The Archos GamePad doesn’t have the flash or the breadth of capabilities seen in NVIDIA’s Project SHIELD, but at just $169.99, and available already in the UK with a US launch coming in February, the GamePad could be the answer for Android gamers jonesing for some real controls to use with the increasingly impressive catalog of games in the Play Store.
The controls are very reminiscent of the PlayStation Portable — both a good and a bad thing. They did wisely offer dual analog control sticks, but if you’ve never handled a PSP, they slide rather than pivot like the control sticks on an XBOX 360 or PlayStation controller. It’s still easily superior to on screen controls; however, it doesn’t offer anything close to the level of precision you can achieve with a console controller. The rest of the hardware buttons were quite responsive, although they did feel a bit loose. While the GamePad is running stock Android 4.1 and could certainly be used as a tablet, I would rather have seen them push it even farther in the direction of a great gaming controller with a screen.
Unfortunately, the specs are a bit behind; the GamePad is equipped with a dual-core A9 processor at 1.6 GHz, a quad-core MALI 400 GPU and 1 GB of RAM.
The most interesting thing Archos has done with the GamePad is their patented ability to map the physical controls directly to the screen using a drag and drop interface. It’s incredibly easy to use and worked perfectly in every game we tried. Archos does have a patent on their implementation of this concept. This strikes me as a a bit unfortunate; it’s such a simple and clever way to handle mapping on screen buttons to physical controls.
The GamePad feels like a 1.0 product, and based on our brief time with it, we wouldn’t recommend that you run out and buy one. But, it does show some promise. If Archos takes user feedback to heart, the second generation GamePad will be something to keep an eye out for.