Review: Archos GamePad

Start with a 7-inch Android Jelly Bean tablet, slap on Sony PSP-style game controls, then price the thing at $170. What could possibly go wrong?

Less than you might think. With that sticker price, I expected a sluggish, Franken-tablet kludge of a device. But the Archos GamePad marries good looks with solid performance. It’s a surprisingly adept entertainment console, even if it doesn’t deliver a perfect experience with every game.

Lightweight and comfortable, the GamePad looks like a traditional 7-inch slate save for the thumb-sticks, D-pads, and shoulder buttons bolted seamlessly onto its sides and top. With its slim build, gunmetal finish, and symmetrical controls, it has the pleasant façade of a device that was designed, not merely slapped together. Anyone who’s ever groped a Sony PSP will find themselves instantly at home.

The tablet sports a microUSB port for charging and connectivity, a mini-HDMI port (Hello, big-screen gaming!), a front-facing camera for Skype and the like, and a microSD slot if you need more than the stock 8GB of storage (and, let’s face it, you will). An ARM Cortex dual-core A9 processor and Mali 400 quad-core GPU dish up more than enough horsepower for resource-hungry 3D games.

Alas, a corner had to be cut somewhere, and Archos chose screen resolution. At 1,024 by 600 pixels, it’s a far cry from Retina. That said, it looks sharper than the specs suggest, even when displaying smallish text. Plus, it’s an IPS display, one that my eyes found satisfactory for games and video alike. I particularly liked the small front-facing speakers embedded on either side of the screen. They’re not especially loud, but they project the sound right at you instead of away from your face, like on most tablets.

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