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We were glad to see that the Archos 101 XS did live up to our expectations of being thin and affordable and was pretty much exactly how it looked in the video presentation I saw during the press conference held by Archos’ CEO Paris, France (March 2012).

For $399, users get an elegant, thin & light tablet with a detachable keyboard dock that doubles as a tough protective cover named Coverboard by Archos.Compared to its counterpart the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 which is more expensive (with the dock), the Archos 101 XS is lighter and noticeably thinner.

The TF300 without dock is 0.38”(9.9mm) thick and weighs 22.4 oz (635g) , the dock itself is 0.4” (10.2mm) thick and weighs 19.4 oz (546g), while the Archos 101 XS is 0.31”(8mm) thick and weighs 21 oz (595g) and the Coverboard is only 0.2” (5 mm) thin.

The great integration of the physical keyboard in a light and compact body is one of the key value of the Archos 101 XS, we all need great productivity while on the go. This elegant tablet looks very attractive for the price, and our complete review will hopefully provide a good sense of whether or not this device is for you.

Technical highlights

Display: 10.1-inch screen with 1280 x 800 resolution
Dimensions: 10.7’’ x 6.7’’ x 0.31’’
Processor: OMAP 4470 CPU Dual Core 1.5 Ghz with PowerVR SGX544 GPU
RAM: 1GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB internal Flash Memory + expandable to up to 64 GB via MicroSD card (SDXC)
Front camera only
Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Micro USB, MicroSD (SDXC up to 64 GB), Mini HDMI

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what we do with tablets: we typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is relatively tedious. We browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music — except during a flight.

On the “apps” side, we have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games during work days, or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…

Industrial design

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Eliane was there when Archos revealed its bold tablet strategy, right after Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Paris. The Archos CEO showed mock-ups of the Archos G10 XS (the tablet “family”), which the Archos 101 XS (the tablet) is part of.

At that time, the company planned to develop a 7.6 mm thick tablet (see the mock-up) that would have been as thin as the Toshiba Excite 10 LE and much thinner (in %) than the iPad 3 (9.4mm). Crafting ultra-thin computing devices is a real challenge when manufacturers do not want to sacrifice the quality of features like battery life and loudspeakers, among other things.

Eliane remembers being stunned by such a product roadmap and the fact that it could actually come from Archos. For its previous 10-inch tablet, the Archos 101 G9, the manufacturer decided to go “super bulky” to offer humongous storage capacity (250 GB HDD + 16GB Flash Memory), a clever decision knowing that many of us use tablets primarily to watch movies during long trips (car or plane).

On the design side, the main differences with the previous version is its compact size, its lightness and its color, the Archos 101 G9 was dark grey while the new 101 XS combines white and light gray with a mix of plastic (white) and stainless steel  (gray).

archos 101 sx review 6521 640x395The build quality feels a bit less solid compared to the Galaxy Note 10.1or the iPad, however, both devices are bulkier, heavier and more expensive. If we compare it with an equivalently-priced 10-inch Android tablet, the Archos 101 XS delivers a more stylish look and feel than the Asus Transformer Pad TF300, in a thinner and lighter body. Additionally its build quality feels better than the TF300’s.

archos 101 sx review 6518 640x347Out of the box, the device comes with the Coverboard, a super thin (0.2”- 5 mm) protective cover that can be transformed into a keyboard dock which easily connects to the tablet, thanks to its magnetically guided docking system.

Magnetic bands placed around the chicklet-style keyboard allows the Coverboard to stay in place when it covers the tablet, and to open, the Coverboard simply twists to separate. (see picture)

archos 101 sx review 65151 640x426The integrated magnetic kickstands holds the tablet in the back, and can be easily folded back into the Coverboard once you need to close the device. (see picture)

archos 101 sx review 6523 640x366Connectivity-wise, Archos did not sacrifice anything, on the contrary, we are glad to see that it offers a mini HDMI out port (vs. MHL connectors don’t work on all HDMI TVs), a micro USB port, a microSD port (SDXC up to 64 GB) and an audio jack, all placed on the left side. The keyboard dock gets its own micro USB connector that allows charging the tablet when connected to the Coverboard and a power outlet. There is no internal battery in the keyboard. (to complete)

archos 101 sx review 6520 640x426On the right side, you will find the power and the volume buttons, they are discreetly integrated in the body.Eliane likes the fact that its ultra small size makes it almost invisible, Hubert thinks the power button should be more obvious to find, since you have to use it very often. To Eliane’s point, once you know your device’s buttons layout, you can usually operate it even in the dark.

archos 101 sx review 65141 640x426The loudspeaker is subtly integrated on the right side of the display,and the front camera is located on the left side, probably to provide a good experience for video conferencing in portrait mode.

