Augen's $99 GenBook smartbook preview

That's right, not only does Augen -- a company unbeknown to us before yesterday -- make an $150 Android 2.1 tablet, but the company is also stocking Kmart shelves with a $99 Android smartbook of sorts. How'd we find out about this one? Well, when we headed to our local Kmart in hopes of picking up the 7-inch tablet, one last, very lonely GenBook 74 was dwelling on the shelf. We aren't the kind of people that could just leave the little guy there all alone, so $100 later we were the proud owners of a 7-inch, Android 1.6 clamshell device. Is the little laptop really capable of surfing the web and downloading apps, or would your hard earned cash be better spent elsewhere? Find out after the break. %Gallery-98319%

  • Look and feel - Upon tearing the GenBook's box open, we realized we'd looked this little laptop in the face before. It looks strikingly similar to CherryPal's $99 netbook, which we saw back in April, and we actually assume both Augen and CherryPal are using the same ODM. Regardless of where it comes from, it's insanely miniscule and light. And well, those are pretty much the GenBook's only redeeming qualities in terms of design, since the plastic gadget feels more like a Playskool toy than a legitimate computer. Actually, in terms of make, it feels more like $85 than $100. To its credit, it's surrounded by three USB ports, an SD card reader as well as Ethernet, headphone and microphone jacks.

  • Keyboard and touchpad - The 7-inch device is a huge throwback to the early days of netbooks. The keyboard is incredibly tiny, and we almost forgot how much we had to cramp up our fingers to type back in the day of the Eee PC 701. It would have been nice to see some dedicated Android shortcut buttons, but the left arrow key does double as a Home button. The touchpad is flanked vertically by right and left mouse buttons. The pad itself has a mind of its own and randomly decides to make selections at times, but you can always attach a USB mouse! Yep, it works.

  • Android experience, apps - The smartbook comes preloaded with Android 1.6, and the home screen has a unique dock with shortcuts to the browser, Google Maps, email, etc. The experience is nothing new to any Android user, but getting applications is easier said than done. Even though it comes with two app stores -- one dubbed Apps Store and the official Market -- we couldn't get either of them to install apps correctly. We're still working on it, so hold tight for an update soon. Still, the machine comes preloaded with Gmail, DocumentsToGo, iReader, a video player, etc. Yeah, we got excited about the YouTube app on the homescreen, but it's definitely not the official app and the videos refused to play.

  • Performance - It will probably come as no surprise that the GenBook, which is powered by a 400MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM, is slow. No, like really slow. It takes about a minute and a half to boot up and toggling through menus is downright laggy. We didn't have to wait all that long for webpages to load over WiFi, but the machine starts quitting programs when it's asked to do too much at the same time. We were fine sending an email in Gmail and listening to an MP3 in the background, but that's about the extent of it. Oh, and playing an MP4 video was a terribly choppy experience.

So, is the GenBook worth your $100? Depends on what you need this thing for -- it's alright for looking up a quick website here and there, and we assume if you can get some light apps running on it, it could be a decent single-function device. However, if you're looking for something that can provide decent video playback and be more of a multitasker, it's probably best to save up an extra $100 and get something a bit more substantial (like a bona fide netbook). Oh, and you'll want to stay tuned if you're hoping to discover whether Augen's $150 Android 7-inch tablet is in fact that better choice.