When buying discount electronics, there's a delicate balance consumers have to consider between expense and quality. If a device doesn't cost much, some faults can be forgiven. Sometimes, however, it's not worth even the small amount of money you forked over for it. Sadly, Augen's $149 GenTouch78 falls in the latter category. While it may achieve cult status in the Android hacker community, consumers should steer clear of its frustrating resistive touchscreen and poor button placement.
The GenTouch78 isn't a terrible-looking tablet, but there's definitely a discount-electronics aura about it. The 7.2 x 4.5 x 0.6-inch chassis is made of plastic, but it has a texture reminiscent of brushed metal on the back, resulting in a pleasant tactile experience. It's a good size for holding as well, and we found it fit comfortably in our hand. Our wrists never felt fatigued during our hands-on time with this 12.4-ounce device.
The biggest misstep Augen made in designing this tablet is the placement of the Home, Back, Menu, and Search buttons. They're essential for navigating Android, so placing them out of sight on the back of the device and making them small and hard to push is just ridiculous. The only good thing we can say about the buttons is that they are located just where the right index finger naturally sits, so after a while users can hit them without looking. Still, this isn't something you should have to do.
Click to enlargeA limited selection of ports on the right side includes a 2.5mm headphone jack, miniUSB port, and microSD slot, the last of which is poorly designed: inserted correctly, our microSD Card was difficult to remove. Inserted upside-down, an SD Card will disappear inside the device. There's a label for HDMI, but underneath it there's no port, just a faint outline indicating a possible space for one. Though there are few ports, this area feels pretty crowded; Augen shoved the power jack and small, awkward On/Off button into this area as well.
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On the back towards the middle, there's a single, circular speaker that surprised us with its power. We wish Augen had thought to include physical volume buttons since neither the stock music player nor the YouTube app include volume controls. Google probably assumes 9rightly) that devices will come with physical buttons.
We noticed while using the GenTouch78 that the back has a tendency to get warm, especially if we set it down on any surface for a few minutes. While not scorching, it was hotter than we'd like: after streaming a YouTube video at full screen for 15 minutes, the middle of the screen was 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and the back right (where your fingers would go) was a toasty 106 degrees.
Touchscreen and Display
Given that the GenTouch78 is low-end by definition, it's not surprising that it has a resistive touchscreen as opposed to a capacitive one--which means no multitouch gestures. However, there is a discernible space between the top layer and the display that we could both see when we pressed down and sometimes hear when attempting to tap letters on the keyboard. Though this is how resistive works, quality screens don't have such an obvious gap.
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Unfortunately, the resistive touchscreen on the GenTouch78 is literally resistive to touch. Tapping and scrolling took far too much effort, and at least half the time the screen didn't register our inputs. Using the pad of our finger was almost completely useless. We had only slightly more luck when using our fingernails or the stylus (tucked away on the top left edge in back of the tablet).
When attempting to enter text in any field that used the operating system's spell-check dictionary, we were beyond frustrated that the GenTouch78 had imported the names or IM handles of our contacts and made them the default choice ahead of more common words. For example, whenever we typed "is" the tablet changed it to "Isabel," "the" became "thelittlefox," "are" became "mary." Then there were auto-corrects we didn't understand at all: "on" changed to "co" and "in" defaulted to "info." Between this and the effort it required to type, sentences took forever to compose.
Beyond these problems, the 7-inch, 800 x 480-pixel matte display has decently wide viewing angles and offers rich, though somewhat muted colors. We were pleased with the quality of the images we loaded, as well as YouTube videos. Still, we prefer the Archos 7 Home Tablet's screen, which has much better accuracy.
Android and Apps
One thing the GenTouch78 has in its favor is the OS. Not only is it loaded with stock Android 2.1, the tablet comes with core Google apps usually not found outside of smart phones: Gmail, YouTube, Talk, Maps, and even the Android Market. There's a fly in the ointment, though: the Android Market doesn't work yet. We were able to search for and select apps, but not download or install them. Augen claims that a fix for this issue is on the way.
Apps we acquired and sideloaded installed just fine, so we suspect there's a disconnect somewhere between the tablet and Google's servers. (Or maybe Google doesn't want to grant Augen access to the Market using this poor device.)
