Tablet specialist Archos has given an early look at its Gen10 XS range of Android devices, which are set to start arriving in the UK within weeks.
Like Microsoft's Surface, the tablets have a removable magnetic cover with built-in keyboard and dock stand.
The first to launch will be the £299 101 XS, a 10.1-inch model that will hit shelves in mid-September, the company said on Wednesday. It will be followed by 9.7-inch and 8-inch devices before the end of 2012.
The 101 XS has a TI OMAP 4470 multicore processor clocked at 1.5GHz and 16GB of internal storage.
It will arrive running an unskinned version of the Ice Cream Sandwich Android 4.1 OS. An update to Jelly Bean, the successor to ICS, is scheduled for November but could come earlier, an Archos spokesman told ZDNet.
"You can trust us on the update," he said. "After all, all of our tablets have always gone through at least two versions of Android."
The 101 XS has a display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and a 1280x800-pixel resolution. While it does not use Corning Gorilla glass, a company spokesman told ZDNet that it will happily stand up to knocks and bumps.
occasionally suffered from visible cross-hatching on the display, which the manufacturer said was down to the previous chassis. To fix this, the 101 XS uses an over-moulded stainless steel frame.
One of — the 'coverboard' — which doubles up as the keyboard and dock for the device.
In quick hands-on use, removing the cover from the device was easy enough and best achieved with a little twist. A triangular section on the rear provides a guide for docking the tablet with the coverboard.
The coverboard is not a standard PC keyboard either, as it contains dedicated buttons for Android functions. For example, it has a shortcut to the Home screen, much like the Windows button on PC keyboards. It also has a DC input, which means the tablet can be charged while docked.
"We were really happy when Microsoft announced the Surface, because they took the route of not making clickable keys," the Archos spokesman told ZDNet.
"We spent ages on the coverboard working out how thin we could make it and still have the sensation of pushing down, which is what's important typing on keyboards on laptops," he added.
When the coverboard is in place, the combined depth of the 101 XS is just 13mm, making it about 1mm thicker than Apple's iPad plus cover.
The coverboard on its own is 5mm thick, and is secured firmly in place by its magnets. The tablet on its own is 8mm in depth.
While (the Archos spokesman suggested no one liked using a camera on the rear of a 10-inch tablet) there is a front-facing 720p camera for video calling.
Colour options for the 101 XS are limited to just 'Iced Steel'.
Other key hardware specs of the 101 XS tablet include microSD support for cards up to 64GB, 1GB RAM, a mini-HDMI out, micro-USB port and Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility. The device will come in Wi-Fi-only, without any 3G option.
The 101 XS tablet is Google-certified, meaning it comes with access to the full range of apps in the Google Play store. It will also come pre-loaded with other, removable, apps.
To , Archos has included a pre-loaded version of OfficeSuite Pro 6 (valued at just under £10 on ).
The 101 XS also comes with a claimed battery life of 30 hours when used for music playback, seven hours of video playback, or around 10 hours of "a bit of everything", the company spokesman said.
There are also a number of accessories (sold seperately) on offer for the 101 XS. These include a separate dock (pictured above), which provides charging options, and two full-size USB ports.
Archos has traditionally focused its tablets towards multimedia playback, and the 101 XS is no different: it will happily play a wide range of media file types. It has a custom-designed 'Media Center' app and Video Carousel, which aims to make finding and playing video files simpler.
There's also an Android app designed to control the tablet (for all functions) when it is docked and connected to a large-screen display.