View Full Version : Archos GamePad 2 First Impressions

9th November 2014, 23:38
I've owned a few retro game emulation-focussed devices in my time, and all of them have had problems in one way or another - I don't mean with the software, as some issues with that are to be expected with niche devices, but rather various issues concerning build and reliability.

When I discovered the rise of Android tablets with physical game controls built-in, I observed the market for a while, and held off for some time, as I didn't want to risk importing a device from abroad and ending up as one of the folks who ends up with a horror story to tell about it. When I finally saw the Archos GamePad 2 and researched it, I thought that it might be the one for me - for the first time, I saw a retro gaming-capable device from a well-known brand, with all of the positives that one would expect that to entail. Even so, past experiences in mind, I braced myself for more of the same issues that I had encountered with prior retro-centred devices.

I needn't have worried. It turns out that the Archos GamePad 2 is indeed the retro portable that I've been waiting for ever since I first heard of the GP32 way back at the turn of the century. Like anything, it isn't without some issues, but for what I want out of it, these are neglible at most, and arguably, one of them is actually a feature. No, really.

The machine is about two inches taller than a Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Keyboard, and is no wider than these devices. The build-quality is what you would expect it to be, from a device from a decently-known manufacturer - the machine doesn't feel flimsy, isn't too heavy, and has well-placed inputs, ports, jacks, and speakers (which, unlike with many tablets, are on the front of the unit). This said, though the overall build-quality is high, my unit, at least, does creak a tiny bit, and this is mostly noticeable when it's held vertically. It's not anything disconcerting, or that seems like a sign of poor-quality parts, though.

The Archos GamePad 2 has the same specs and guts as the JXD S7800B, and that's all that really needs to be said about that. I don't care about specs at all, personally - only about the device doing what I want it to do, and doing it well, and it does this perfectly. It's overkill for me, as I'm most interested in emulation up to about the PlayStation era, but the GamePad 2 can apparently handle almost everything up to some Dreamcast titles (apparently the emulator for this, Reicast, is somewhat buggy, but the games that it can run it seem to run nicely, going by the videos that I've watched about it), and full-speed emulation of the Nintendo DS. Some folks have gotten some PSP titles working acceptably using PPSSPP, as well, going by some YouTube videos I've seen. Looking up either the Archos GamePad 2 or the JXD S7800B on YouTube will show you what machines with these guts can do, if you want to know more.

It runs a pretty stock Android 4 setup, which seems to still be being updated - I was prompted to update the firmware shortly after getting the machine set up. Everything's as you'd expect it to be, although you're not prompted to sign into your Google Account during setup, so you have to do so manually after that's finished. During setup, several items of software that are included with the tablet are downloaded and installed, including a few games, an office suite, and an anti-virus package. A couple of the included games are championed in the promotional blurb for the GamePad 2, and those are Gameloft's Asphalt 8, and Modern Combat 4 (the other included game is Angry Birds). I personally found Asphalt 8 to be a bit boring, but it was a nice way of being able to quickly test that all of the inputs were functioning correctly after the tablet had been set up! I never tried Modern Combat 4 at all, as I find that first-person games usually make me feel unwell, and I don't find them to be any fun anyway. Both were uninstalled in short order, which taught me something useful - unlike some Android tablets that include promotional software but won't let you uninstall it, you are free to remove the titles that are installed during setup, here, and they won't magically reappear to irritate you again later.

The WiFi is perfectly stable, and it seems to be pretty snappy - I had all of my favourite apps and games from the Google Play store and Amazon Appstore for Android downloaded and installed in next to no time. I haven't done any web-browsing on it yet, but I imagine that it will be a similarly smooth and speedy experience.

The GamePad 2 comes with 16GB of storage, though some of this is taken up by the OS, as you'd expect - however, to get started with, and indeed for a lot of people's overall needs as a whole, this is absolutely fine! There is a microSD slot as well, which is located in the lower right corner of the back of the machine. It is very recessed, and slightly fiddly to put a card into, but once you get past this, it's fine. This works as any other Android device's microSD slot does. It is worth noting that there is an option, in Settings > Apps, to move any app from the on-board storage to the microSD Card.

The machine's biggest downside (and you could easily argue that it's its only real one), by far, is that the USB transfer protocols used by Android seem to be agonisingly slow to deal with, at least on Linux. You need to copy things in manageable chunks, or else the transfer speed will quite quickly drop from around 25MB to 30MB per second to mere kilobytes per second, instead. I'm unsure if this is due to saturating the bus or something else, but it did make my system a little chuggy and unresponsive whilst I was transferring items to the tablet, so I assume that this was the cause. Also, unlike other current Android contemporaries, for some reason MTP mode on the GamePad 2 doesn't work when you hook it up to a Linux box. This has been an issue with some devices over the last couple of years, but for those it seems to have been fixed. Setting it to connect as a camera works, but you can't put files wherever you want to - only the tablet's image storage locations - so you'll have to drop them there and then move them with your Android file manager of choice later (I like File Manager by Cheetah Mobile, formerly RHMSoft, myself, to the point that I never checked to see if the GamePad 2 comes with a built-in one! I later learned that it does, but I still haven't used it). If you can get your files onto the device in some other way (like, say a microSD Card; Mine did not arrive until after I had endured using the USB connection, though!), do so. (Please note, though, that this may not apply to Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or even other Linux distributions - I can't test this out to know for sure either way, though!)

