Tuesday, March 4, 2014

rasty’s Archos Gamepad 2 Review from Neolithic times

Whoa – how did I miss this? This sports the same chip as the JXD S7800B, so head on over to a pretty extensive thread here if you’re keen for more: http://boards.dingoonity.org/android-devices/archos-gamepad-2-my-full-review/msg86044/#msg86044

Archos Gamepad 2 - my Full Review

Hi all,
I'm trying to give back to this forum by posting what started as my "first impressions" and eventually expanded into a pretty much full review of the Archos Gamepad 2. I hope it helps!

Archos Gamepad 2 - Review
UPDATE: The stock firmware features an SD card write limitation solved by Archos' latest update
I’ll start by saying that I’m no Android expert: this is the first Android device that I actually own. Previously, I’ve only used Android casually – I’m more of an iOS user myself. So please bear with me if during this small review I’ll say something that may sound odd to expert Andorid gurus! :)
This is also a very early review as I’ve only been able to use the device for a day or so. I’ll update it on the following days in case I discover additional stuff of interest!
  • 1.6GHz quad-core CPU (Rockchip RK3188)
  • Quad-core Mali400 MP4 GPU
  • 2GB Ram
  • Wifi, Bluetooth
  • 7" IPS 1280x800 capacitive touchscreen
  • 5000mAh battery
  • OS: Android 4.2 Jellybean
  • Internal storage: I've got the 8GB version since it's the only available for now. There will be a 16GB version too (probably very soon).

The CPU and GPU specs are very similar to its predecessor the Gamepad 1, which featured a dual-core Rockchip RK3066, which is basically the same as the RK3188 specs-wise being both based on a Cortex A9 implementation, just the RK3188 is quad-core. GPU is the same.
To make a long story short, I see this device's main upgrades not much in the performance area but rather in all the areas where the Gamepad 1 fell short: screen, controls, battery, RAM.
The box is pretty much what you’d expect from a mid-range priced device. Nothing too fancy, yet functional. Contents, besides the console itself: AC charger, USB cable and 3 plug adapters so you’re pretty much covered all around the world. Pretty good for those who travel, plus it simplifies production and international resale.
The box also contains manuals and a number of “quick start” guides, including one for the key mapper too.

The overall hardware and feel
The device, as expected from what I’ve read, feels good in your hands also thanks to its textured back plate.

On top of the device we have: USB (Micro-B), Mini-HDMI, standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Also on top we find the on/off button and the volume controls.
On the bottom: MicroSD.
One very good point about the Archos Gamepad 2 is that it can be charged via USB, both using the AC adapter or through a PC. I've read that some similar competing device (JXD S7800) can't charge through USB.
Ports and buttons placement is quite optimal since it does not interfere with the way you hold the device while in landscape mode, especially when using the physical controls: there’s no risk that you mistakenly press some volume buttons or that your fingers slip into against some screws. If we want to be picky, the SD port could have been placed in a more central position thou. Vertical usage obviously forces you to hold the device differently by placing your hand around it, but that’s not a real issue and let’s be frank, this device is meant to be hold in landscape mode.

Now for some less good news: I’ve ordered 2 devices and both had some kind of (minor) trouble. One has a dead pixel. The issue with the other is trickier: at first it wouldn’t turn on at all until I’d connected it to the AC, then it started working fine. Notice that the battery wasn’t low at all, it was actually fully charged. It simply wouldn’t turn on the first time unless connected, unlike the other one. Just a first-time thing. Anyway this same device also had an issue with WiFi: it wouldn’t turn on at all (actually it turned on, stayed on for a few seconds without discovering any networks and then switched off). I’ve reset it to factory settings but still nothing. Eventually I’ve power-cycled it yet again and now WiFi is working perfectly on it, I can switch it on and off an networks are detected just fine. Let’s keep fingers crossed :)
UPDATE: this faulty unit is unfortunately beyond fixing. Wifi issues persist and random reboots take place frequently. I will have to send it back, I'll keep you posted about Archos' customer service!
Resetting the device to factory settings will not reinstall the additional non-Archos apps that were bundled with the device, specifically:
  • The 2 free full games (Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 4)
  • Angry Birds (demo)
  • Game Zone
  • Antivirus Free
  • News Republic
  • News and meteo
  • MobiSystems OfficeSuite Pro
  • Gameloft TOP GAMES (Gameloft store)
  • World of Goo (demo)
  • Jamendo
  • Movie Studio

UPDATE: luckily, the stock software can be downloaded from here: ftp://support.archos.com/GamePad%202/HDD.rar (2GB download).
First-time setup
The first-time setup is pretty much simple and straightforward: just set the language, timezone and WiFi. Some non-archos apps will be installed on first time setup, but as described above you will only be prompted to install them the first time. If you reset to factory settings, you won’t be prompted again. Most people probably won’t ever need to reset it to factory settings though. Don’t let this put you down as it’s a minor issue and this device has its qualities, please read on!

