Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Augen Gentouch 78 Android Tablet

I recently acquired an Augen Gentouch 78 Android 7" tablet. These are (were?) sold at Kmart for $150 - $170. That means they are probably the cheapest Android device of any kind sold in the United States. However, if you're just looking for a cheap Android device you may want to consider buying a gray-market Chinese Android-powered iPad knock-off with more features for about the same money OR just get one from one of the US phone carriers (they'll give you a low price on the device, but you'll have to pay a lot more in the long run for phone/data service).

Never heard of Augen? Nobody has. They're a tiny, 13 person company in Florida that made a deal with Kmart and a Chinese OEM manufacturer to import an Android tablet that met Kmart's sub-$200 price-point. There is a more fully featured version of this tablet available called the Dawa D7 which has a microphone, 3D accelerated graphics, at least 2 point multi-touch capability, 3G modem connectivity (but possibly only for Chinese modems), HDMI video output, and 2 USB ports (but I believe only one is connected to the USB 1.1 Host driver, which still means you can connect things like USB flash drives and some keyboards and mice). There's also a more functional no-name version available for about the same price with a camera.

There are probably others. What is disconcerting is that Augen removed so much of that functionality! So what DON'T you get with the Augen Gentouch 78?
  • No g-sensor/accelerometer. Reportedly has one integrated, but due to firmware issues it doesn't work.
  • No 3D Accelerated Graphics. Again, it's physically present but not enabled either due to an error in the boot init file or purposely because Augen didn't secure the proper OpenGL license.
  • No multi-touch. Generally resistive screens don't have this, but some have a "2-point" form.
  • No USB Host driver, rendering USB connection "data only" (and that doesn't work well either).
  • No microphone or camera. The circuit board is there, but nothing is soldered to it.
  • No HDMI output
  • No 3.5 mm headphone jack (it has a 2.5 mm and no adapter)
  • No Android Market (despite it being listed on the box) because Augen didn't license Google proprietary apps.
Most, if not all, of those things ARE available on the other versions of this tablet.

When I first turned mine on the older OS installed made the device virtually unusable! One of the first things I did was apply Augen's OS update which at least made it functional enough to use for web browsing and emailing. You won't get Flash to work on it, most Android games don't work (either because they require 3D graphics or 3-axis accelerometer). It came with Skype Beta installed, but without a microphone or a camera it's useless.

To install the OS update I had to dig out my old Windows XP laptop because it's the only reliable way to apply the update. Even with Augen's USB driver updates for Windows I have never been able to get it to transfer files from Windows 7, or from Mac OS X. I can explore the files and folders in the "nand" folder on the device, and copy them to the computer but they won't transfer in the other direction. This is a real problem considering Market is broken on it because it means I can't even "side-load" apps. If I can't find a straight download link in a web browser ON the Gentouch, I can't install anything. In fact, installation from browser downloads on the device was the ONLY way I added any software to it. Problem is most Android apps are IN the Android Market - even most software search sites just aggregate their listings from what is in the Market and send you there.

Ok, there IS a way to get the Android Market to work on it that involves "rooting" the device (gaining root access) via the Android SDK developer toolkit and a console. I had no success rooting this device and gave up trying before I bricked it. I was, however, able to temporarily gain access and download some apps (some of which couldn't install because of the limitations of the device), by doing a factory reset on the Gentouch - which wipes out all your user data - and set up a new Google account. That worked until I rebooted the Gentouch, after which Market was broken again. There is apparently some root-level cache that needs clearing to fix this. But the REAL issue is that Augen never got a license from Google to access the Android Market - despite the words "Download hundreds of apps from Android Market" on the box.

A bigger problem is if you happened to be somewhere on a wifi hotspot with someone else who had one. Augen shipped these things all with the same MAC address on the wifi radio! It's not even Augen's MAC address - it belongs to Atheros, the manufacturer of the wifi chip. What it means is every one of these made is identical to a network - thus the problems if you have more than one of them trying to connect to the same network. It also means that, if you only allow certain devices to connect to your home network with MAC filtering, the network can't tell the difference between YOUR Gentouch and anyone else's - AND that MAC address is all over the web - so it represents a risk to a secured wifi network. How could Augen have sold these with every one having the same MAC address? Well. . .

The FCC says they have no record of the Augen Gentouch 78. Anything that emits, sends, or receives radio waves (pretty much all electronics) have to be submitted to the FCC for inspection, documentation, and are then issued an FCC licence if they are found to be within Federal tolerances. Apparently Augen never did this, or the FCC surely would have caught the MAC address problem.

I'm planning to return it to Kmart as "defective" and get a refund. This is an incomplete product that probably isn't even being legally sold in the United States in the first place. Some of the problems aren't fix-able because the hardware for those features was omitted and the software/firmware errors are only repairable if Augen releases updates and acquires legitimate licenses. Kmart really should just recall the damned things as all being defective and send them back to Augen. Let them deal with it.

