The Archos Gamepad went up for sale in Europe back in October, but the 7-inch Android gaming tablet (with built-in physical controls, no less) is just arriving in North America this month. That’s a full year after the US launch of Sony’s dedicated gaming handheld, the PlayStation Vita, and the same quarter when Wikipad‘s expected to launch. To put it lightly, the Archos GamePad has some pretty stiff competition, both in the dedicated gaming handheld market and in the Android gaming tablet market. It’s certainly got the internals to stand up to the competition — Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean running on a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz and a quad-core Mali 400 MP GPU, 8GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD card slot, up to 64GB). You can even output video to your HDMI-enabled TV via mini HDMI out, should that 7-inch screen not be enough real estate for you. The twist with the Gamepad is an application Archos built for its gaming device which maps any game with virtual buttons to the physical buttons on the Gamepad. And while those buttons feel a bit on the cheap side, it’s certainly a better experience than virtualized buttons.
Of course, you’d have to be into playing Android games exclusively, and not mind that the full library of Android games won’t necessarily work with the GamePad’s built in controls (including juggernauts like Angry Birds); Archos says it’ll work with “over a thousand” titles, and a rep today updated that number with “over 6,500 titles.” Issues aside with swipe-based games, we were excited to get our first hands-on with yet another high-profile Android gaming tablet featuring physical controls. Thankfully, unlike its competition, the Gamepad is delightfully light — a great selling point when the alternatives are significantly less comfy for long-term gaming. We’ll have a more in-depth look at the Gamepad in the coming weeks as it arrives at retail in North America for $169.99.