What do you want from a tablet? It's a question that many reviews want you to ask yourself before invariably buying an iPad 2, but it's a question that's particularly relevant to the Archos 101 G9.
That's because Archos has focused on media playback for its latest machine, and it's done a pretty decent job of it. The Archos 101 G9 also happens to be a fully fledged Android 3.2 Honeycomb tablet at the same time. Plus there's the little point of cash - at £270 for 8GB, this is one of the most affordable Android 3.2 tablets that money can buy.
The obvious fear with any tablet focused on the budget market is that too many corners have been cut in order to bring it in at an iPad-destroying price point. But on paper, at least, there are no obvious miscarriages of silicon justice.
You get a 1GHz OMAP 4 dual-core processor courtesy of Texas Instruments, with a view to upgrading this to a faster 1.5GHz model in early 2012.
There are plenty of connection options - including a mini HDMI port, microSD slot and a standard micro USB port. And when it comes to the all-important display, you can rest assured that the 10.1-inch screen is capacitive (and responsive), and boasts a healthy native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels.
The Archos 101 G9 comes in two different flavours, each defined by the storage options available. The basic unit packs 8GB of storage and has a list price of £270 (although you should be able to pick this up for around £250), while a 16GB model, the Archos 101 G9 Turbo, is going to be available at the start of 2012.
Potentially more interesting is the 250GB additional memory on the Archos 101 G9, which uses a traditional hard drive. This will obviously make the unit a little more fragile than your standard tablet, but for a media machine, that's plenty of space for hours and hours of movies.
Connection options for the base unit are limited to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth only, but Archos is keen to promote its 3G USB dongle that can be plugged into a special slot on the machine's underside. This doesn't make much sense if you're thinking of tethering this to your television, but it does enable you to extend the usefulness of the machine to compete against much more expensive options.
The dongle can be used with your PC as well, which ticks the versatility box nicely.
Interface and apps
Archos has employed Android 3.2 on its 101 G9 tablet. Unlike previous tablets from Archos, this isn't a limited installation, and finally boasts full access to the Android Market.
This means you can install the swathes of applications, utilities and 3D games that appear on there - currently standing at some 300,000 apps, although the list of tablet-focused ones is still frustratingly low.
This isn't a Tegra 2 machine, but it doesn't seem to hold the Archos 101 G9 back too much when it comes to games - the likes of Dungeon Defenders works fine, while the ubiquitous Angry Birds Rio is smooth.
The Archos 101 G9 ships with a suite of tools pre-installed that focus on the machine's main strength, media playback.
The Music tool replaces the standard Android offering, making for a far more visually appealing interface for handling your favourite tunes.
The Video utility is more impressive though, pulling metadata and posters down to make for a great way of viewing information about your films and TV shows.
You're not limited to simply playing your movies off the tablet either, as you can connect it to your Windows shares to stream movies. It will handle 1080p content without breaking into a sweat, and will handle plenty of the main formats.
You'll need a mini HMDI to HDMI cable to get the most from this machine, and while we would have liked one to be included in the package, it's probably asking a bit much at this price point.
Performance and media
Playing back movies on the machine itself is smooth, but we're not entirely sold on the screen. While most expensive tablets tend to use IPS panels, such screens are expensive, and so in order to hit that low price point, Archos has instead gone for a more traditional LCD TFT panel.
Cheaper tablets, such as the Hannspree Hannspad, tend to use budget TN panels, which suffer from appalling viewing angles. But there's none of that apparent here, even from extreme angles.
What there is, however, is a coarseness to the pixel pitch that doesn't sit quite so well with a tablet aimed at enjoying media. There's an underlying grid on the screen that, once seen, is really hard to ignore.
It knocks out the vibrant areas a little, but is most apparent in darker areas, where muddy greens and browns seem to win out if the source image is much more intense. Even if you're watching the machine at a relative distance (using the flimsy stand to hold the tablet at a comfortable viewing angle), it's still apparent.
If we're being picky, it would have been good to have a standard-sized USB port too, so that you could plug USB flash drives filled with media into it.
You can of course connect to your shared devices wirelessly, if you've been forward-thinking enough to set such things up. Plus, the micro USB charging cable enables you to transfer straight from a host PC, so it's not a great loss. Even so, given how most media players, Blu-ray players and even TVs boast USB ports these days, it is notable for its absence here.
This model is somewhat limited in the storage stakes, as well. Sure you can slide a microSD card in the waiting slot for an easy boost, but install a few applications on there (especially the larger 3D games, such as the aforementioned Dungeon Defenders), and you'll eat through what's left of the 8GB of storage.
There's a reason why most tablets boast at least 16GB, and that's before you start looking at the huge storage-gobbling media.
Sound on the whole is passable, if not particularly amazing. Long movie watching is better experienced through headphones, and the same goes for playing back music. If all you want to do is watch the odd YouTube video or listen to a bit of internet radio, though, it's adequate enough.
