Android is a flexible operating system and in a way it is surprising to see it largely restricted to phones and tablets. Then again, when it does break out of the standard mold, things can go wrong.
The Archos GamePad is a case in point. Archos is a dark horse of the Android world. It has been producing tablet based devices for a very long time and its history in the portable music sector is the stuff of legend. But its GamePad might just be something Archos wishes it had never brought to market.
There is nothing wrong with the basic idea. Take an Android tablet, give it a fast processor and a great screen, and give it really good sound output. Equip it with controls that are appropriate to handheld gaming and Bob’s your uncle.
Sadly the basic idea has somewhat eluded Archos. The GamePad might look like a great handheld gaming device, but the reality doesn’t stack up.
Let’s start with the screen. A 7-inch screen sounds just about right for some serious gaming. It’s not too big to be unwieldy to hold, but large enough that you’re not going to need to squint at the screen.
However the screen quality is not great. At 1024 x 600 pixels it is far from leading edge. The colours look a bit washed out and while the screen delivers OK for gameplay it isn’t what we’d call top notch.
Sound isn’t great either. There are two speakers either side of the screen, well positioned to punch out sound, but the quality is average and quite tinny at times.
Along the short edges of the GamePad is a huge array of controller buttons. As well as four buttons on each side you’ve got a D-Pad and L2 and R2 buttons as well as two smaller buttons for Select on the left and Start on the right. There is also a pair of shoulder buttons.
There’s a smart button mapping utility that lets you map touchscreen controls onto buttons so you can set things up how you like them. In theory this is a great idea, and when it works well it is good.
But a lot of Android games are designed for touch screen controls and the buttons just don’t map on to a screen sweep. Nor is the D pad very good for arc type actions. Sometime, then, you still need to touch the screen either because it is more convenient, or because you just have to.
Get beyond that and the buttons themselves aren’t actually all that great. They just don’t feel as responsive as they should. They’re probably OK for casual gaming, but if you are a serious player then you may well get frustrated.
Smaller hands will find using the D-Pad and shoulder button on the same side of the GamePad a challenge too just in terms of being able to reach them both at the same time.
The build is plastic throughout and the chassis can creak a bit. We’re sure it is tough enough, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the GamePad’s looks are more on the budget side than the premium one.
Of course the GamePad functions as a standard Android tablet too, and you get a reasonable set of specifications. Android 4.1, a dual-core 1.6GHz processor supported by 1GB of RAM, 8GB of on board memory and a microSD card slot, HDMI, a front camera (but not back facing main camera), and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi if course.
For the money that’s not a bad set of standard specifications, though the obvious competitor the Google Nexus 7 isn’t so much more expensive. But the GamePad isn’t sold as a standard Android tablet, but one with a specialism. And it doesn’t do that specialism very well. To add to its woes, there are some higher end games that it can’t cope with at all.
Review written by Sandra Vogel