- 7in display with 1,280 x 800 resolution
- Dual joysticks + 14 gaming buttons
- Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
- Quad-core, 1.6GHz processor with 2GB RAM
- 8GB or optional 16GB of storage (expandable via microSD card slot)
- Price: From around £150
Archos GamePad 2 Review
While smartphones, tablets and their application stores have turned us into a nation of casual gamers, converting those who would never buy an Xbox into gold star-hunting, Angry Birds-addicted button-bashers, device manufacturers have been reluctant in pandering to the needs of real gamers.
Being able to play Grand Theft Auto on your smartphone or tablet is remarkable, but console titles have always been let down by a touch screen interface which simply can't compete with buttons, triggers and sticks.
Archos hoped to change all this in 2012 with the GamePad, and now the French budget tablet maker is back with the GamePad 2, offering more power, improved physical controls, a better screen and newer software.
GamePad 2: Look and Feel
Similar to the original, the GamePad 2 is a 7in Android tablet with PlayStation-like physical control either side of the screen; these include two analogue sticks, a D-pad, familiar A, B, X and Y buttons, Start and Select, and two shoulder buttons on each side.
Taking hold of the tablet, any gamer will feel at home right away, your fingers and thumbs falling comfortably and familiarly into place, aided by two slight curves to the back panel.
While everything may at first feel familiar, apply pressure to the controls and you will soon be reminded by the GamePad 2's low price. The D-pad is soft and mushy with each of the four directions blending vaguely into the next; the A, B, X and Y buttons are equally soft and slightly too close together; the sticks are sprung firmly enough for decent feedback, but make an annoying, scratching noise every time they are moved.
Despite being called "analogue" by Archos, I found them to be digital, on-off switches. During racing games like Asphalt 8 (which comes bundled with the GamePad 2) fine adjustments to steering input could not be made; it was all left or all right, with nothing in between.
Start and Select are quite possibly the loudest buttons I've ever pressed, clicking and clacking with the lightest of touches, and finally the shoulder buttons are also a little on the soft side.
While none of that will sound much like a ringing endorsement, the GamePad 2 isn't a disaster; at around £150 you can't begin to expect iPad quality, and nor should you. When paying relatively little for a device like this you should do so with your eyes wide open and be under no illusions that you get what you pay for.
At 400g the Archos is 110g heavier than the 2013 Google Nexus 7, but given the extra buttons and bulk this is hardly a surprise, and I can't think of many use cases where you'd be holding the device in one hand for long. I mean, you can read a book on it, but Archos really isn't expecting you to.
A final note on cans and can'ts - the extra horizontal width makes typing in landscape just about impossible (I couldn't reach the middle with either thumb comfortably), but typing in portrait is fine.
GamePad 2: Screen
A resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels spread over seven inches doesn't set the world on fire, and the noticeable depth between plastic cover and the actual display performs the dreaded tablet combo-move of increasing glare and reducing quality.
Small text looks jagged and only at 100% is the screen bright enough to be used comfortably indoors; but otherwise it isn't too bad - colours are bold but accurate, blacks are reasonably dark, and touch inputs are responsive enough, if let down slightly by the plastic screen's softness compared to the harder, smoother finish of glass-fronted devices.
GamePad 2: Performance, software and battery life
The GamePad 2 is powered by a 1.6GHz, quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, giving it enough power to offer the performance you'd expect from most tablets at this price. Apps open quickly, switching between them - even intensive games - is smooth and fast, and the only disappointment was with the time some games took to open and load for the first time.
The aforementioned Asphalt 8 took a good 20-25 seconds to open, and another 25 to launch a race, but once it was up to speed opening the app again later returned faster results.
Asphalt comes pre-installed on the GamePad 2 - as does Modern Combat 4, a Call of Duty spin-off which shows how far tablet gaming has evolved in just a few short years.
The GamePad 2 runs a standard version of Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) with no skins or other customisation; everything is as Google intended, which helps to keep performance and user expectations consistent.
Although visually there are no changes, Archos has added a few of its own apps, including Archos Music, Archos Remote and Archos Video, as well as a shortcut taking you to Gameloft's Play store catalogue.
The tablet's chunky design means there is space for a battery around 25% larger than that of the Nexus 7, but sadly the Archos can't match Google's own tablet in the stamina stakes - especially while gaming, when just a couple of minutes' play will see more than 5% struck from the remaining charge.
A day or more of regular tablet use is perfectly achievable, but use the GamePad 2 for what it was intended and it could well be dead before lunchtime.
GamePad 2: Verdict
Previously a tightly-guarded members' club comprising the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, mobile gaming has had its rulebook (and membership requirements) rewritten by the smartphone and tablet. Now everyone's a gamer, and while most are happy to poke and swipe their way through Angry Birds and Temple Run, there are those who want more.
With yesteryear's console titles appearing on app stores for under a fiver providing the ammunition, Archos has given gamers what it thinks they want. Unfortunately, the GamePad 2 isn't quite up to scratch.
Yes, it makes playing games better, but the extra bulk limits the tablet in all other areas. For just £40 more the PlayStation Vita is a much better option for anyone wanting to take mobile gaming seriously - and the Nintendo 3DS is cheaper still, at around £130.
I congratulate Archos for trying something different in a market full of tablets offering little to distinguish themselves from the competition, but ultimately the GamePad 2 isn't enough, falling somewhere between console and tablet without offering enough benefits of either.
- Screen: 7/10 - Good but not remarkable, the plastic cover feels cheap, however colour reproduction is good.
- Design: 6/10 - Everything is in the right place, but Archos has been unable to hide the tablet's cheapness.
- Operating System: 9/10 - Android as Google intended it to be. Performance also impressive, but let down by mediocre battery life.
- Build Quality: 6/10 - Feels cheap. Exposed screw-heads, squishy buttons and poor joysticks.
- Value: 6/10 - Affordable for many, but money would be better spent on a Nexus 7 or actual game console.
- Overall: 6/10 - Does what it says on the box, but feels confused and lost somewhere between tablet and portable game console. Buy one or the other, not half of each.
- Button layout is spot on for mobile gaming
- Standard Android 4.2 with no custom design is very welcome
- Multitasking between intense games and other apps is surprisingly quick
- Controls lacking in feel
- Average screen quality and brightness
- Poor battery life when gaming