Archos Gamepad 2 review - hands on
Posted on 29 Oct 2013 at 16:16, by Tom Morgan
Archos was one of the first companies to add dedicated gaming buttons to an Android tablet with the Gamepad, but fiddly buttons, a merely average screen and poor performance held it back - especially as support for physical buttons was severely limited at the time. The French manufacturer has listened to its critics for the sequel, adding faster internals, a sharper display and a even more buttons to produce the Gamepad 2. We got a hands-on look at the device this week to bring you some early impressions before it hits the streets in November.
Now decked out in a black colour scheme that's more than a little reminiscent of Sony's PS Vita handheld, the Gamepad 2 adds a second set of shoulder buttons for a total of 14 dedicated gaming buttons - four face buttons, a four-way directional pad, start and select, and four shoulder buttons. The D-pad is now a single button, which certainly feels more comfortable to roll your thumb over than the four individual buttons on the original Gamepad.
The fiddly analogue sliders from the original Gamepad have been replaced with much larger ones, which are apparently the same as the ones used by Nintendo for its 3DS handheld. They can't compete with the Vita's sticks for accuracy, but an Archos representative told us that adding sticks would have meant a thicker device overall. As it is, the limiting factor is now the battery, which at 5,000mAh is significantly larger than the one in the original Gamepad.
We played pre-installed games Asphalt 8 Airborne and Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour to test the controls, as well as compare performance to the old model. Crucially the controls are now mapped automatically in certain games, although the mapping tool is still available from the Android navigation bar for any unsupported titles.
First person aiming was a little imprecise, but driving proved no challenge for the analogue sliders. The face buttons and triggers were satisfyingly springy too, although still not a patch on the Vita's precise buttons.
With a 1.6GHz quad-core A9 processor, 2GB of RAM and Mali 400 GPU, the Gamepad 2 is certainly more powerful than its predecessor. Android felt much smoother, with none of the slowdown or hanging we experienced with the original Gamepad - although this could partly be because the tablet was running the newer 4.2 version of Jelly Bean.
Only Modern Combat 4 felt sluggish, but that could partly be down to the busy opening sequence which throws plenty of particles and explosions onscreen at once. It will certainly be able to handle retro games emulators - although downloading the ROMs themselves is still a legal grey area, Archos provides links to Emulator apps in its Game Zone store and believes it was one of the main reasons the original tablet sold so well.
A 7in display sits between the gaming buttons. The 720p, 1,280x800 panel is a marked improvement over the original Gamepad's 1,024x600. Archos has sensibly opted not to jump to Full HD, as it would have negatively impacted the price and proved too much of a struggle for the internal components in their current configuration.
Based on our short time with the tablet, the screen looks reasonably sharp and looked vibrant at its maximum brightness setting, although reflections were an issue when watching a dark film trailer. We'll naturally withhold judgement until we get a final model in for review, but it's definitely an improvement over the old model.
As before there's no rear-facing camera, and the front-facing webcam is only 0.3-megapixels so will likely only prove useful for Skype or Google video chats. A 3.5mm audio jack, Micro USB port and Mini HDMI video output sit above it on the tablet's top edge. You should be able to add 64GB of extra storage to the 8GB or 16GB of internal memory, depending on the model.
Archos has addressed almost all of our criticisms of the original Gamepad with its successor, leaving us with a very positive first impression. However, we'll have to wait see whether having gaming buttons as a permanent fixture, rather than a removable accessory like the WikiPad, and a £179 launch price that competes directly with Sony's PS Vita will put off customers when it goes on sale in November.
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