UPDATE: Returned it to Kmart for a full refund. I have ordered (elsewhere) a Haipad M701R tablet to replace it. I'll write a review of that whenever it arrives.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fix: Linux screen blanks during video playback

Whenever I play videos on my Linux box with a browser-based player (i.e., YouTube) or Hulu Desktop after a few minutes the screen goes blank. I bump the mouse and it comes back. The screensaver is not only not turned on, I uninstalled it completely. Power Management is set to "never" turn off the monitor. So I find out that many Linux distros apparently ship with TWO screen savers and power managers activated. There are the "Gnome" (or KDE) ones and then there are the X server ones. It's easy to turn off the ones in the Desktop Environment, but that doesn't turn off the X server ones!

Ok, so forget most of what you've read on the internet regarding this - lots of the "fixes" out there refer to display blanking while in text/console mode or for older versions of the X server, or additions to your xorg.conf file which don't work anymore. Plus, the fixes generally don't survive a reboot or a restart of the X server, others won't take effect until you do restart the X server. Argh!

But, remember, I said to forget about those? Yeah. So here's what finally seems to have solved it for me. You use your administrative privileges (you have those right?) and open the following file in your favorite text editor:


At the end of it tack on the following two lines:

xset s off
xset -dpms

Save the file, reboot. That *should* (if you have every other screen blanking/saving feature turned off) prevent it from blanking out the screen after several minutes while watching online videos.

Some Linux players, such as XBMC, don't require this fix as they implement other methods to prevent the screen blanking when you haven't touched the mouse or typed anything in a while.

Review: Samsung Syncmaster P2770HD Monitor/HDTV

If you read my previous post about the 27" LG monitor I bought (which died after just 14 total hours of use) I exchanged it for a Samsung Syncmaster P2770HD monitor/HDTV in part because the store didn't have any more of the LG monitors, and in part because - after such a bad experience with them - I didn't want another one.

Samsung has a pretty good reputation in the flat panel biz, both with their computer monitors and HDTVs, and this was the monitor I had originally been considering until that damned LG seduced me with it's S-Video port and $80 lower price.

Crisp text in computer mode, great color, decent built-in speakers with 5.1 surround and SRS. Remote control makes it easy to switch modes and control TV from a slightly more viewable distance. Feels very solidly built (meaning it's also HEAVY). If all that screen acreage is a bit much for you it includes something called "Multiscreen" which lets you portion off the screen into smaller virtual screens.

No tilt adjustment on the acrylic base. It's head on only, so you're desk/chair better adjust to the monitor, not the other way 'round. Remote has some buttons on it that are poorly explained in the manual (in fact I've yet to figure out what two of them even do). Built-in speakers could stand a bit more volume range - I really have to crank it up just to hear it well from a decent viewing distance. A signal strength indicator for digital TV channels would be nice too. Also, it seems there's a bit of motion blur in TV mode that I don't see in computer mode (while playing a game).

All in all, though, I'm quite happy with this monitor and would recommend it to anyone looking for a big - but not TOO big - screen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: LG M2762D-PM HDTV/Monitor

I finally decided to drop on a new flat panel computer monitor, and I haven't yet upgraded from the 32" CRT TV to an HDTV. So when I saw a 27" LG M2762D-PM combo computer monitor and HDTV for $360 at Microcenter I jumped on it. I initially thought I was lucky to have nabbed the last one in the store (possibly the last one any one of their stores had - as it can't be found on their website anymore as of this writing). Turns out I was wrong about being lucky. Read on. . .

Very good price for a monitor/HDTV at this size. That was primarily what attracted me to it was the price, but it's also a good looking set. There's only so much designers can really do with the flat panel format, so it's all down to the bezel. The LG has a cool glossy acrylic frame that goes from black to clear at the bottom edge. All buttons are touch sensitive (i.e., there are no actual buttons). It had an acceptable HDTV picture, and the tuner (like a lot of HD sets) has an indicator for signal strength, program info, etc. Auto programming was simple, in fact the whole On Screen Display was very nicely laid out and polished in appearance. The remote was good, the main feature of which was one button access to switching the source from TV to computer. Unlike some monitors in its class this one did have a tilt adjustment. It does have an S-Video input on the back, in addition to all the other requisite HDTV and computer monitor ports.

Base seemed a bit flimsy, though the monitor itself isn't all that heavy so it may be adequate. "Vivid" color is TOO vivid - like clown colors that punch your eyes out. Thankfully you can dial it down to something watchable. Text in computer mode wasn't very crisp, even with font smoothing turned on. The built-in speakers are garbage - very tinny and not enough volume. Doesn't ship with either an HDMI nor DVI cable, just a VGA cable. Like anyone is using VGA anymore?! Plus, the whole point is to get a crisp DIGITAL picture, right?

But there is one gigantic 800-pound gorilla of a negative regarding my experience with this monitor: IT DIED AFTER JUST 14 HOURS OF USE!!!

I bought it on a Saturday afternoon. Surfed the net a bit, then watched some TV shows and turned it off to go to bed. Sunday morning I turned it on, checked my e-mail, watched a TV show, then turned it off to do something else. Two hours later I returned, hit the "Power" button on the remote and. . .nothing. Touched the power button on the front of the monitor. . .nothing. The thing was stone dead just like that.

Boxed it up again, took it back to the store and exchanged it for a Samsung Syncmaster P2770HD monitor/HDTV, which is what I should have bought in the first place.