Archos 80 Xenon
20th Jan 2014 | 16:40
Giving you Jelly Bean on a budget is the only thing you need to know
Archos has been quietly slipping more and more spec'd-down Android tablets of all sizes onto the market in the last year, but the 80 Xenon has enough speed and power to be a realistic competitor.
With a screen measuring 8 inches in diameter, the 80 Xenon - which runs the slightly aging Android 4.1.2 - is all about matching the original iPad mini's key specs for just over half the price, so you get a 1024 x 768 resolution that's identical to Apple's effort, but has less detail than the Nexus 7's smaller 1280 x 800 screen.
The panel itself is of an IPS type for decent viewing angles and contrast, while our review sample also included Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity options - which you can snap up from just £129.
You'll find GPS inside - not always a given at this price - as well as a 2MP camera and an Adreno 203 graphics chip, while its dinky 4GB flash drive is accompanied by a microSD card slot for expanding to something more useful.
Crucially, all of this is governed by a 1GB of RAM and a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, which proves just enough for all-round tablet use. In terms of both features and processing speed, it's a significant jump up in quality from the Archos 80 Titanium.
Measuring 213 x 155 x 11.3mm, the Archos 80 Xenon weighs-in at 435g, which is significantly more than the iPad mini, iPad Mini 2 and Nexus 7.
However, while just enough to challenge the iPad mini on its other core specs - though particularly that low, low price - the 80 Xenon is also up against the likes of Acer's A1, which has 16GB storage, a 5MP camera and weighs 410g, which sells for more or less the same price. So the 80 Xenon could have its work cut out.
The 80 Xenon is about videos and web surfing on the go, with the provision of 3G at such a small price the big draw. Many other 7- or 8-inch tablets better its other specs, but few offer a SIM-card slot at this price.
Elsewhere it's thoroughly average; the screen has a paltry 160dpi - though its 4:3 shape makes it adept with websites - while a 4GB flash drive is nothing to get excited about.
Its microSD card slot can take media up to 64GB in size, so the total storage of the 80 Xenon can reach 68GB, which should be enough for most tablet users. Both the microSD and SIM-card slots are found underneath a removable, hinged plastic hood on the Xenon 80's lower left-hand side.
Talking of which, I'm not a fan of the 80 Xenon's button placement. Above the plastic hood on the side of the bezel are a headphones jack, microUSB slot for recharging and data transfer, a volume rocker and the standby switch.
The latter is especially poorly placed; it doesn't feel at all natural to reach for once the 80 Xenon is being held, especially for a right-hander - it would be far better positioned on the right-hand side of the top of the tablet as it's held in landscape mode.
The rear-facing camera is just behind that standby switch, with the front-facing webcam just in front and ranged slightly lower. At least the rest of the tablet is clean of controls and buttons, with the speakers on - and slightly behind - the right-hand side, or bottom as the 80 Xenon is held in portrait mode. The logic behind that speaker placement is beyond me.
However, the 80 Xenon is no slim-line tablet; the bezel measures a whopping 25mm at the sides and 12mm at the top, while depth is 11.3mm. Though it's pleasant enough to hold and doesn't feel cheap or tacky, the 80 Xenon is heavy; after a short while the so-called convenience of tablets didn't hold true and it was quickly relegated to use on a table top.
So, although it's capable of streaming video over Wi-Fi, I'll revise what I said earlier and state that the 80 Xenon is best viewed as a device for quickly checking email, a calendar or for brief web browsing.
Interface and media
The user interface on the Archos 80 Xenon is stock Android Jelly Bean, with no tweaks to speak of, though the inclusion of a microphone to power Google Voice extends the experience, as does GPS and a gyroscope.
Sadly the 80 Xenon only sports Android 4.1, and seeing as Android 4.4 KitKat is now out, it does feel a little behind the times.
Swiping and touch-sensitivity are acceptable; although it lacks the immediacy of pricier tablets, but for the money it's actually faster and nicer to use than I had expected.
The GPS worked well during my test with Google Maps, and Google Voice was fast and accurate, though the Google Sky Map app couldn't get a fix on where I was pointing the 80 Xenon.
Using the Chrome browser, which was installed on the 80 Xenon as a default, pages loaded quickly during my tests over Wi-Fi and 3G. Touching small items on the screen, such as Chrome's tiny 'new tab' icon, can sometimes be troublesome, taking a few - sometimes as many as three or four - touches before an action is completed.
Despite immediately visiting the settings pages to disable the darned annoying vibrations, sounds and clicks that accompany the pop-up virtual Android keyboard as a default, the 80 Xenon insisted on reinstating them upon the next fire-up.
This in itself was enough to put me off using the product as a go-to device for surfing the web during my long-term test, despite it always being within easy reach.
Unlike most Android tablets, media is handled by Archos-own software. That's hardly surprising since it was Archos that pioneered play-anything touchscreen media devices yonks before the iPad appeared, but what is a surprise is the less-than-total file support.
