11
Jan
wm_IMG_1654

If you follow Archos, you probably know the French tablet-maker's product formula by now: "cheap and usable." This is a strategy that has allowed the company to expand its product line greatly over the last year, and to branch out into less familiar territory. In particular, the recently-announced TV Connect and Gamepad are two devices unlike anything Archos has made previously.

TV Connect

The TV Connect's purpose is quite simple: you have Android running on your TV, with a TV-remote-meets-gamepad style controller. This is accomplished with a bar that sits atop your television, and plugs in via HDMI. The processor and memory guts are housed in the bar, while the controller is basically just a transmitter device, powered by two AA batteries.

wm_IMG_1672

wm_IMG_1677 wm_IMG_1679 wm_IMG_1681

As forewarning, I'm not exactly in Archos' target market with this product. I think Android TV's - whether it be Google TV, an actual TV running Android, or something in-between (like the TV Connect) - are quite pointless in their current state. There is obviously a market for such products, though, and on the cheap end of the spectrum, there have been a great many "Android TV on a stick" devices that have hit the market in the past six months. Frankly, I've never heard anything good about any of them, though I'm not claiming to be an expert on the subject, either.

Archos' proposition is that they can do it better, and for just $130. And they probably do - the TV Connect has full access to the Play Store, puts out video in 1080p, and runs a TI OMAP 4470 chip (same as the Kindle Fire HD 8.9). The controller, as stated earlier, is powered by two AA batteries, and can communicate via Bluetooth with the TV-mounted bar through various buttons, or through an on-screen pointer interface (I'm guessing it's IR based, but I don't know).

The bar hardware also has full USB host support, so you can hook up attached storage (kind of critical if you want it to be a media PC replacement), as well as a microSD slot, complimenting the 8GB of internal storage. You can also stream video over your local network, which is supported in the Archos Video app (which has native support for a host of video formats). Local streaming should be quick, too, thanks to an ethernet port on the back.

So, how's it all work? At CES, not great. Archos said there was too much Bluetooth interference on the show floor, and as a result, the remote was regularly disconnecting during demos. During our try, though, it managed to stay alive the entire time. The pointer system, however, was exceptionally sluggish and buggy. Again, this might be an interference issue - I'm not sure.

wm_IMG_1674

The controller itself felt very cheap - all of the buttons were soft and mushy. I tried to type something using the QWERTY keyboard, and it was not an experience I'd like to relive. That said, apps and the OS ran smoothly, and if you're in the market for something like this, I can't say there's a particular reason to hate it. I also can't say I see a real reason to own such a device when the "Miracast boom" is likely on the horizon over the next year, but to each their own.

Gamepad

Next on our hands-on list was the Gamepad. The Gamepad's claim to fame is its mappable hardware button scheme, which is actually legitimately cool (though it will likely be copied and improved soon enough). Just tap the gamepad button in the navbar while you're playing, and three pictures will pop over the current app. One for joystick directions, one for buttons, and one for something else I didn't have reason to try (I honestly can't remember what it was - I think it was for floating buttons). Anyway, the concept is simple: drag one of the icons to the location of an on-screen control button, and then press the button / move in the direction you want that command to map to.

wm_IMG_1654

wm_IMG_1658

wm_IMG_1659 wm_IMG_1661

For example, if there's an on-screen button in a racing game that allows you to accelerate, you drag the button icon to that software control, and then press the right shoulder button on the game pad. And at that point, it's mapped. It really is a great idea, and it's super easy to get the hang of.

The problem is that the Gamepad falls flat in the hardware execution department. The 7" display is of mediocre quality at best (viewing angles aren't fantastic, nor is brightness), and the controls leave a lot to be desired. The gamepad uses Nintendo 3DS-style "push-pad" control sticks, which I've never liked. But Archos' are even worse, because the travel on them is tiny - you're basically choosing between three levels of sensitivity: "off," "slightly on," and "all the way on." And negotiating between the latter two is rather difficult. For any game requiring precise input (eg, a first-person shooter like Dead Trigger), this makes gameplay extremely frustrating. I'd honestly prefer touch controls to the push-pads. The rest of the buttons on the Gamepad remind me in a not-so-great way of the TV Connect - mushy, sloppy, and cheap.

For $170, I'd say you're getting what you pay for, but that isn't saying much.

wm_IMG_1663

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    If the "analog" sticks are anything like the Moga, I'd have to agree. I was playing a little MC4 with it, and actually reverted to using the touchscreen for a while on a mission because the nubs were too clumsy -- they may as well be a regular old d-pad.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Those are my thoughts on the Moga as well. Couldn't stand the push pads.

      • Sergii Pylypenko

        Can joysticks be used for 3D shooters at all? Or touchscreen is always better for aiming?
        What about Nvidia new gaming device?

        • BrainOfSweden

          If all are of good quality, it goes something like Mouse>Joystick>Touchscreen. Touch screens are the worst for FPS games, for a number of reasons. nvidias Project SHIELD seems to have real joysticks, more like the PS Vita, which of course is a lot better than slide-pads in terms of precision and comfort. You have to try it out for yourselg though, a well made pad can be better than a bad joystick for example, and it's really about personal taste. I for example think the 360 controller is one of the best ones out there, but some people claim that Dual Shock 3 is better, and I don't like it at all.

    • HopelesslyFaithful

      hey how did you download MC4...i tried but the URL doesn't exist....

      • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

        I just followed the directions on the card that was included. I don't have it with me now, but I think there was a special URL I just needed to enter the code at, and it took me to a page to download it. From what I remember, the Sonic CD download had yet another way to follow.

        • HopelesslyFaithful

          weird i followed the url in my phone using dolphin and chrome and it says url is broken or something and reforwards me to gamelofts site :/

    • atlouiedog

      Agreed. Aiming in MC4 was terrible. I found driving in GTA to be fine though. Unfortunately the button lateout for GTA3 is lacking. Hopefully the universal driver gets updated with the features of the sixaxis app. That app is well thought out for the realities of unofficially supported gamepads. It looks like Archos paid attention.

  • Matthew Fry

    Hopefully this is the first of a slew of devices with hardware buttons. We went full bore on nothing but touchscreen and we tried and found it lacking. Put the hardware buttons back.

  • brutalpanther

    I'm glad you gave this report on the gamepad, I was until now a little interested in it,due to touchmapping ability.But that wouldn't even be a problem if nyko could ever get thier playground app out of beta and get the touchmapping controls working like they promised and even demo'ed at last years show.I guess its a wait a see deal on that and my favorite from this year the Shield.Heck i dont care if it fits in my pocket.I'll buy a clip on the belt case of some kind.I already carry a shoulder bag with enough pockets to carry all my electronic gadgets in,whats I more i have 2 shoulders.

  • Anonymous

    You are probably better off just buying JXD's S7300. It should be available this week. It is cheaper, has four shoulder buttons, and looks far nicer than this. TV Connect and its "controller" are also quite ugly. Let's hope the next "popular" game tablet does it right unlike Archos and WikiPad.