In the summer of 2010, some intriguing netbooks and touch pad computers hit the shelves and web sites of Kmart and other retailers at amazingly low prices. Commentators were mystified by the little known company, Augen, that made the machines. There was initial controversy about the Android operating system used and the appropriate licensing of all the software aboard the Augen Genbook 74. There were initially negative reviews by skeptical critics who were probably accustomed to fancy Android and iPhone cell phones and more expensive netbooks. However, I was oblivious to all of the buzz about the Augen GenBook 74, I was just a Kmart shopper who stumbled upon a cute little netbook for $99.
I was simply drawn to the Augen GenBook 74 like it was a cute little puppy in the pet shop window. I was long overdue for some kind of cool gadget and an Apple iPad is simply not in the budget yet. At only $99, the Augen GenBook 74 hits a magic price point that allows it to be bought on the spot as an impulse. I’ve wanted a $100 laptop for quite some time and Kmart brought it to market at my magic number. According to the box, the Augen GenBook 74 has a 7- inch LED screen, a 400 Mhz CPU, 128M of DDR system memory, a 2GB Flash drive, and built in wifi (802.11 b/g). The Augen GenBook 74 runs on the Android 1.6 Operating System that has been used in sophisticated cell phones. This little computer comes with an AC adapter and has USB ports, two speakers, a headphone jack, a microphone jack, and a slot for an SD memory card. This tiny netbook is less than half the size of a traditional laptop like my Acer Aspire 5515 and is very lightweight. It will be able to go places and fit in spaces much more easily than a traditional laptop.
Early reviews have panned several Augen products for being slow, for not having much software, for being awkward, for not connecting at long range, for not doing a great job playing movies, etc. However, I’ve found that the Augen GenBook 74 is not nearly as bad as the early reviews have indicated. The Augen GenBook 74 doesn’t boot instantly, but the tiny netbook sure boots faster than either of our laptops. My Augen GenBook74 took about 1 minute and 30 seconds to boot up. The GenBook 74 found my network with no problem, I got it logged in with no problem, and I got out to the internet with no problem. The Augen GenBook 74 operated on our secured wireless Belkin Basic Home Network from anywhere in our apartment without any problem. The basic tasks of booting up and logging in were actually amazingly easy considering that I have no prior experience with Android or sophisticated cellphones. Free Apps from the Android Appstore seemed easy enough to download and install.
This doesn’t mean I haven’t found issues with the Augen GenBook 74. First, and most obviously, the Augen GenBook 74 has a small keyboard. It slows down typing and is a little awkward to use. However, I’ve been finding that my typing speed has slowly been increasing with the Augen GenBook 74. Second, the Android user interface is a little unfamiliar. For example, some activities that traditionally take a double click also seem to take a click followed by a doubletap on the touch pad. Third, when you surf, web sites see you’ve arrived via an Android device and send you to their mobile sites. All of this does make the Augen GenBook 74 a little awkward.
I was very pleased that the built-in e-mail software was easily able to link to my Gmail accounts and handle basic e-mail tasks very smoothly. In some respects, Gmail was handled better on the GenBook 74 than it is on my laptop with a traditional browser. Unfortunately, the Augen GenBook 74 could not handle my Yahoo mail. The Yahoo site was simply not ready for this Android-powered mini netbook. As I use the Augen more extensively, I’ll find more mobile sites. The Augen GenBook 74 has software to handle pictures, ebooks, music, and documents.
The Augen GenBook 74 has the teething pains expected for an earlier player in the Android netbook space. For example, many of the free applications in the AppStore are designed for phones and want to re-orient your screen and change the workings of the touchpad (down is up, up is down, left is right, right is left, etc.) Since the Augen GenBook 74 only supports the 3GP and MP4 video formats and doesn’t support Adobe Flash, it can’t take full advantage of some web sites. The tiny netbook has an interface to Youtube that lets you see selected videos that are in an appropriate format. It definitely detracted from the unbridled video surfing experience one expects with youtube. However, I was able to visit and enjoy the mobile website of AssociatedContent without any problem. As web sites evolve to deal with mobile devices and future Android, Chrome, Linux, and Palm operating systems, I hope more software and web sites will work with the Augen GenBook 74 netbook. I’d also like to see this computer hacked and given different flavors of Linux operating systems.
Overall, the Augen GenBook 74 is worth $99 and is good for checking e-mail, web-surfing, and other limited tasks. I suspect that I’ll be able to use it as an e-Reader and a music player. I won’t worry about taking it into a fast food joint and it’ll be much easier to carry than my laptop. However, buyers should remember the Augen GenBook 74 is a simple, supplementary, computer. It won’t replace a full-sized computer or traditional laptop and users who already have sophisticated cellphones and other portable devices may be disappointed. I’m having fun tinkering with mine, but it certainly won’t replace my Acer 5515. Attention, Attention, Kmart Shoppers, this is only $99 laptop!
“Augen’s $99 GenBook smartbook preview,” Joanna Stern, Engadget, July 27, 2010.
( http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/27/augens-99-genbook-smartbook-preview/ )
“Why I returned Augen’s GenBook in under 24 hours,” John Walton, DroidDog, July 28, 2010. ( http://www.droiddog.com/android-blog/2010/07/why-i-returned-augens-genbook-74-in-under-24-hours/ )