Saturday, June 25, 2011

Archos Unveils $349 10-Inch Tablet with 250 GB Hard Drive


Faster, better, cheaper: Pick any two. Archos seems to have chosen better and cheaper for its upcoming "G9" Android tablets, where "better" means "more powerful" and "more storage space." But will that make either of them a better choice than the iPad 2?

The specs, and what they mean

The Archos G9 will come in two flavors, the 8-inch and the 10.1-inch. Both will have a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, which may make them more powerful than similarly-priced PC laptops. These are Android tablets, though, so you're not going to be running PC apps on them.

What will you be using them for? Archos' pedigree involves making media players, and the G9 tablets are designed for heavy-duty HD video watching. Both can supposedly play 1080p video without breaking a sweat, unlike the iPad 2 (which doesn't even have a 1080p display), and will be able to output it through their HDMI ports without needing a special adapter.

Oh, and those videos? A 16 GB iPad 2 can hold about half a dozen 720p HD movies, depending on filesize, and that's if you don't put any music on it or take any pictures with it. The Archos G9 Android tablets will have 250 GB hard drives, letting them hold up to 40 movies in full 1080p.

Not so good with the "apps" thing

The G9s' biggest downside may be in the apps department. First off, the Android Market doesn't have nearly as many tablet-specific apps as the App Store does. And no, the G9s won't be able to run the 65,000 iPad apps; only an iPad can do that.

Second, app loading times. Think of how long it takes for an app or game to load on your smartphone. Well, the bottleneck isn't processor speed; it's how fast it can load the data off of whatever it's stored on. And the flash memory used by the iPad (and most smartphones and memory cards) is a heck of a lot faster than your laptop's hard drive.

The Archos G9s will be using hard drives instead of flash memory. So while it may be too early to tell, it's probably a safe bet that games and apps will take longer to load than on other tablets.

More downsides to the tablet

Another thing to consider is that Archos has never been known for its devices' quality. Power? Yes. Screen size? You betcha. But build quality and ease of use? Not really. They're harder to quantify, but they can be the difference between a tablet you love and a cheap piece of junk that won't do what you want it to.

Archos' previous devices had their fans, but they didn't have Android Market access and tended to have resistive touch screens; Nintendo DS-style single-touch screens that you used with a fingernail or a stylus. Neither of these design decisions screamed "quality."

The promo video for the G9s shows that they'll have capacitive, iPad-style multitouch screens, though, while Archos' press release promises Android Market access. So maybe Archos has learned its lesson. But with prices as low as $349 for the 10-inch tablet, and $279 for the 8-inch model, one has to wonder what design tradeoffs were made.

More details

Neither tablet will ship with 3G capability, but 3G wireless Internet access can be added via a $49 adapter and a pay-as-you-go plan. The tablets will be available at the end of September.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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