There is not back camera, our “guess-radar” indicates that it is mainly to ensure cost reduction while helping to keep the device thin.

As we stated in previous reviews, although we have seen tourists shooting pictures with their tablets, the majority of people would use their phone to snap photos,not their tablet. In our opinion, it is always a wise decision to remove the backside shooter to keep tablet costs low. We know that developing low-cost tablets with high quality components is extremely difficult, especially for OEMs that do not have as much purchasing power as the ultra-big players like Samsung or Apple. Note that Google and Asus made a similar decision with the Nexus 7.

Display (good)

archos 101 sx review 6526 640x426The display has a good contrast (deep blacks), however the brightness is not as good as more expensives 10-inch tablets including the Asus Transformer Pad F300.

You will get a good image quality for watching video with the brightness sets at maximum, for example the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 provides the same image quality with brightness set at 50%. The Archos does well indoors, but in a bright environment, things may become hard to see.

What’s new?

The processor has been upgraded from the OMAP 4460 / 1.5 Ghz version to the OMAP 4470 / 1.5 Ghz . The internal storage capacity has been reduced from 250 GB  to 16 GB, and the new MicroSD (SDXC) slot allows for up to 64GB memory expansion – previously it was up to 32 GB.  The removal of the hard drive makes the 101 XS elegant and thin (8 mm), the G9 101 with hard drive was 15.6 mm thick.

Killer apps

archos 101 sx review 6531 640x426Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.

The virtual keyboard uses the standard Android one (or close enough), so the layout etc is pretty good, and at the very least, well-known. Hubert found the keyboard to be a bit “laggy”, and it would regularly miss out key presses when attempting to type fast. This can be frustrating for the fast typer.

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Next to the ASUS Transformer keyboard, the Archos one is a bit smaller

Physical Keyboard: We really like the feel of the white chiclet-style full Qwerty keyboard and the fact that it is so thin (0.28” – 5 mm) and cleverly integrated inside the cover, making it very comfortable to carry. Eliane is not a standard typist, and she is efficient using the Coverboard. Hubert has larger hands and he found it difficult to hit the spacebar with his thumbs. We always recommend that you try the keyboard yourself before purchasing. Anyhow, at $399, this is a combo that is hard to beat. Note that the keyboard keys are smaller than the ASUS keyboard dock (see photo).

Email: The Archos 101 XS uses the regular Android Email application (which is different from the GMail app). We have synchronized it with an Exchange Server and everything worked just fine. Emails get downloaded in the background as soon as the notification has been received.

Some Email clients “cheat” by checking only the notifications, but download the actual message only when you open the email app. This *may* save some battery life, but it is also a major annoyance in my opinion. Fortunately, this is not the case here.

We get a lot of emails, so this is a big deal for us, and we feel like we can actually get some work done in an efficient way with this. On a daily basis, the most important features are the search and background download. Not having a search is a “no go”, and having the app load the emails only when you open the app is frustrating.

Calendar : The calendar is also the standard one, so there isn’t much to say other that it is clean, and efficient enough for most people in our opinion. We’ve got fairly busy schedules and this works for for us.

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Incoming video (in Skype) from my desktop PC with a Logitech C920

Skype: we tested Skype and the good news is that the incoming video quality is nice and fluid (depending on your network!), and the audio call quality is very good (most device get that right). Unfortunately, the outgoing video quality is blurry, and to be fair, even more expensive Android tablets suffer from this problem. It is as if the hardware video-encoder was not used, but we don’t know for sure.

Archos 101 xs outgoing skype video

This is the video coming out of the tablet, going to my PC (in Skype). blurry, right?…

Office Suite Pro: Office Suite pro comes pre-loaded in the device, which is a great value, when bought on Google Play it costs $14.99. According to a recent (June 2012) review published on InfoWorld, Office Suite Pro offers “the best experience for word processing on an Android tablet” . Knowing that a lot of business travelers are looking at replacing their notebook by a tablet while seating in a plane. Archos made a good decision in offering this killer app for free. The software combined with the thin keyboard dock offers one of the best combo for business productivity in airplanes you can find in an Android tablet.

Other pre-loaded applications: the 101 XS comes with 12 pre-loaded applications including Angry Birds, one of my favorite tablet game, Fruit ninja (game), Gameloft Spider Man (game), Facebook, Twitter.

