Ruslan Kogan is no stranger to throwing a cat amongst the pigeons, in fact it’s how he has built his business. Earlier this year he announced a smartphone for $149, this week EFTM goes hands on with his latest “quad-core” Agora smartphone which is available for a stupidly low price of $199.
When you pay $199 for a phone as opposed to the $699 or $999 you might pay with a bigger brand you are sure to be skipping some features. There’s no doubting the Kogan Agora is that phone. While the screen size may be the same as the Samsung Galaxy S4, while it may now have “quad-core” processing power, the actual under the bonnet tests show it’s a long way behind the big boys. But you’d expect that, and frankly, people looking for a $199 smartphone aren’t running benchmark tests of performance. They are looking for value and something that will do a job. The Kogan Agora is that.
Sitting them side by side is unfair on Kogan, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is in a different class, it is the Ferrari to Kogan’s Toyota 86, and that’s not a bad thing for either of them.
This phone isn’t meant to appeal to people looking for a $700 smartphone, so just how does it go as a smartphone given the price?
The first Kogan Agora phone earlier this year was not a pretty little thing, it was a poor attempt at copying the Samsung Galaxy Note or other phones in the market. The new Quad Core $199 Agora is a little more unique. Front on it has a similar curved look to the Galaxy S4, however side on it has a tapered edge at the top and bottom with a large protrusion for the rear camera.
On the back a soft style plastic cover with a small set of speaker holes, the Kogan logo and the camera and flash up top are simple and plain in layout, which is a good thing because when you put in too much effort for a small price it shows. This looks better than the price-tag suggests.
However, turn away from these and into the real world, I was surprised, in fact impressed by the speed of browsing on this device. Let’s face it, aside from phone calls and SMS messaging, email and web browsing are the key features for any smartphone user. Browsing the web on this Kogan Agora was sharp and snappy, I didn’t feel the cheap device lag I’ve seen in things like low-price android tablets. This – side by side with a top end phone, and on the same WiFi connection was giving me web pages at the same rate as the top end of town, if not faster. The rendering was simple, and it happened at a pace I’m familiar with from the most expensive devices I’ve used.
I can’t imagine too many complaints from users as to the basic performance of the core functions of this device.
The camera isn’t the world’s best, and if photography is your thing this isn’t the device for you, but if snapping a few handy shots here and there appeals, then you wont be too disappointed by this device. Watch out for low-light or bright light situations though, that’s where these cameras normally perform the worst.
This is Android plain and simple. There is no additional extras, no Kogan add-ons, no carrier add-ons, it is Android as Google made it to be. The experience is simple and user-friendly right out of the box.
Screen brightness and resolution is noticeably better on the new Agora, up from 480 x 800 to 1280 x 720 and it really was the one reason I’d struggle to buy the first Agora, with the new quad-core version it’s a far better experience to use.
It’s cheap, and I mean cheap to buy – it really isn’t cheap in terms of quality. No, it’s not engineered to a millionth of a micro millimetre as other devices might be, but the back cover snaps off and on easily, the SIM cards (yep, like its predecessor it has a Dual-SIM functionality) and MicroSD card can be removed and inserted without taking out the battery. Buttons are clear and easy to use, headphones in the top as is the power charging Micro USB port.
The core problem some will see with this phone is its lack of 4G support. While it has Dual-SIM capabilities, neither of them can be 4G, in fact one is 3G the other 2G.. The SIM cards are also Mini SIM size, not Micro as you may already have – but, getting a SIM card these days is pretty easy going.
Any concerns about lack of 4G should be offset by price, and again, the people in the market for this price point of smartphone aren’t likely to be frustrated by a lack of 4G.
While it has a quad-core processor, it’s not exactly the best quad-core on the market, so head to head as I’ve said earlier it’s not challenging the big branded quad-core smartphones, but it will provide a performance boost on many other cheap phones out there.
Kogan’s team have done well to source a design as good as this and to pack in the features they have. I can’t tell you this is an ugly device, in fact quite the opposite it’s not bad looking at all.
In terms of the design, while it is overall a remarkable improvement on the Agora from earlier this year, the screen size is the same as the Samsung Galaxy S4 yet the device itself is bigger, in every aspect. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but the large border around the edge of the screen does somehow take away from the modern device look and feel.
Without any doubt this is a compelling option for anyone looking to buy a phone outright and get all the features of modern smartphones today, the design is good, quality is good, and performance too is good. Put the Agora Quad-core up against some other low-cost smartphones and you’ll probably find it’s your best option in a very crowded market.
I’m giving it 4 stars because it should only be compared to the other low-cost phones in the market, not alongside iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices. Alongside it’s true competitors this is a 4 star phone by any measure.
Of course as with all things Kogan, it’s available Online – ships from Thursday October 3
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.