See the "Third-Party Applications" tab?
Before we continue, let's try to also list the built-in Archos apps (not the 3rd parties above). They are (sorry if I forgot some):
  • Archos Music
  • Archos Remote
  • Archos Video
  • Mapping Tool

The screen looks real good to me, also considering that I’m used to pretty much high quality displays. Surely we shall factor in that this is a €179 device, but for that price I think this is probably the best you can get: contrast and brightness are very good, and viewing angle is excellent from all sides. A really good step forward from the Gamepad 1, I’m told J
The screen is also quite glossy and it’s not inset like for instance on the JXD S7300, meaning it will not collect dust at its corners. It’s also very responsive to touch controls, definitely feels good using it.
The flip of the coin is that the screen is also a bit of a fingerprints magnet.

One of the main selling points of this kind of devices is the physical controls of course. The Gamepad 2 is strong on this. It is a big step forward from its predecessor as it improves on just about everything, plus it carries on its excellent software implementations. Let’s see more in detail what this means!
First off, the D-Pad has been revolutionized and this one feels very good. I’m quite satisfied as it seems to be the right shape to perform consistently all kind of moves. Definitely a good job overall, even thou the right analog stick is a bit too close to it and you could end up interferring with it, mostly when going to the bottom-right diagonal direction. No huge concern overall but I'd rather have had a little more space there.
Concerning the buttons, we now have 4 triggers like with the JXD devices, and they work very nicely. Front buttons feel perfect too, definitely all is good with buttons! Start and Select front buttons are more flat which is a plus so you will avoid mistakenly pushing them.
The analog sticks (or sliders as you may call them) are also good: in my opinion they have the right amount of resistance. Sometimes they just feel a little bit like they’re scratching on some sand when you move them or tend to be not too fast at centering, but I’ve yet to find a portable device with 100% perfect sliders, including Nintendo ones. And of course they're REAL analog sticks (like the Gamepad 1) and can be used directly or mapped through the included keymapper (see below).
Reaching the top triggers while using the analog sticks is unfortunately a little hard. For the record, I guess I can say that I’ve got medium-sized hands. Anyway this will always be an issue with 7” devices, as using whatever controls that will be put on the lower part will make it hard to reach the triggers. Archos decided to put the analog sticks on the lower part and the D-Pad and buttons on the top part, other manufacturers have adopted different strategies but, I presume, with similar results!
Another big plus of the Gamepad 2 is that the physical controls are recognized by Android as a standard Joystick, which means that applications which directly recognize Android Joysticks will directly use them without the need for you to map on-screen controls. This also has the big advantage that in this case, you won’t need the physical controls overlays which usually take up much of the screen and are really just a hassle when using physical controls. Applications that directly recognize the Joystick usually disable the overlays.
Keep this in mind since most competing devices don’t do this through native firmware and your only option is to use the provided keymapper which won’t get you rid of the on-screen control overlays. JXD S7300 has this implemented with a custom firmware AFAIK.
Additionally, you can connect an external joystick with Bluetooth or USB, but I haven’t tried that yet.
For applications that don’t directly recognize Android joysticks, Archos has developed a very good and flexible key-mapping device for its original Gamepad and it has obviously made it to the Gamepad 2 as well.
The keymapper seems to be doing its job nicely: it's extremely responsive (no delays), autosaves and loads configurations and can even map just part of the controls. This is very useful since some apps seem to recognize only some controls. Take this beautiful game for instance:
It does directly recognize the D-Pad but not the buttons. I've mapped the buttons to screen touches and can now play it perfectly!
Software and Performance
The launcher is very snappy and responsive: definitely a very good first impression! No problems navigating through it, feels good under your fingers and does its job well.
I’m not sure how the built-in software on this device compares to others since, as stated before, I’m no Android expert, but I like what I see here: all the Google apps and Play stores are available and working fine and fast. You can actually use the Gamepad 2 as a proper tablet!
The firmware is also solid from what I can see and does perform all its functions as expected, until now at lease.
About games performance, once again it’s more or less as expected from what I’ve read around before buying: the built-in 3D games (I’ve actually only tried Asphalt 8 as they don’t interest me much) are not overwhelming in performance, actually Asphalt 8 is pretty much borderline here. The graphics quality is good but the framerate isn’t. Yet, it’s playable and directly uses the physical controls. Consider that Asphalt 8 is also sizing in at an almost 900MB download! (which you will have to go through if you want to play as the pre-installation on the device is only partial).
I have then proceeded to test some other apps, first off with Expendables Reloaded. I've chosen it because it uses directly the physical control and because it was tested on the Gamepad 1 by someone else (video here in case you're interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8xKf4U25us), so I could compare the improvements with the Gamepad 2. Quite (un)surprisingly the performance on the Gamepad 2 doesn't look any better than its predecessor: in the end the GPU is the same as with the Gamepad 1 and the CPU's clock as well. If the app isn't designed to make use of the 2 additional cores, similar performances can likely be expected. Maybe the game's framerate is locked too, I don't know.
Next I've tested Dead Trigger 1 and 2 and they ran running smoothly. Both games recognized the physical controls (i.e. no need to map onscreen buttons).
Concerning emulators, admittedly one of the main reasons why I've got the Gamepad 2, I've only really tested a few until now. I've got to choose from the admittedly wide range of offer available on Android, and since most of the commercial ones do seem to have an edge over their free counterparts, I've got to pick the right ones in order not to go bankrupt :) (yes, I do buy apps). Anyway here's what I've tested so far (I've tried to focus on the most popular platforms plus some personal favorite):
N64: mupen64plus (free) and N64oid (commercial). Both seem to run at roughly the same speed, maybe with a little edge on the latter one but it's hard to tell since only mupen64 displays framerate. On it games ranged between 20 and 30fps.
Both emulators natively upscaled the polygons to match the device's resolution, which resulted in very sharp image quality HD-style. Of course this technic highlights the contrast with low-resolution bitmapped game elements such as OSD, text and so on. But it's a drawback we must live with if we want higher difinition, right? :)
PC Engine: PCE.emu (commercial). No issues here, excellent emulator. I couldn't manage to run a CD game yet: it only supports cue+bin format (not ISO), and anyway seems that not all of them load up. Not cool but I'll manage to make it work, I'll fiddle further with it later.
SNES: SnesDroid (free). At first I was surprised that the emulator didn't run at a full frame rate. Eventually I've noticed that by default frameskip is set to 1. I've lowered it to 0 and everything went smooth as expected, including heavy mode7 games like F-Zero and Pilotwings (typically a hassle to emulate).
PSX: FPse(commercial) and RetroArch (free). FPse was very underwhelming as, despite my efforts of enabling 3D hardware acceleration and dynamic recompilation (the latter wouldn't turn on at all), framerates on Tekken 3 were always around 40. Retroarch, on the other hand, performed brilliantly at full frame rate!
Amiga: UAE4Droid (free). It's working great, if a bit picky on kickstart versions but eventually got it running. Fast and accurate. I used to code in ASM a lot on the Amiga so I really appreciate this one!
The only minor issue is a strange direction cancelling that happens when going down on the d-pad and firing. Doesn't happen with other emus so it's more likely a specific issue with this one. Probably can be solved by changing the mapping, anyway using the analog in spite of the D-Pad also solves the issue.
Atari 2600: RetroArch emulates the Atari 2600 really well using the popular Stella core, but the sound delay is crazy. 2600.emu (commercial) doeas a better job with sound. Neither seem able to run Supercharger games.
UPDATE: I had installed RetroArch from the F-Droid, very bad move since it somehow installed only the PSX core. I've reinstalled it from scratch downloading it from the official website and I can say that my experience with it beats all other emulators until now RetroArch really performs great on the Gamepad 2, plus it's free of course. I'll follow up on this!
Next I will probably focus on Mame, Sega systems, Gameboy/GBA, Spectrum, C64 and Atari systems.
I've obviously used this thread as a reference for choosing emulators: http://boards.dingoonity.org/android-devices/android-emulator-overview-share-your-preferred-setup/
Antutu Benchmark
I have ran Antutu Benchmark also, as it seems to be the de-facto benchmarking app on Andoid. The Gamepad 2 achieved an interesting score of 19.487: Above the S3 and Nexus 10, just below the Sony Xperia Z. See below for details:

