worrying cracking noises or defects to report with the casing or around the connections.
The GamePad feels a nice weight in your hands. At just 330 grammes, you can play for 20, 30 minutes or more before you even start feeling a hint of fatigue.
Looking to keep costs to a minimum in this tablet (among others) Archos has picked a TN-type panel for the touchscreen. TN technology is a trademark feature of entry-level products, and is renowned for its very tight viewing angles and onscreen image quality that's not always that flattering. And that pretty much sums up the GamePad screen.
We measured the average contrast at 751:1—which is fine—but the tight viewing angles really don't do it any favours. In fact, you lose about half of the onscreen image as soon as you tilt the tablet slightly, and that's particularly bad form seeing as you naturally hold the GamePad at an angle when gaming. To maintain the best possible viewing conditions from a screen that's not that extraordinary to start with, you'll therefore need to keep your wrists tensed and bent upwards to keep the tablet held straight.
Plus, the maximum screen brightness is just 222 cd/m², which isn't really bright enough for comfortable outdoor use—especially with a screen that looks dark when viewed from an angle.
Colour fidelity isn't great either. All tones apart from yellow and cyan are dull, and are generally all over the place in terms of accuracy (the average Delta E here is 10.3, when it should be under three for colours to be considered accurate). The colour temperature is very high at 8606 kelvins and is far from even over the spectrum. This makes for a blue overtone that's particularly noticeable in lighter shades. The ghosting time of 26 ms leads to some ghosting with fast-moving or scrolling images and text, as well as a slight blurry effect in videos, especially in darker scenes.
The screen resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels seems a little low in today's market, especially in a product that's designed for playing heavyweight games from the Google Play Store. Needless to say, this screen doesn't get the best out of the their super-sharp graphics.
Archos uses Android 4.0 as the basic interface here. You'll therefore find the Google Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, Google+, Google Maps, Gtlak and Play Movies. On top of that, Archos has added its trademark media player, as well as the highly useful Archos Mapping Tool.
Although you might not guess so from the name, the Archos Mapping Tool is an exclusive app used for assigning actions and moves in Android video games to the physical buttons on the GamePad (if the game is compatible with physical controllers). This means you don't have to trawl through the often poorly designed settings menus in Android games to configure all your controls, which can really save time.
The GamePad runs its OS with relative speed, so long as you don't go too crazy with multitasking. It sometimes hangs when coming out of CPU-heavy games, and switching between applications can be glitchy as soon as you've got five or six apps running at once. All in all, performance levels aren't amazing, whether in terms of processing power or GPU/3D processing.
Web browsing is neither smooth (pages appear block by block) nor fast, but it's not such a terrible experience all in all. Note that it makes no difference whether you use the standard browser or an alternative like Chrome.
The zoom function is fast and relatively accurate. However, we found that we were often bothered by a slight shimmering on the screen when reading text on the GamePad (both in portrait and landscape modes). We therefore wouldn't recommend reading on this tablet for long periods of time.
The Archos media player app ensures compatibility with all kinds of file formats. However, some more heavyweight files that launch with no particular hiccups in the Android Gallery app sometimes have trouble getting going in the Archos player. That's something we noticed with large HD video files (without any particularly high-quality encoding).
When used as a standard touchscreen tablet, the GamePad is compatible with almost all of the games in Google's Play Store. However, not all of the games can be used with the tablet's physical controls—some remain touchscreen only. In compatible games (N.O.V.A 3, ShadowGun, PES 2012, Mass Effect Infiltrator, etc.) the physical controls are perfectly responsive ... which could be a real plus if the controls—especially the analogue sticks—had been designed more effectively.
The webcam in this tablet is about on par with the physical controls. Quality is mediocre and latency is a real problem no matter what the surrounding lighting conditions. Images are rendered with just about passable results.
As for audio, the speakers are OK so long as the volume doesn't go past the half-way setting. Beyond that, the output just saturates. The headphones socket is a bit of a joke too. It doesn't seem to work if you push the jack all the way into the socket—you instead have to push your headphones' 3.5 mm jack plug about three quarters of the way into the socket in order for the connection to splutter out some kind of signal. The headphones out lacks power and dynamic range, distortion is present and the stereo effect isn't particularly strong.
And this tablet has one last surprise in store, as the GamePad not only looks a bit like a Game Gear, but unfortunately also takes the same approach to battery life as Sega's retro console. Back in the day, you had to load up a bag of around 30 batteries if you hoped to finish Sonic while out and about. And with the GamePad, you'll need to keep a micro-USB charger in your pocket if you want to finish your game of ShadowGun in peace. Playing the multiplayer version of this game (called DeadZone) drains the tablet's battery in just 1 hr 40 mins!
So, we thought, perhaps this gaming tablet just has a little trouble handling power-packed games (spot the schoolboy error)? But no, the problem goes way beyond games. Video playback is just as disappointing, maxing out at 2 hrs 25 mins. With mixed use (games, e-mail, web, video) the weedy battery in the GamePad can be pushed to its limits at 3 hrs 35 mins on average. Thankfully, it only takes around two hours to charge the tablet fully, so you're back in action pretty quickly. But still, the GamePad has one of the worst battery lives we've seen in a touchscreen tablet.
- Interesting concept
- Mini-HDMI output for gaming on a TV
- Good for retro-gaming
- Archos Mapping Tool is handy for assigning functions to buttons
- Terrible battery life / Some hangs and slow-downs
- Analogue sticks haven't been designed very well
- Tight viewing angles (TN screen), screen resolution is a bit low
- Analogue sticks aren't in the most practical position
- Low-quality webcam / Audio quality and dodgy headphones socket
Sometimes even the best of ideas can be difficult to put into practice. Even with something that sounds great on paper, the results can be disappointing. And so, the Archos GamePad misses the mark. Asus should never have relied so heavily on cutting costs with the components, as this just makes for a product that doesn't handle particularly well and which has a terrible battery life.