Battery life is good, managing five hours of use when playing back movies. Playing games will reduce this, while simple surfing should see this extended to as long as seven hours.
Camera and build quality
The built-in camera is probably the weakest element of the Archos 101 G9. Even in good light levels the quality of the images taken are woeful, and when used in the standard low-lighting of most houses, it's barely usable. In theory you could get by using it for video conferencing, but realistically you'd be better off simply not bothering.
There's no rear-facing camera either, so you can pretty much forget using it to capture memorable moments if you do manage to take it out of the house. Trying to guess what is in the frame without seeing the screen isn't really what we've come to expect from modern technology.
If you're looking for a tablet that can put in a decent turn as a source for your social networking, then there are plenty of better options available - even the iPad 2's camera, which is universally derided for its lighting capturing capabilities, is better than this. And frustrations aside, the quality of photos captured by the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 beats this hands down.
There are plenty of plus points with the Archos 101 G9, and the odd negative, but to a certain degree these are all eclipsed by the tablet's chassis. It feels cheap, plasticy and generally not that impressive at all.
While the likes of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer has a solid chassis that feels like it can survive many knocks, this doesn't feel like it'd survive an unprotected trip in a handbag. The back of the unit flexes with even light pressure, while the stand that enables you to watch movies comfortably hands-free, bends worryingly easily.
The power and volume buttons don't have any positive feedback, and both of these are located exactly where you'd naturally want to hold the machine, which means they're prone to accidental pushing.
There aren't a lot of positives to mention for the physical implementation of the 3G dongle, either. The actual unit itself seems badly designed (requiring a side of the dongle to be removed so that it can slide into place). Once installed, this dongle needs to be eased out slightly from the main unit to improve reception as well. Given its location, this is less than ideal, too.
Possibly the most frustrating design choice, though, is that the screen sits behind a slight bezel. This means your finger will keep catching the edge of the screen surround when you're using it. It also looks far shoddier that it should do because of this design choice.
Why Archos felt the need to do it this way round, as opposed to having the glass screen in front of the machine's facia (like nearly every other tablet worth considering), is hard to fathom.
Regardless of what you've paid for your tablet, you don't actually want to it feel cheap. You want it to feel special, but you're not going to be showing off the Archos 101 G9 to anyone - which is a shame, because it is capable.
The Archos 101 G9 isn't an easy device to judge. Looked at purely in isolation, there's a lot to love here, thanks mainly to the fact that it handles media playback well. And that seemingly tempting price tag would appear to put the machine in a certain form of isolation.
There's a problem with the pricing though, and it's one that's going to be hard for Archos to solve. Essentially as the new Tegra platform, codenamed Kal-el, makes its way onto the market, that means that a whole host of existing machines are about to see some tempting price cuts.
These price cuts have already started to appear, and they're only going to continue. These cuts are leading other manufacturers to make much better hardware that costs only a few quid more and looks far more tempting than this clearly budget-focused system ever will.
Compare the Archos 101 G9 to a budget Motorola Xoom, and the two tablets feel poles apart, at least in terms of build quality and materials. It's true that the Archos is better built than most budget-focused machines, but ultimately it can't escape the price tag it has so clearly been built to.
A full Android 3.2 Honeycomb tablet at this price point is not to be sniffed at. Archos offers full access to the Android Market, at last, too.
The way your media is displayed in the Archos Video and Music apps is excellent, and thanks to album covers and movie posters, it produces an incredible experience. The fact that the Archos 101 G9 handles pretty much every format you could hope for is to be commended too.
Good connection options, with HDMI, microSD and micro USB ports, afford plenty of options for getting your media on and off the system.
A price that is far more tempting than the £400 standard that other manufacturers have decided is the entry price for the tablets. At £279 it's not the cheapest option, but it does offer more bang for your buck than its peers.
The plastic chassis feels cheap, making it something you use for functional reasons, rather than something you want to shout about as a paradigm shift in computing (which for some, will be reason enough to buy it).
The camera is truly awful, and with only a screen-facing lens, this isn't great for capturing those odd moments that you can find yourself near something interesting with a tablet in your hand.
The screen is disappointing when viewing darker images and movies. There is an obvious underlying grid that makes smooth gradients turn into a brown muck.
Performance is lagging behind the competition, and while this doesn't appear to affect movie playback, going forward this is going to rule this tablet out of playing some games and handling certain apps smoothly.
The Archos 101 G9 sets out a specific stall for itself and does incredibly well at delivering on that goal, although only in a functional way. There's no innate joy or passion on show here.
If you're in the market for a capable tablet, but have a limited budget, then this is one of the best options outside of price cuts that you can get.
The potential problem is we're about to be bombarded by cut price tablets, and much better units can be had for this kind of cash - tablets with more memory, built from better materials and generally put together with more love.