Archos Gamepad – Initial Impressions

The Archos Gamepad was mentioned earlier on in the year and to tell you the truth I never thought it would ever appear. Archos were true to their word and actually got the product to market, without their trademark delays. So mine arrived a few days ago I thought I’d bring you a quick initial impressions of the Gamepad. Starting off with good and bad points.

Good Points


    • Game controls make for a unique device
    • It runs Jelly Bean out of the box
    • Quad Core GPU
    • Manual button mapping means most games can be controlled
    • Archos media player apps

Bad Points

    • Usual Archos plasticy build quality
    • Non Tegra GPU
    • Only 8GB Internal memory
    • Viewing angles and brightness of screen are a bit poor
    • Manual button mapping gets very confusing at times
    • Battery life initially seems poor
    • Lots of force closes upon initial installations

Design

The Archos GamePad is a unique looking device. Made entirely out of hard plastic it isn’t going to win any beauty contests.

Archos Gamepad   Initial ImpressionsArchos Gamepad   Initial Impressions

The Gamepad does have lots of buttons and connectivity options though. As regards normal buttons and controls you get, along the top you have the volume rocker, power button, micro USB port, mini HDMI port and the headphone port. The other sides have no buttons at all apart from the bottom edge which has a small slot for the MicroSD slot. Then you have the rest of the buttons.

Archos Gamepad   Initial ImpressionsArchos Gamepad   Initial Impressions

Each side has a analog stick, four buttons on a d-pad arrangement, a shoulder button, a secondary button and a start button. So you the same on the other side, which leaves you lots of buttons to attempt to map games to.

Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions

It looks like a thinned out Sega Game Gear or the Neo Geo handheld. I like the design of the Gamepad although I feel it could do with the start and pause buttons beneath the screen.

Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions Archos Gamepad   Initial Impressions

 

Hardware

The spec of the Gamepad is where things start to go wrong. The internal memory and the screen are the main areas where cuts have been made to reach a price point. Out of the box you get 6.12GB of space and after installing updates for the stock items you’re left with 5.47GB.

Although having a decent CPU and GPU does help in everything you ask the Gamepad to do. Although if you do ask to do anything vaguely game like the battery will disappear, quickly.

The spec of the Gamepad is as follows:

Tech Specs

Display • 7’’: 1024×600 capacitive 5 points multitouch screen
Application Framework • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
Processor • ARM CORTEXTM dual-core A9 @ 1.6GHz • GPU quad-core Mali 400 MP • 3D OpenGL (ES 2.0)
Capacity • Flash Memory: 8GB* + microSD Slot (SDHC compatible up to 32GB)
RAM • 1GB RAM
Video playback • H.264 HD (up to 1080p@30 fps) • MPEG-42 HD (up to 1080p@30 fps) • With the above codecs, the device can play video files with the following extensions: AVI, MP4, MOV, 3GP, MPG, PS, TS, MKV, FLV
Audio Playback • MP3 • WAV (PCM/ADPCM) • AAC3, AAC+ 5.13 • OGG Vorbis • FLAC
Photo viewer • JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
Webcam • Front camera
Interfaces • USB 2.0: Mobile Transfer Protocol (MTP) • microSD (SDHC compatible) • mini HDMI output6(Mini HDMI / HDMI cable sold separately)
Wireless technologies • Wi-Fi
Miscellaneous • Built-in speaker • G-sensor • Built-in Microphone
Power source • Internal: Lithium Polymer battery • External: Power adapter/charger
Dimensions & weight • 229.8 x 118.7mm x 15.4mm (9’’x 4.6’’x 0.6’’) • 330g (11.6 oz)

Software

The software is where the problems created by the hardware are compounded. The Gamepad runs Jelly Bean so I was expecting the experience to be fluid and to a certain extent it is. It’s just at time certain games or apps misbehave, crash or force close. I think the CPU and GPU not being coded for are the culprits here.

As this is a device made to play games on, I played some games. I expected the quad core GPU to make easy work of the games, which it did with mixed results. Most of the problems being caused by the button mapping tool running all of the time.

The button mapping feature is a great feature for the Gamepad to have, yet using it is really quite fiddly. You basically have to find a point in the game where you can just stand still or do nothing, then you trigger the mapping tool. You then tap the screen where the control would be and then press the button you want. Sounds straightforward?

Well in theory it is, in practice it makes the first few minutes playing each game a little bit annoying. To top it off some games actually recognise manual controls. So a button map already exists, which means remapping the controls is even more fiddly. The other problem is the controls can’t replicate a screen swipe, so if your favourite game involves lots of swiping you’ll struggle with this.

I really wanted to use the Gamepad with first person shoot em up style games. But it’s almost impossible, meaning this is more suited to platform games, retro game emulation, driving games or anything with simple on screen controls.

Strangely I found some games really laggy like Ski Safari. The benchmarks for the Gamepad put it up with the likes of the Asus Transformer Prime, which I own and it has no problems with any of these games. I’m guessing games developers don’t yet support the Mali quad core GPU.

Archos have updated the mapping tool whilst I have had it and it still has problems, with any mapping of the analog sticks resulting in some serious lag.

Initial Conclusion

Archos need to get some updates out for the Gamepad and sharpish, overall it felt like I was using a prototype product, not a publicly available product. It is like they rushed to get it out for Christmas.

The other thing that needs to happen to make the Gamepad usable is for games developer to include support for the buttons in their games. The manual button mapping tool is useful but it is so awkward to set up. Whether or not this will ever happen, the Sony Xperia Play did get supported by developers, hopefully the Gamepad will.

The internal memory also severely restricts how many games you can install. If you like the latest and greatest Gameloft games you’ll only fit a couple on the Gamepad, but if you prefer card games you’ll be fine.

The Gamepad has massive potential, with a few updates, a bit of hacking to allow games to be installed on the SD card and some developer support you could have yourself a great budget gaming device.

So over the next few weeks I am going to trying out loads of different styles of games and hoping Archos issue some updates. The full review will be in a few weeks so if you have any questions in the meantime leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer you.

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