In our test with a bunch of video files the 80 Xenon managed to play MOV, MP4 and AVI files - as it claimed to - but not MKV or AVC HD files. Try and play one of the latter and I was re-directed to an official app on Google Play called Archos MPEG-2 Plugin, which costs £4.07. Whoah there - that's a bit naughty!
A free third-party app called Archos Video All Codecs Plugin is also available, though in my test it didn't solve any of the problems.
In terms of design, I like the Archos Video software, which has separate sections for movies, TV shows and both 'recently added' and 'recently played', with cover art displayed (and fetch-able from the web - a nice feature indeed) in a swipe-through carousel, as well as a simple list of files.
The over-reaching Archos Media Library includes options to play files from a NAS drive or any UPnP device, though the MP4 and AVI files we were able to initialise stuttered and were unwatchable.
Movies on the 80 Xenon are pretty good, though HD files tend to stutter. Most video is colourful and has enough contrast and detail, and the viewing angle is acceptable, though brightness drains when viewed off-axis.
Music file support extends from MP3 to OGG, FLAC and WAV files, though the Archos Music app is so simple it barely justifies itself.
Through-headphones audio is fine, though the built-in speakers are bereft of any suggestion of bass and can't begin to unravel music or movies, but they're acceptable for the odd cat video on YouTube.
The 80 Xenon isn't really made for games. Its gyroscope is a little slow on the uptake and its processor not quite up to the job, though most games are playable enough. However, when re-orientating the 80 Xenon the screen takes just a little too long to catch up. It's fine for Angry Birds and most casual games, but don't expect high-performance high jinks.
Reading books is where the 80 Xenon's clarity, brightness and speed come into view. Text from an ebook is just about clear enough to read, but page-turning takes a touch too long and the screen's brightness controls aren't nearly subtle enough; it's not an issue if you're reading in daylight but in a blackout it's like staring at a torch. The Kindle et al can rest easy.
Apps, battery life and camera
While hardly adapting the basic Android skin at all, Archos does install a few apps as a default that slightly augment the experience on the 80 Xenon.
As well as its own Archos Music, Archos Video and Archos Remote Server apps - all of them hangovers from the company's days as a pre-iPod pioneer of digital music and video - Archos fits the 80 Xenon with Angry Birds, Brief Me, Le Kiosk (a magazine buying app), World of Goo (though it's only a demo), News Republic, Zinio and Office Suite.
Rather surprisingly, the 80 Xenon has a thoroughly respectable battery life. This is often where manufacturers cut corners, but this Archos compares very well to its competitors.
After playing the one-hour-long Nyan Cat video test on YouTube with the screen at full brightness, the battery life of a fully charged 80 Xenon dropped to just 84%. That puts is far above the Acer Iconia B1, and about equal to the Google Nexus 7, Acer Iconia A1 and iPad mini.
It's a critical performance because it means the 80 Xenon can last about seven hours between charges, which should be enough for even the most addicted of tablet users.
While the webcam on the 80 Xenon produces basic video fit only for Skype et al, the rear-facing 1.9MP shooter takes things a little further. Though we'd judge most tablets as only ever going to be used to take occasional casual photos - though smaller tablets will arguably be used more - the 80 Xenon's optics are pretty basic.
Photos taken indoors are noisy and lack detail in murky areas, and while shots taken in the bright outdoors are much more colourful and detailed, they lack any kind of sparkle and are studded with noise. It also lacks a reliable auto-focus mode.
Photos can be taken in QVGA, VGA, 1MP or 2MP quality, with the usual vanilla Android versions like exposure and white balance tweaks, and a panoramic mode. Video is basic VGA quality only, producing 3GPP videos a with a barely stomach-able frame rate of just six fps. Yuck.
It may not compare well with other 8-inch tablets on some of its specs, but don't underestimate the Archos 80 Xenon; its brief is to be nothing more than an affordable big-screen web surfer, and it efficiently delivers that without too much fuss.
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Judged as a mobile web surfer, the 80 Xenon ticks most of the boxes; it's fast and just about responsive enough for fluid operation, and, at about seven hours, its battery life is impressive.
It's also fine for occasional visits to the BBC iPlayer or other video sources.
For a so-called portable big-screen web browser, the 80 Xenon is heavy. That 435g weight makes it too heavy to hold for long enough to watch much video, or for long sessions surfing the web, while the 4GB innards won't hold much media at all; a microSD card purchase looks a necessity.
The speakers and cameras are poor, too. We also had problems disabling the irritating default alerts, vibrations and touch sounds that Android's developers persist with.
We could see the 80 Xenon doing a great job as a family tablet left in the kitchen, though its economic sweet-spot is as an occasional mobile tablet for the commute or car.
Though we do like it a lot, it's just not got the grunt and extra features of the Acer A1 Iconia, for example. However, with the 3G version of that challenger clocking-in at around £200, the 80 Xenon makes its case as the cheapest mobile Android Jellybean 3G tablet, that's mostly pleasant to use.
While the 80 Xenon is fit for purpose, there are other slightly pricier options that will give you more joy. The iPad mini and Google Nexus 7 are high-end alternatives, but also consider the underrated Asus FonePad.