As tablets go the Archos gamepad is lacking and as a gaming device it’s positively woeful. If you love your games, spare yourself heartbreak and get a PS Vita or Nintendo 3DS
The full Archos Gamepad review
While tablets and smartphones have most definitely become a part of the gaming ecosystem, there’s something about the feel of a controller and the click of buttons that we all find satisfying. Enter Archos with the GamePad, a seven-inch touchscreen tablet which aims to marry the experience of traditional portable gaming with the casual touchscreen market.
The tablet is powered by a dual-core 1.6GHz CPU and runs on Android Jelly Bean, and in terms of concept you can’t fault them, but in practice the tablet is a disappointing mix of confused, weak controls, and poor screen technology wrapped up in a distinctly ugly package.
On the surface
Landscape is the GamePad’s natural orientation, with four directional buttons, select and L2 to the left of the screen and the start button, R2 and four action buttons to the right. Either side of the screen are analogue sticks and up top you’ll find left and right trigger buttons, a mini HDMI port, volume rocker, power button and charging port.
The design is the first sinking feeling you get when trying out the GamePad. Grey plastic, cheap buttons and jutting lines do not a well-designed gadget make. The build quality feels perilously flimsy – one serious drop and it could well and truly be game over – and the two-tone grey colour scheme is flat and uninspiring.
That could be forgiven if the tablet felt good to play, but it feels rather awkward in hand thanks to its less than slinky lines, cheap feeling analogue sticks and directional buttons which aren’t one complete d-pad but four separate buttons, making diagonal moves a tad difficult – your old Mega Drive controller was better designed than this.
On the first attempt to charge the GamePad, we discovered the gadget had only reached 30% battery in eight hours. Baffled, we learned on closer inspection that the charger isn’t the most stable we’ve seen and if you nudge the wire or move the device, chances are you’re going to knock the charger off without fully dislodging it. Infuriating.
Once we eventually got the device to full charge, we couldn’t help but notice how fast it haemorrhaged battery life – only about two and a half hours of solid use and even on standby this little beauty seems to guzzle charge.
How it plays
If you’re going to try to launch a product against the likes of Nintendo or Sony, you really should invest time and resources into making it look and feel good, as well as making it simple and enjoyable to use.
Unfortunately the GamePad’s viewing angles are poor, the 1024 x 600 pixel screen lacks vibrancy and the touchscreen is not as responsive as it needs to be. Merely turning down the sound via settings took several attempts and for such solid on-paper tech specifications we were surprised by how often video and general web browsing made the GamePad throw a minor wobbly.
Playing games on the GamePad reminded us of cheap LCD toys churned out by the likes of Tiger Electronics back in the 1990s. In fact, avoiding raptors on the Jurassic Park handheld toy would’ve been a welcome distraction from the constant crashes, errors and general lacklustre feel.
We wish the retro feel was intentional but really they just scrimped on every aspect of the GamePad’s build to the point that it feels and plays like a cheap knock-off a dodgy uncle might give you for Christmas hoping you don’t look at it too closely.
Contrast with upcoming gaming tablets such as the Wikipad or Nvidia’s Project Shield which both look great, have left and right thumbstick controllers and let you choose from games across Google Play and Nvidia Tegrazone. And yes they can run Grand Theft Auto, something the GamePad simply can’t hope for.
One feature we did appreciate was the Game Mapping Tool. Activating this function means the device assigns keys to touchscreen inputs but it doesn’t always work. Some compatible games we tried on the device assigned controls to off-putting button configurations, and in truth the device does not work with some of the most popular games on Google Play – not good, when you’re trying to sell yourself as an Android gaming device.
The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play tried its damnedest to get gamers’ attention with its dual touchpad controls and PS1 classics .The casual gamer that this tablet is trying to tempt will not be won over by its look, controls or mediocre game collection.
The bottom line is how much money you’re willing to spend on a gaming experience that fits you. For a gamer looking for a satisfying handheld experience there is the PlayStation Vita (£199) and the Nintendo 3DS which currently retails at the same price as the Archos Gamepad at £129. On top of that, the Nexus 7 is just £150.
By producing an Android gaming tablet, the GamePad is fighting a war on two fronts: from the traditional gaming world and the handheld devices which populate it, and another on the 7-inch tablet market which is cutting costs but not losing out on features in the process.
Unfortunately for Archos, it is a battle the GamePad cannot win because while the Nexus 7 exists and a Nintendo 3DS costs the same, why bother?
Low price; Game Mapping Tool
Lacklustre look and feel; Poor selection of compatible games; Weak screen with temperamental responsiveness
Look and feel
The GamePad feels cheap and flimsy to hold, the grey plastic design is bland and uninspiring and overall it doesn’t match the satisfying tactile experience of gaming on a handheld console.
Ease of use
The Android 4.1 Jelly Bean interface was easy enough to use however there were some baffling errors and force closes that had us scratching our heads.
Preloaded apps for the usual suspects like Gmail and YouTube as you’d expect, and the intriguing but flawed Game Mapping Tool complemented the device's gaming chops with mixed results.
For a 1.6GHz dual-core processor, the performance of the GamePad was not up to scratch. Slow, at times unresponsive to commands and errors were par for the course.
A real power guzzler, the GamePad proved to have a rather gammy charging port which meant that the slightest nudge would dislodge the charger without appearing to fall out – it might look plugged in but it wasn’t always charging.