When you first use the machine, you'll find that the speakers aren't bad, but that they could perhaps have been a bit better - in particular, at first, they can have a bit of a "wall of noise" feel to them at higher volumes in some games and other software. A couple of days in, however, and the speakers will break in a bit, at which point they sound considerably better!

The game controls are really nice - they feel every bit as good as those of the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita. Whilst I haven't gotten to use them much yet, I was particularly happy to see that the analogue inputs are actually thumb-sliders that are similar to the Circle Pad on the 3DS (though they do feel a little bit rougher in how they slide) - I find raised analogue sticks to be painful to use, so this is a major blessing. All of the directions on the d-pad are distinct (as opposed to some d-pads out there that can register ups and diagonals when you're just trying to move left or right), and the buttons respond very much like those on the joypads of the 16-bit systems of olden times did. I would compare these controls favourably to those of the SNES and the Mega Drive, personally. The Select and Start buttons may take a bit of getting used to for those with larger hands, as they are very small, but I didn't have any problems with them. Overall, though, the controls have obviously been designed by people who care about game controls, unlike some devices and peripherals that I've encountered over the years.

There is an included feature - the Archos GamePad Mapping Tool - where you can map touch screen controls to the physical ones. I haven't used this much yet, as everything I've wanted to use so far has native support for the physical controls! The mapper can be accessed at any time, as it appears as a joypad icon on the bar where the standard Android Back, Home, and Tasks buttons always reside. Whilst the mapping program seems to work pretty well from what little messing around I've done with it, it does have one oversight in that you seemingly can't map anything to the d-pad. You also can't map touch controls to physical ones in games that use "touch anywhere" mechanics (for example, Angry Birds, or Zen Pinball HD), although in fairness, the package does include a leaflet about the mapping feature that makes this point very clear, very quickly. To see what would happen, I foolishly decided to try to map the controls for the Pac-Man themed endless-jumper, PAC'N-JUMP (http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.namcobandaigames.pacnjump_and) (EDIT: This is sadly no longer available if you didn't already grab it when it was available), using this tool, and found that, once an input was assigned to this game, it was no longer possible to touch the icon for the mapping tool in order to remove it, even if I quit and restarted the game, or uninstalled, reinstalled, and restarted the game. It was also necessary to guess at which buttons might get me out of the game and back to the Home screen in order to actually use the tablet again! It seems to be impossible to find where the settings for the Archos GamePad Mapping Tool are stored, and the only way to fix the problem was to uninstall all of the updates for the tool in Settings > Apps, which also removed the faulty mapping that I had set up. The moral of the story is, don't try to set up touch-anywhere software with the Archos GamePad Mapping Tool!

One thing that some may feel to be a minus-point is that the capacitive touch screen requires you to use a little more "force", for want of a better description, than the ones you typically find on non-gaming Android tablets. I would imagine that this was done in order to prevent accidental inputs from mistakenly brushing the screen during use, and for this reason, I'm fine with it. The degree of "force" required (again, for want of a better description - you just need to press a *tiny* bit more firmly than on most other Android devices) is nowhere near as much as is needed for the screen on, say, the PS Vita, which is not at all bad itself. Once you're used to it, which takes all of about ten seconds, or a quick blast on a touch-controlled game that you're already familiar with playing on other devices, you won't notice this anymore. As you might imagine, the GamePad 2 is absolutely great for normal tablet tasks as well, and I'm enjoying having such an eclectic mix of retro and modern games on one device, along with books, music, and video.

The GamePad 2's battery life is decent enough with the screen brightness on the default setting, but once I'd lowered it to be more friendly toward my eyes, it improved further. Overall, it seems to be incredibly good so far - the 70% charge that the machine came with just went on and on and on, and when it came down to the last four percent of it, it still kept going for about twenty minutes or so. I was really impressed by this, and expect it will be even better when charged to 100%. I'm currently running it down from a full charge done a day or so ago, and it's still going. It does take a long time to charge, though, at least from a powered USB hub (this is the usual way that I charge such gadgets), from which it charges at a rate of about 10% an hour. You're best to leave it to charge overnight if this is how you also charge things. I haven't tried it using a USB mains adapter yet.

