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Kmart tablet probably as bad as it sounds

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell weighs in on the Augen 7-inch Android tablet, which goes on sale at Kmart for $149.

Photo of the Augen Gentouch78 Android tablet.
The Augen Gentouch78 probably isn't worth buying, no matter how cheap it is. Augen

Update: In statements made to Laptop Magazine, Augen's CEO Gary Gofman claims that the unauthorized inclusion of the Google Android Marketplace app on the Gentouch78 tablet was an unintentional mistake, and future production runs will not include the Google Mobile Services Application Suite. So yes, it was too good to be true.

When I heard that Kmart is selling a $149 Android tablet with a 7-inch screen, I have to admit that I blew it off with a condescending snicker. No matter how you run the math, there's simply no way to turn a $149 price tag into a satisfying tablet experience--at least not yet. Logic may have gotten the better of me, though, because the demand for this Augen brand Android tablet is apparently so great, that Kmart is already issuing rain checks. In my ivory CNET tower, I forgot to calculate for the effects of a cheap price, Android fever, and blind optimism.

But before you make that dash for Kmart's blue-light beacon, allow me to explain what you probably already know in your heart to be true: the Augen Gentouch78 probably isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Professionally, it's not in my best interest to rein in consumer gadget lust--but as CNET's resident Android tablet expert I have to say my piece. To be fair, let's take a look at what makes this tablet so appealing on paper. Price aside, the Gentouch78 offers a relatively large screen, a version of the Android OS (2.1) that even Dell can't seem to deliver, an integrated Android app store, Wi-Fi, memory expansion (2GB built-in), and the predictable array of music, photos, videos, e-books, e-mail, and Web.

Now for the reality check.

If Android apps and the integrated app store are the big draw here, you should know that compatibility will be limited. Many Android apps currently require one or more hardware features that the Gentouch seemingly doesn't offer. Whether it's a menu button, GPS, camera, SIM, or call answer or end buttons--the Gentouch doesn't have them. Also, there still aren't a ton of apps designed for landscape-oriented operation on the 7-inch, 800x480-pixel screen used on the Gentouch. The similarly stripped-down $199 Archos 7 Home Tablet faced the same hurdles, and solved the problem by creating its own app marketplace that included only compatible, optimized apps...and it still sucked.

Another common problem between the Gentouch and the Archos 7 Home Tablet is system speed. Compare the 800MHz processor running Android 2.1 on the Gentouch78 with the Archos 7's 600MHz processor running Android 1.5, and you're probably about tied when it comes to performance. Speaking from experience, when touch-screen reaction times are sluggish, it doesn't matter how many features a tablet can promise, because you just don't want to use it. The touch-screen keyboard input will seem unresponsive, scrolling Web pages becomes a chore, and sorting through e-mails is more trouble than it's worth. For a tablet to find traction between your computer and your smartphone it needs to be quick, and the Gentouch78 likely isn't. Being cheap isn't enough.

There are other headaches not mentioned in the specs. For instance, you can't charge over USB. You have to use an included power adapter instead. The same is true of most tablets so far, but many of them balance the inconvenience with great battery life. I think it's safe to assume that if the battery life on the Gentouch were any good, the manufacturer would call it out in the specs.

Then again, I haven't actually used the Gentouch78. I'm prepared to put my foot in my mouth if my predictions are wrong, but I just couldn't sit idly by and let CNET readers get lured into buying one of these without knowing what they're in for. I want a cheap Android tablet, too, folks, but this one isn't getting my money.