Back in March I reviewed a handset from Kogan, an Australian company that claims it is the largest online retailer there. At the time Kogan was just launching itself in the UK, but now the company sells a range of tech, including tablets and TVs as well as phones, through its UK website.
Kogan’s aim is to deliver goods at competitive prices, and while its UK range isn’t huge – there are only two smartphones available as I write – its prices are very attractive. So, the Kogan Agora HD is a quad-core, 5in handset that supports two SIMs and can be yours for £149. It sounds like an absolute bargain – but is it?
Kogan says that it manages to keep prices low by taking out the middlemen in the chain from manufacturer to owner. There’s no doubt that this can help shave money off prices, but Kogan isn’t a miracle worker, and there are some aspects of this handset which will put people off. Let’s deal with the most significant first, and that’s the internal memory.
The Kogan Agora HD has 4GB of built in storage. Of course, the operating system will occupy some of this space, and fresh out of the box my review sample only had a total of 2.68GB which was usable (broken into two separate sections – 0.92GB of “internal storage” and 1.76GB of “phone storage”).
Now, Android 4.2 is the operating system of choice here. With earlier versions of Android, users could easily store apps on microSD, but that’s not possible with Android 4.2.(Well, techies can root their devices to allow this, but most people don’t want to take that route).
2.68GB will give you space for a few apps, but you certainly won’t be able to go to town augmenting your handset. The latest games are going to be too large for you to download in any quantity, and remember, as app updates come along these too will need access to internal storage.
The chink of good news in all of this is that Kogan has not skinned Android, so there’s not a lot of bloat sitting on top of the OS. There is an FM radio added to the base configuration, and a couple of tweaks like some settings shortcuts you can access quickly from the notifications area. There are also a couple of pre-installed apps that consume some of that internal storage. Back-up and Restore backs up personal data and applications to a microSD card, and there is a file manager, notebook app and a to-do app. Both the latter two are too basic for my tastes. The notebook app lets you categorise notes but not edit or add new categories, and the to-do app doesn’t have categories at all.
There’s also a very lightweight quick start guide which is a onetime only deal for most users. It is a pity none of these can be removed to give you a little bit more storage space. Oh, and one more thing – you’ll have to install Chrome in that free memory space if you want to use it, as out of the box you just get the stock web browser.
The other aspect of the Kogan Agora HD that will disappoint many people is its battery life. There’s a 2,000mAh battery in the handset and it has to work hard to keep things going for a full day. I really struggled and found myself looking out for mains power early in most afternoons.
Even here, though, there’s a little ray of sunshine. You can set the handset to turn itself off and on at certain times of day. If you like to use your handset as a wake-up alarm, then setting it to go off at, say, midnight, and then switch on at 5am might be useful in terms of battery saving. Or if you never use your phone between certain hours, because of a work commitment for example, you can get it to turn off at those times. It’s a feature I’d like to see as standard on all handsets, to be frank.
That just about covers the major negatives of Kogan’s Agora HD, although there are a couple of other points worth noting. The Wi-Fi support extends to 802.11b/g/n but ac isn’t supported – although that’s probably not a biggie for most of us. The IPS screen’s viewing angles aren’t quite as good as they could be, but again, it’s not a big deal. The screen’s 1,080 x 720 pixels don’t sing out as high-end, but for the price I’m not going to complain.
The Agora HD is a nicely made phone. While there’s no physical Home button, the phone’s curved edges are certainly reminiscent of Samsung’s work. The backplate is made from a nicely grippy rubberised material. The whole thing creaked a bit when I put it under pressure, but the general look and feel aren’t a disaster by any means, and in style terms this handset looks like it costs more than £149.
Button placement is sensible with the volume rocker on the left, power button on the right, and both are tactile and responsive. The headset slot and microUSB are both on the top edge.
There’s a front camera shooting to 2-megapixels as well as a back one which is an 8-megapixel affair. Neither sets the world alight with its capabilities, but you can take passable stills for sharing with others or viewing on the phone itself, and there are some unusual tweaks in video mode including a time lapse setting and some weird effects.
One thing I mentioned early on is that this is a dual-Sim phone. Both slots sit under the backplate (see the image above), and when you switch the handset on there’s a default Sim selection for voice calls, video calls, messaging and data which you can easily change at any time. You can also select Sims manually in the dialler, and even disable one of them so you can’t possibly accidentally use the more expensive one if you are overseas. There’s plenty of flexibility here.
The processor is quad-core and runs at 1.2GHz. It’s not from one of the usual suspects in the handset world, but it didn’t seem to be laggy and I was quite happy with its performance.
If I had just £150 in my pocket to buy a new handset right now I’d seriously consider the Kogan Agora HD. The available memory is going to be a real issue for some people, but not everyone, and every other compromise – even the relatively low grade battery – I can live with. The original Agora had a fair few issues, but this time round Kogan really has come up with a very clever compromise.
Manufacturer and Model
Kogan Agora HD
GSM multiband; HSPA multiband
5in, 1,280 x 720 pixels
74 x 11 x 144mm (WxDxH)