For me, the Archos GamePad 2 represents both a significant upgrade in entertainment value and usefulness from my previous tablet (the 2012 Nexus 7), and is also the best retro emulation system I've ever owned, bar none. Android's convenience makes it a superior experience to other such systems, in my opinion, as it's a whole lot easier to leave it in sleep mode and just pick it up and play at any time. My first couple of days with it have left me with very good first impressions, and I hope that it will continue to be as good and reliable as it has started out to be, for many years to come.

All in all, if your retro gaming interests cover vintage arcade, computer, and console games, and you also happen to like a few lighter modern Android games as well, you'll be very well-served here.


Also, a couple of my lemmings have taken to it, ever since I gave The Anti-Lemmin' Demo by Eric W. Schwartz (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjGcgd_0O5k) a spin in UAE4All2 (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=pandora.uae4all.sdl). What higher approval can there be? ;)

Amiga Forever
10th November 2014, 12:09
Excellent Reading and I would like to see your Video of it which ever game you play :)

10th November 2014, 12:27
nice review :) thank you very much

10th November 2014, 13:43
Very nice I have the older version but I have not had much time with it

10th November 2014, 16:36
Great review, but anther case of AmiBay costing me money LOL. I have a GP2X and a Pandora at the moment for my emulation neeeds, do you think that this is better than the Pandora for N64 / PS1 emulation?

10th November 2014, 20:42
Thanks guys. :D There is one thing I forgot, by the way - these are currently being sold, fulfilled by Amazon UK, for 99 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I8IJIIG/ref=pe_385721_37986871_TE_item), which is less than any other UK stores seem to be selling either the GamePad 2 or the JXD S7800B for at the moment. Absolute bargain.

I've also learned that you can't play whilst charging it, at least if charging from a powered USB hub as I do - it drains the charge faster than it can be topped up.

@Amiga Forever - I'm afraid that I don't make videos. Sorry about that. :( If you'd like me to take any more photos, I'm happy to do so, though!

@manic23 - If we assume that the GP2X still has the stock thumbstick (my goodness, weren't those awful? Did they ever fix that, or was it always left down to fan-made mods?), and ignore the Pandora's uses outside of gaming, I'm finding that the GamePad 2 is light-years ahead in every way, especially in convenience. I haven't messed with N64 emulation at this point, though, so you might want to hit YouTube to check on that. I should mention that I've not figured out how to use the analogue sticks in ePSXe yet, though, but I don't have many games where that even matters (Lomax is a 2D platformer, and Lemmings 3D and Crash Bandicoot pre-date the analogue controllers, just to cite a few examples), so I haven't been too inclined to get that sorted out yet. :lol:

10th November 2014, 21:37
There are two on Amazon, one at 99 and one at 147, are they both the same?

10th November 2014, 22:21
There are two on Amazon, one at 99 and one at 147, are they both the same?
Identical! It's just that Amazon's price is higher - it's a great demonstration of how much it pays to shop around, I think.

10th November 2014, 22:27
I am so tempted to get one, damn you for writing such a good review NR!

10th November 2014, 22:38

I must say, I need to find a decent case for mine. Being taller than the Nexus 7, it didn't fit in my old padded slip-cover. I reckon a case for the Wii U GamePad might do, though it'll probably have a bit of empty space left over, since the Archos GamePad 2 is a lot thinner.

11th November 2014, 03:27
Sorry for the double-post, but I just had to make a note about this: Today's Amazon Appstore for Android freebie, Super Crossfighter, doesn't work properly on the Archos GamePad 2. The game itself works fine, but once you exit it, it causes strange behaviour, like random inputs (such as changing the sound volume), and random reboots and power-downs, with no warning whatsoever. This continues after the tablet is powered back up, as the game seems to be running in the background once the tablet starts up, even though permission to do that is never asked for or even mentioned.

For a moment I wondered if something was wrong with the tablet, but removing Super Crossfighter solved the problems instantly. So, yeah, just a heads-up if you happen to have this - it doesn't seem to be ok on this particular device.

11th November 2014, 08:37
Thanks for the heads up in sure there are a load of other apps that also are not compatible with certain models of android devices.

11th November 2014, 09:01
Most definitely, though in those cases they usually won't let you install them to begin with. :lol: It's certainly the weirdest incompatibility behaviour I've ever seen, at any rate.

11th November 2014, 09:06
I think I'm going to order one today after seeing the PS1 emulator running on a YT vid I'm sold. I think N64 emulation is still a bit buggy though, mind you what N64 emulator isn't?

11th November 2014, 23:00
Please do post back to say how you get on with it!

As for N64 emulators, yeah, I've yet to see a super-accurate one, and most of them still run at far too high a frame-rate, the last time I checked, too. :lol:

11th November 2014, 23:03
I didn't get one in the end I saw an NEC turbo stick controller for my PC Engine and got that instead! Maybe next month