Entertainment

Video: As it is the case with most recent tablets, the Archos 101 XS had no problem at all playing our 1080p HD movies. Of course, its display is not 1080p, but this means that you would be able to import/copy movies of higher quality than the Google Play rentals if you so desire. As for format compatibility, in theory Android has enough video players to replay almost anything, but keep in mind that the default player is the only one that’s pretty much guaranteed to use the video hardware decode.

archos 101 sx review 6528 640x426Gaming: We’ve played Dead Trigger, a Zombie first person shooter (FPS), which is relatively demanding, and it ran just fine and fluid. We don’t have a FPS number, but it was fast enough that we didn’t care (30-60).

Speaker-quality: The speaker is relatively loud, but the sound comes from a single point, so it may be a little “flat”, and doesn’t sound as good as the more expensive devices. Again, this is something that isn’t surprising, but overall, it’s a very fair price/quality ratio.

Imaging (no rear camera)

Because Archos needed to shrink the bill of material to have a keyboard out of the box. There is no rear camera and, so the front webcam is the only imaging device available on the tablet. The quality is fair, but we don’t expect you to snap your family or holiday. In any case, video chat application usually degrade the image enough that the actual optics of the cameras aren’t limiting video chat in any way – except in cases of low-light situations maybe.

Performance (very good)

Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.

archos 101 xs antutu

The archos 101 XS gets an average score in terms of absolute CPU performance, but it is also a different package than the others, given that it comes with the keyboard dock for $399. That said, it is also faster than a lot of tablets which were equipped with dual-core chips, so in the grand scheme of things, this is not so bad.

Nenamark 2 is a test aimed at measuring the graphics processor performance. It is handy, but keep in mind that the latest games use much more complex techniques that are not represented in this test.

archos 101 xs nenamark2

Interestingly, the Archos 101 XS has very good graphics performance, and although the fastest tablets are still significantly ahead, the Archos 101 XS is most definitely fast enough to play recent games like Dead Trigger with ease. Gaming should not be a problem.

SunSpider is a Javascript test that mostly measures how good the Javascript engine is. Performance jump of 100% have been witnessed after software updates, so keep in mind that this may not be a great CPU test. It also uses a single-core, so it won’t be able to differentiate much between single and multicore architectures. Also, please don’t consider it to be a “web performance” test, because it is not. Most of the perceived web performance is felt during the load time and rendering time, both of which often have nothing to do with Javascript performance.

archos 101 xs sunspider

The performance in JavaScript code execution is good and well in-line with what you can get for this price range. Future firmware updates may help significantly here.

Perceived performance

“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?

The overall perceived performance is very good. Things are relatively quick, and it feels like a very decent tablet. That said, we don’t think that it is as responsive as the Transformer TF201, TF300, TF700 or the Galaxy Note 10.1. On the other hand, the Archos 101 XS is also much more economical (if you want the keyboard/dock), so you need to look at the value proposition here.

Battery life

Archos did not communicate what the battery capacity is, we’ve run some tests to see what we could do with it when using it for common things like movie playback. Here are the results below:

60mn video (streaming) on Google Play : 25%
Overnight (8hr) battery depletion (WiFi ON, GMail Sync): 5%

An overnight depletion of 5% is pretty good, and means that the tablet can stay “alive” for almost one week, if left alone. We’ve bought a movie (HD) on Google Play and after watching it for 60mn, about 25% of the battery life was gone. That obviously translates into 4hrs or so of movie playback in those conditions, and we suspect that a local movie (no streaming) may last as much as 5hrs.

Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.

Conclusion

The Archos 101 XS offers good bang for the buck and does not sacrifice the look for the price.In fact, it is the most stylish 10-inch tablet under $400 we have seen. The tablet+keyboard combo offers one of the best solution for mobile productivity in an Android tablet.

The virtual keyboard could be better, however, since the Coverboard can always be attached to the tablet, that feature might become less important.

The display has good contrast, the brightness level could be a bit better. Our battery test was done with a brightness level set at 50%, and you get a decent image quality and a comfortable viewing experience when indoors.

The battery life is very good in standby mode while it is regular for video streaming and local video playback. Thanks to its fast PowerVR GPU, the gaming experience and measured performance are very good.

The Archos 101 XS is good for people who value productivity, like to travel light and in style — while saving money.

Filed in Featured >Reviews >Tablets. Read more about Archos.

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