Android tablets have hit rock bottom. And we’re not just talking about the low, low price of the Augen GenTouch78. This K-Mart special is just that bad.An android device running over 2.1 OS, the tablet has 800 MHz CPU, Wi-Fi and 2 GB storage……
The first thing that struck us about the Augen is its resistive touchscreen. There is a discernible gap between the platic top layer and the display, which makes a little creaky noise when we pressed down. Staffers who attempted to use fingertips to tap icons or type on the keyboard had to press very hard, and even those of us with fingernails only got it to work slightly better. When trying to launch apps, the GenTouch 78 taunted us many times by making its icons move (as if we were dragging them) but not opening the app we tried hard press.
The interface is stock Android, but at least it’s 2.1. The GenTouch 78 also comes with core Google apps such as the Market, YouTube, GMail, and Maps. Right now there’s a bug in the Market, so even though you can view and search for apps, they won’t download or install. Apparently a fix is on the way. Still, the inclusion of these apps is a pleasant surprise given that Google usually restricts the Market to devices that pass their Compatibility Test Suite. On paper, this feature makes the GenTouch78 more desirable than, say, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet because you don’t have to go to a third-party app store.
It’s taken quite a bit of chasing (and Kmart stalking) this week to score Augen’s $150 Gentouch Android tablet, but lo’ and behold, the gadget is now in its rightful home… our home! We don’t need to tell you that we ferociously ripped open the box to finally see how the Android 2.1 tablet performs, test out its touchscreen and see if it actually has access to app stores (unlike Augen’s smartbook which we toyed with earlier this week).
We fired up a couple of apps just to try them out. Maps correctly identified our location (likely due to Wi-Fi triangulation) but YouTube wouldn’t load videos, though Augen has just issued a patch that we’re trying out. Laptopmag.com loaded pretty quickly in the web browser, but scrolling wasn’t easy due to the touchscreen’s poor responsiveness.
Hardware: Just like some of the early videos indicated, the tablet is made entirely of black plastic. For $150 we can’t really knock the build quality of this thing, but we do have to say the $199 Archos 7 Home Tablet feels a lot sturdier and is also a bit thinner. Still, the Augen tablet is satisfactorily light and it’s easy to hold up to read a website or e-book. As we’ve said before, 7-inch tablets are an ideal size for holding in one hand. Oh, and as you will see in the gallery, Augen throws in a faux leather case — probably to hide the 78’s cheap aesthetic. Surrounding the tablet is a micro-USB port, a 2.5mm headphone jack (yeah, it’s a bummer!) and a microSD card slot. As for that headphone jack, Augen has told us that if you email them firstname.lastname@example.org, they’ll send you a pair of 2.5mm headphones or some sort of adapter — cheers to that!
Screen: Come on, you’re not really shocked that the display is resistive and only has an 800 x 480 resolution, are you? For the price, we expected nothing more really, though in use it wasn’t as bad as we’d imagined. Obviously, you have to press pretty hard on the 7-inch display to make selections, but there’s also a stylus that pops out on the top of the tablet. We’ve actually defaulted to using the stylus, but a fingernail certainly gets the job done as well. Either way, resistive is, well, resistive. Also, you may notice in the pictures that there’s a slight gap between the glass of the screen and the actual display. There’s also no accelerometer or software for adjusting the screen orientation. No beating around the bush on this one: this screen is cheap, but then again so is the tablet.
Performance / Android experience: We actually have to give Augen some credit for shipping the Gentouch 78 with Android 2.1. It’s not 2.2 — though Augen says it may be upgradeable sometime — but at first boot we were greeted by a live wallpaper and shortcuts to the browser, YouTube, the Market, iReader, Skype and others. Basically, if you’re an Android user, you’ll feel quite at home. However, we cannot tell you how badly we wish there was a home and back button on the front of the device — there are a few cheap, very clicky buttons on the back, but it’s incredibly annoying to guess what each one does when you’re looking at the screen. The good news is that the GenTouch tablet is nowhere near as slow as the GenBook, but its 800MHz processor and 256MB of RAM makes Android smartphones, like the Droid X, Incredible and Evo 4G, look like Usain Bolt. As you see in the video, the application panel jiggers across the screen, scrolling is quite delayed and launching applications takes a noticeable few seconds. Still the tablet is capable of doing things like loading and watching YouTube videos as well as surfing the web, albeit on Hawaiian time. There’s 2GB of onboard memory, but the microSD slot should support up to 16GB cards.
Apps / Market access: So, yes, the Gentouch does come preloaded with the Google Market, but just as we experienced with the smartbook, applications won’t install. When we chatted with Augen, we were told that an update should restore access, though they also mentioned they’d be chatting with Google soon about the access. (We can’t imagine Google is all that happy that this company is shipping tablets with the Market preloaded.) However, Gmail and YouTube are both pre-installed on the device, and we have had no issues with either one. Skype, on the other hand, doesn’t work at all. We’ll be burning through our weekend trying to sideload some .apks, so stay tuned on how that all turns out. Augen tells us the updates for the store will appear on its support site.
On the plus side, the plastic chassis of the GenTouch78 feels sturdy–at least for the price. The look of it is reminiscent of Coby products. Then again, this is being sold in Kmart.
We’ll be spending a bit more time with the Gentouch 78 to make a final call on its functionality, but it’s crystal clear that this isn’t a high-end device. If you were hoping to find a beautiful iPad substitute for a fraction of the cost, keep on looking. However, considering most Kmart’s have been selling out of these within hours of receiving new inventory, this just may be the answer all you cheap tablet seekers have been looking for — just be prepared to put up with more than a few annoyances along the way.
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