The front-facing camera is shit. Sorry for the drop of style here, but that’s how it is: low resolution, low framerate, horrible quality. Better than nothing, sure, but crappy nonetheless. Of course the camera is not the main selling point for this device so some compromises here had to be expected.
The Gamepad 2 features two pretty loud speakers on the front, which is a good thing since those thin speakers featured on tablets tend to be very directional and putting them on the back of the device hinders the overall effect quite a bit. They’re no Bose quality of course, but I guess that they’re pretty much as good as they can get for this price range. No complaints, and you can still plug in standard earphones in case you’re not satisfied.
Volume control works fine across all applications with visual on-screen indicator.
It once happened to me that disconnecting the earphones didn't switch the sound back to the speakers. Connecting and disconnecting them again fixed the issue.
There’s a microphone, it works. What else to write here? :)
Battery life seems really good, but it's too early to tell for sure as I’m still on the first factory-charge. Anyway I was expecting a much higher drain. The 5000mAh battery definitely seems to be doing its job properly until now. I'll follow up on this after some additional usage.
Anyway, I can already tell that sleep mode properly saves battery as expected.
Other misc. features
There are quite some features I've yet to test: HDMI out, SD card, OTG. I'll get to them eventually.
The stock firmware used to have an SD card read-only issue, apparently solved by Archos' latest update.
Final words
As you can understand from my review, there are no serious downsides to this console and I can safely say that I am satisfied with it until now. Most of all, the firmware looks very stable and it doesn't seem to suffer from all the plenty of issues that other similar devices usually have due mostly to bad software. Choose it if you want a solid and stable gaming tablet with good build quality for a very reasonable price!
Of course this review is very early and I may run into some issues or interesting findings about the Archos Gamepad 2 over the next few days or weeks of usage. I'll try to keep this review up to date.

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