Archos 101 XS review
With Windows 8 devices about to descend en masse at this year's IFA show, the race is on to find the best way of combining a touchscreen and keyboard in one device. To date, Asus' Transformer series - including the new high-definition Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T - has led the way for tablet hybrids, and Microsoft's much-talked-about Surface tablet also looks intriguing. In the midst of all this lands Archos' new Android tablet, the rather clever Archos 101 XS, with its ingenious 'Coverboard'.
DUCK AND COVER
The Coverboard provides both a screen cover and a keyboard in one. It comes with the tablet, and the combination is much cheaper than any current Asus Transformer. The Coverboard attaches firmly to the tablet with magnets - a twist of the wrist breaks the bond, but it's certainly not coming off by accident.
To attach the tablet to the keyboard you flip up the stand on the Coverboard and then dock the tablet into it. Magnets on the stand and in the base of the board hold the tablet in place - you can pick up the tablet and wave it about and the keyboard won't come off. You can adjust the angle of the tablet to a certain degree, but it's really rather limited – you can only get around a 35-degree tilt. The screen’s viewing angles are wide, thankfully - which makes typing comfortable if you’re prepared to position the tablet on your knees.
There's no battery built into the Coverboard, as there is on the Asus Transformer tablets, but there is a Micro USB port so you can charge the tablet or connect it to your PC when docked. The battery in the tablet lasted for six hours and 25 minutes in our continuous video playback test; this isn’t a great score, but it’s part of the price you pay for the tablet’s slimness. Having no additional battery does mean the Coverboard is a light 200g, so you don’t have to worry about taking it with you everywhere.
The Archos 101 XS tablet is also quite light at 600g, and it’s also just 8mm thick – almost as thin as the 7.7mm Toshiba AT200. The tablet and Coverboard in combination are just 13mm wide, which is only 1mm more than an iPad with Smart Cover and 10mm less than the thickest point on a typical Asus Transformer. Even including all the various iPad cases available, we can't think of a more compact way to carry a tablet and keyboard.
Compromises have been made to the keyboard to keep the Coverboard down to a slender 5mm. The keys’ lack of travel is unsurprising, but they're also a little spongy, which further reduces feedback. After quite a bit of practice we started to get used to them, and the keyboard’s good enough for emails and short documents. One sticking point is the space bar, which we found hard to reach over the slender rubber-topped rim around the edge of keyboard.
The keyboard has been designed for Android use, with Home, task-switching and Menu buttons along the bottom edge. Typical shortcuts like copy and paste (CTRL-C and -V) work fine and if you start typing on the home screen it automatically opens a search page listing apps and web results.
There’s also a set of media shortcuts along the top row, and a range of other useful keys such as you’d find on a laptop, such as brightness controls, which go some way to compensate for the lack of an automatic brightness setting. This is due to there not being a light sensor built-in, which made the tablet a little frustrating to use on the go, and we ended up leaving it on maximum brightness.
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