Augen included several other apps as well: a PDF viewer, DocumentsToGo (full version), QuickOffice, DroidLive (streaming media), file explorer, iReader, Hi MSN, MaplePlayer, Skype, and Stream Media Player. Many of these apps are useful, but we found ourselves wishing for a working market so we could download replacements for iReader (it won't read EPUB files), MaplePlayer (overcomplicated UI), and DroidLive (wouldn't connect).
Even the apps that technically worked often presented us with frustrating problems. As the tablet doesn't have an accelerometer, users are trapped in landscape mode unless an app randomly decides to switch orientations to portrait. Some apps and menus--Skype and the notification bar being two prominent examples--don't work with the display's size and confine themselves to a half-size box in the center of the screen. We've noticed this before when we've loaded apps made for smart phones on large-screen tablets. However, it's odd to encounter this drawback with preloaded software.
The small speaker on the back of the GenTouch78 pumped out a surprising amount of volume, though the quality is only middling. Still, we could hear full volume audio clearly even with background noise in the room.
Watching YouTube videos was more enjoyable than we would have expected; both HD and standard definition clips played without a hitch over Wi-Fi. Pixels weren't always smooth, but this wasn't distracting. We streamed a standard-def clip of Katy Perry's "California Girls" on the GenTouch78, HTC Evo 4G, and the Samsung Captivate to compare quality. The Captivate's video was blocky and indistinct, while the GenTouch78's quality was closer to the Evo 4G. On the latter devices we could make out details, faces, and colors much better.
Given this video quality, we were disappointed that the tablet doesn't come with preinstalled codecs such as on the Archos 7 Home Tablet. Then it would make a halfway decent media player.
The included eReading app, iReader, doesn't come with any books preloaded and wouldn't recognize the EPUB file of Jane Austen's Persuasion we downloaded from the Gutenberg Project. It recognized an HTML eBook just fine, but its lack of support for a growing standard format was discouraging.
The 800-MHz Telechips TCC8902 CPU and 256MB of RAM don't add up to blazing speed, but the GenTouch78 did better on Android benchmarks than we expected. It's FPS2D score, which measures 2D graphics performance, was a speedy 65, well above the average (47.9) and a few frames faster than the Samsung Captivate (54), Droid X, and MyTouch 3G Slide (both 58). In Benchmark, the graphics score was again fairly high: 133.7. The average for phones is 67.8, and both the Captivate and the Droid X scored under 32.
However, when we ran tests that measure CPU and memory performance, the GenTouch78 falls behind. Its score of 3.7 in Linpack is well below the average (7), the Captivate (8.2), and the Droid X (8.2). In Nbench we saw the same thing: Memory (1) and Integer (1.2) didn't come close to either phone or the averages (1.9 and 2.8, respectively). In Benchmark, the CPU score (308.4) was less than half the average (621.1), though above the MyTouch 3G Slide (195.2).
At times it was difficult to figure out whether the GenTouch78's sluggishness was due to its components, poor touchscreen, or both. However, we also noted a lag between pressing one of the buttons on the back and actual execution of the command. Overall, the tablet struck us as similar to the Archos 7 Home tablet in usage, though that system's touchscreen isn't as bad. The GenTouch78 isn't as slow and frustrating to use as the Camangi WebStation, and it handles the live home screen wallpapers and streaming video fairly well.
There appears to be 3G capabilities, but this feature was not available, nor could we find a SIM Card slot. In the notification bar "El Telco Loco" is listed at the top where the wireless carrier name usually sits. There are also bars in the upper right corner indicating some kind of connection; however, without the Wi-Fi on we were unable to connect to the Internet.
We found the Wi-Fi acceptably speedy; the default browser loaded CNN.com and ESPN.com in 6 seconds, NPR.org in 10 seconds, and Laptopmag.com in 4 seconds.
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In our use the 2100 mAh battery didn't last longer than three hours when connected to Wi-Fi. However, we'll update our findings after we've run formal battery tests.
The GenTouch78 was never going to be a powerhouse or the most desirable tablet this side of the iPad, but even at $149 it's a waste of money. The Archos 7 Home Tablet, which was no prize in itself, is a better choice, as the company at least includes media codecs. Yes, having the Android Market (assuming Augen can get it working) and core apps on a tablet is a treat, but they don't make up for this slate's awful resistive screen, awkward button placement, and other deficiencies. We can see hackers and tinkerers potentially gravitating toward the GenTouch78 as a cheap Android testbed, but for general consumers, it's not worth the investment.