The Archos 101 XS might not have the most striking of names, but it's an interesting offering from a company with a long pedigree of making media devices and working with touchscreens.
Archos' budget offerings don't always hit the spot, but this £299.99 (inc. VAT; £250 ex. VAT) model, running Android 4.0 — and scheduled for an upgrade to Android 4.1 before the year is out — has real potential. It also sees Archos move beyond its customary media-consumption niche by bringing productivity into the mix via a bundled keyboard.
This is a relatively wide tablet, but that's not necessarily a drawback. The extra screen bezel on the short edges help you hold the tablet in landscape mode without fouling the touchscreen.
The build is quite attractive: white plastic and metal combine to deliver reasonably clean lines and a solid chassis, making the 101 XS feel like a substantial piece of kit. It's not too thick or heavy, measuring 273mm wide by 170mm deep by 8mm thick and weighing 600g (with the keyboard section adding another 200g). Beware that the metal back scratches easily and probably won't retain its pristine look for long.
Small on/off and volume buttons sit on the right edge, while the left edge has Mini-HDMI, microSD, Micro-USB (with USB host) ports plus a headset jack. The top is clear, while the bottom houses a proprietary docking connector and a couple of metal widgets that turn out to be magnets.
These magnets come into play with the bundled keyboard, helping to hold the tablet firmly in place, along with a flip-out folding support on the keyboard itself.
The keyboard has a rather lightweight feel to it and the key action is nowhere near what you'll get on a notebook — nor is it as good as that of the. The keys are small too. Having said that, it's still quite comfortable to use. It's also good to see a number of tablet-specific keys such as Home, recent apps and menu, as well as wireless toggles, volume and media controls, and screen brightness buttons.
The keyboard doubles as a cover for the screen (hence its 'coverboard' name), adhering with magnets running all around its outer edge. Their rubberised finish is the least pleasant visual aspect of the whole device. It's easy to slide the coverboard off to one side too, so the protection it provides isn't foolproof. Still, it's probably enough for when the Archos 101 XS is sitting on a desk.
The 10.1in. screen has a resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels, and is sharp and vibrant enough for our tastes, although there's no auto-brightness setting. Archos has omitted a rear-facing camera, but there's a small front camera on the left edge that's easy to obscure with a finger.
With a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and 1GB of RAM we found performance perfectly adequate for everyday use, and there's 16GB of internal storage. Professionals will appreciate the fact that Office Suite Pro is bundled.