Kogan Agora review

Pros

  • Well made
  • Large 5in screen
  • Dual-SIM

Cons

  • Low screen resolution
  • Only one 3G SIM
  • Not enough RAM

Kogan is an Australian tech manufacturer. It sells direct to the public and works in the budget sector. It says it can keep costs down by taking out the likes of wholesalers and retailers. Its UK online store opened last year. The range of kit on offer is small and includes TVs, tablets, and a phone called the Agora.

Now, the Agora is currently marked as sold out at Kogan's online store, but I’m not apologising for reviewing it anyway. If Kogan gets its way, the company will grow its business in the UK and if the Agora is anything to go by it might transform the budget handset world. And I’d have reviewed this phone earlier if I could have. My sample took a while to get to me – it had to travel from Australia.

When you see a handset priced at £119 you don’t expect a great deal. Entry-level specs, unskinned Android, passable camera, efficient but possibly ropey build. As you read on you’ll find out how the Agora does on these fronts, but first let me point out two quite extraordinary things. First, the Agora gives you a 5in screen to play in, and second, it accepts two SIM cards.

Let’s take a look at that dual SIM support first. Anyone who wants to use both work and personal SIMs in the same device, or who wants to buy a cheap local SIM while travelling but keep their main one usable too, might be drawn by this facility.

True, you do have other choices. I’ve reviewed the Acer Liquid Gallant Duo and Nokia Asha 308 in recent months but options aren’t exactly plentiful.

The Agora is very good at handling its dual SIM set up. Each SIM has its own status bar info showing signal strength. There’s an area in Settings where you can configure your preferred SIM for voice calls, video calls and messaging. Each of these settings has an ‘always ask’ option as well as letting you pick a default SIM. On the dialler when you hit the call button you can choose which SIM to make a call through. It is all very easy to work with.

There is a downside though. Only one of the SIMs can be 3G. The other can only cope with 2G connections.

There’s a similar sort of deal-breaking issue with the screen. Yes, it measures five inches and that’s unprecedented on a handset at this price. But it looks a bit washed out. That’s not the main issue though. The screen resolution is just 800 x 480 pixels giving a pixel density of a mere 186ppi. The net result is that text can appear fuzzy and the screen doesn’t offer as much viewing area as you might feel it should.

I can’t help thinking that if Kogan hit a financial brick wall in trying to build the Agora to its price, then a smaller screen with the same resolution might have been a better choice. Even taking it down to 4.7in might have delivered benefits. The resolution used certainly does the screen no favours.

Another area of potential disappointment is the main camera. Its 5-megapixel rear camera captures images that are quite compressed and can appear washed out. It’s not a disaster, and photos do look OK on the phone itself, but if photography is important to you then you might want to shop around. There’s a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera too.

There’s another issue, and this one might end up being the one that annoys you more than all the rest. The Kogan Agora has a dual-core 1GHz processor. Kogan declined to tell us the manufacturer. This ought to be up to basic duties, but in fact there’s a fair bit of stuttering. This is noticeable even when you switch from the home screen to the app drawer. It’s almost as if resolving content to the screen size is a struggle. The fact that there’s only 512MB of RAM helping the processor out is likely to hamper proceedings.

It goes without saying that this is a big phone, and smaller hands might find it a challenge to work with. The overall size means the phone won’t fit in all pockets. This isn’t a problem that those on a budget usually face, but you will need to think carefully about whether you can actually accommodate this handset on a daily basis.

It measures 142.8 x 80 x 9.8mm and weights 180g. Just a couple of comparators are worth noting. The 4.8in Samsung Galaxy S III measures 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm and weighs 133g, while the 5.5in Galaxy Note 2 measures 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm and weighs 182.5g.

The build is solid, and I really like the general approach taken. There’s a physical home button beneath the screen that’s very reminiscent of how Samsung does things, and the general chassis design is neither showy nor cheap. There’s a curvature to the corners that I like, and while the backplate is very thin it is easy to remove thanks to a notch on the upper left edge, and is textured to help with grip.

A thick, shiny band round the edges of the phone houses the buttons and connectors, and these are intelligently positioned. The on-off switch is on the upper right edge so you can reach it with one hand; the volume rocker is on the left edge; mains power slot on the bottom; headset slot on the top. Nothing fancy, but it does all just work.

The Agora runs Android 4.0 and Kogan has left it pretty much unskinned. There are a couple of add-on apps including a file manager, the almost inevitable AccuWeather widget, an FM radio, a keyboard replacement and a notes app. There’s nothing contentious about any of that.

You can augment these apps from the Google Play store, and knock yourself out filling the 1GB of storage that remains of the 4GB of internal memory, or put apps and data onto a microSD card. The microSD slot is next to the two SIM card slots under the backplate, and it's irritating that you have to power the phone down to get to your card.

Budget handsets can suffer in the battery department, but Kogan has done well here and the 2,000mAh battery kept me going for a day between charges without too much strain.

Verdict

Kogan has produced a handset that promises much but the delivery is flawed in some significant respects. A smaller screen might have been a better bet if Kogan was really stuck with the low resolution it offers here, the handset really needs 1GB of RAM, and why both SIMs can’t support 3G is a mystery to me and may well be a deal-breaker for many. Still, I’m excited to see what the company comes up with next.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Kogan Agora

Network

GSM 850/900/1800/1900

HSPA 800/850/2100

Processor

1GHz dual-core

Ram

512MB

Memory

4GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

5in, 800 x 480 pixels

Main camera

5-megapixel

Front camera

0.3-megapixel

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

Yes

Battery

2,000mAh

Size

142.8 x 80 x 9.8mm

Weight

180g

OS

Android 4.0