Archos Gamepad

I've had a soft spot for Archos since my first proper Android tablet computer, the Archos 80 G9. Since the release of that device in 2010 the market has changed drastically. Archos used to rule the sub £200 segment of the market with devices of questionable build quality and software support. Now the French company is in a very crowded market where even Google compete on price with the excellent Nexus 7 (2012) and the Nexus 7 (2013). This month I spent my pocket money on an Archos Gamepad, so lets see what £104 of your hard earned cash gets you.

Archos realise that the market segment they used to rule in Europe and the USA with their inexpensive and relatively good value for money tablets has changed and they now have to differentiate their products. With the Gamepad they have done just that by adding hardware gaming controls to a basic seven inch tablet.

The tech specs are as follows:

Display: 7" 1024x600 capacitive (5 point multitouch)
Processor: dual-core ARM Cortex A9 running at 1.6GHz
GPU: Quad Core Mali 400 MP
Storage: 8GB expandable with up to 64GB MicroSD
Camera: Front facing only
OS: Android 4.1 JellyBean with full access to Google Play Store

On paper the tech specs look good and as well as the usual Android software sets with full access to the Google Play Store Archos include their own media player software (which is excellent) and Gamepad mapping tool. The good news is that it is practically stock Android with no Archos XperiaWizSense.

The screen seems to be a standard LCD unit very similar to the one seen on other first generation Android Honeycomb (3.0) tablets or the current crop of low end Android ICS or JellyBean devices. At 1024x600 it is relatively nice and sharp but the pixel density enthusiast in me does not rejoice. Colours and brightness on the screen are passable, and there is definitely a bit of a contrast ratio issue which seems to be out of control when you change brightness levels. Viewing angles on the screen are barely acceptable, if just one person is using the device once their line of sight goes off a perpendicular trajectory to the screen things go all funky and almost flip to negative.

In terms of gaming hardware you get "Gaming Wings" on each narrow side of the device in landscape orientation. These have a analogue joysticks on each side, directional buttons, action buttons and trigger buttons (on the top edge of the device). These controls are great for gaming and can be easily customised to any game or emulator running on the Android OS. The "Gaming Wings" also house the front facing stereo speakers, which for a device in that price range are better than average.

The front facing camera does the job it has to for video calling using Google Hangouts or Skype, but the lack of camera on the back means you can't show off your foot on the bus and are mostly limited to selfies to upload to your favourite social networks. Not so good if your main occupation is uploading pictures of cats to the internet.

Android 4.1 runs the show, and keeps the Archos Gamepad mostly smooth and responsive throughout the device. I am impressed with the Archos button mapping tool. As with most other Android devices there are plenty of cool games in the Play Store, but the main reason I purchased the device was to play classic video games in an emulator. The gaming controls were the main selling point to me and I was pleasantly impressed by how the buttons were already mapped to my favourite emulator's on-screen buttons.

Playing Nintendo 64, Playstation One, [etc. etc.] games is not that straightforward, but once you get the knack and use the right emulator things get real fun. Native Android games such as my favourite, Carmageddon, are fantastic too.

Battery life is acceptable on a device of low price point but if used with full screen brightness and emulator gaming, don't expect to get more than 3 hours gaming from a charge. In "normal" tablet use, when not gaming, the Archos gamepad gets a respectable 6 hours battery life. The only problem is that it is not suited for normal tablet use in portrait mode since the "Game Wings" get in the way.

The excellent Archos Music and Archos Video apps support the majority of file types and codecs and come preinstalled on the device. I'm particularly impressed by the Archos Video application which can play back HD video streams form my UPnP server through my WiFi home network. It's a shame the low quality screen affects how you view the content. I've noticed that is quite difficult for two people to watch a video at a same time because of the poor viewing angles.

Here's my conclusion: if you can put up with the pants screen and the short battery life and want a gaming device to run emulators on as well and have expandable memory, the Archos Gamepad is the device for you. If on the other hand you want to use the device as a "normal" tablet maybe look at getting Archos' other devices which can be less expensive and offer a slightly better experience. In my dream world Google (or Archos) would release a gaming edition of the Nexus 7 (2013) with Archos' form factor and then I would be hooked.

The Archos Gamepad is available at time of posting for £104 from Tesco Direct and in larger Tesco stores. It is also available from a variety of other online and bricks and mortar retailers.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.