The Kogan Agora has a poor quality display, below average battery life and sluggish performance.
Note: Kogan has promised to send us a second review unit of the Agora. We will update this article with any necessary changes should the new model work on the 850MHz network as advertised.
Design & display
The Kogan Agora looks very similar to the original Samsung Galaxy Note, a smartphone that first launched back in 2011. Although it's quite an old design now, we appreciated it then and it still works quite well for a budget device like the Agora, though it is a little heavy at 180g. Combined with the fact this is a pretty large device, you'd best look elsewhere if you want something that's easily pocketable.
The Agora is constructed solely from plastic. The curved edges of the phone have a glossy, metallic finish, the bezel surrounding the display is gloss black and the back features an etched finish that makes the Agora easy to grip. This thin battery cover feels flimsy when removed and does feel a little hollow when pressed but it's both practical and comfortable.
The Kogan Agora has its ports and controls in the usual places. There's a volume rocker on the left, a power/lock button on the right, a micro-USB port and microphone on the bottom and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. We wish the volume and power buttons were positioned a little lower, as they require a real stretch to access when using the Agora single-handedly.
The Agora has a physical home button below its display, sitting in between menu and back capacitive keys. We found these buttons were not always responsive. The home button often required an extra press or two to activate while the capacitive keys didn't always register our finger taps. It makes for a very frustrating user experience.
The Agora's 5in touchscreen is quite poor. It's reasonably responsive to touch but it performs dreadfully in direct sunlight, the extremely glossy surface is almost impossible to keep clean and viewing angles are mediocre. The resolution of 800x480 is rather low by today's smartphone standards so text isn't super crisp. However, this isn't a huge issue given the price. The Agora's screen resolution is perfectly good enough for most tasks including browsing the web and playing games.
Software, performance & features
The Kogan Agora runs a relatively stock version of Google's 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich Android software, so the user experience will be familiar to anyone who's used an Android phone before. There's a few extra touches, headed by the range of toggles at the top of the notification window. These can't be edited but there's toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, data, airplane mode, screen brightness, screen timeout, auto rotation and sound profiles, so most major settings are covered.
The Kogan Agora is capable of everything it promises on the software side of things. You can browse the Web, download apps through Google's Play Store, access services like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and play games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. More taxing games, like Real Racing 3 and GTA III, are also playable but can be laggy.
Overall performance is a mixed bag. The Agora has a dual-core processor and 512MB of RAM and the latter can often make for a sluggish experience. While most apps we tested worked without many issues, the phone can occasionally be unreliable and sometimes inconsistent. Apps occasionally crashed during our tests for no apparent reason. Startup time is also a little slow and the default browser isn't smooth when pinching the screen to zoom in. The Agora also becomes very sluggish when updating multiple apps through the Google Play Store.
The Kogan Agora comes preloaded with a few extra apps including AccuWeather for Android, a basic file manager an FM radio, a notepad and a sound recorder. There's also a "Magic Keyboard" but thankfully you can switch to the stock ICS keyboard in the settings menu, which is far more intuitive and better designed.
A key feature of the Kogan Agora is support for dual SIM cards, a function that's popular in many Asian markets but not so prevalent in Australia. Only the first SIM card slot of the Agora supports 3G networks, with the second slot supporting 2G-only networks.
The Agora's first SIM card slot is advertised as supporting the 850MHz and 2100MHz 3G network bands in Australia but our review unit did not work with the 850MHz band. Our review device happily connected to 2100MHz network towers using the Telstra network in the North Sydney area to provide 3G service. However, when travelling away from the city the phone only picked up a 2G, EDGE signal.
The fastest data speeds we managed when away from the city area was a meagre 0.18 megabits per second (Mbps) download and just 0.04Mbps upload. With this in mind, we can't recommend the Kogan Agora for use in Australia, particularly if you're using the Telstra network. For further information about this issue, click here.
If you choose not to use the Agora's second SIM card slot, the phone displays a permanent alert on the notifications panel and the lock screen. There's no way to remove these alerts, which is annoying if you're only going to ever use one SIM card in the device.
Camera & battery life
The Kogan Agora has a 5-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing VGA camera for video calls. The rear camera is about what you would expect from a phone at this price point. Pictures captured suffer from a lack of detail, excess image noise and poor colour reproduction, highlighted easily when viewed on a PC. However, shots are passable for quick uploads onto social networks like Facebook and Twitter and most people will be happy with that at this price.
Video recording quality is also below average. The Agora can record up to 720p HD videos but any slight movement results in jittery footage. The front camera naturally takes appalling photos but works reasonably well with video calling apps like Skype and Tango — provided of course that you're not expecting the best quality.
Photos can be stored on either the 4GB of internal memory or an optional microSD card, accessible by removing the back cover of the Agora. The speaker on the back of the phone isn't the best but the earpiece is loud and clear, so you shouldn't have any problems making or receiving phone calls. The same can't be said for the speakerphone which sounds muffled and isn't very loud.
The Kogan Agora has a 2000mAh battery that should last you a full day, but we consistently achieved less than that. In most cases, the Agora only lasted for about 12 hours before needing a recharge, quite a poor result. Kogan officially lists the battery as having four hours and 50 minutes of talktime and 400 hours of standby time but your milage will vary depending on usage patterns.
The Kogan Agora is available now through Kogan for $149, along with a standard $19 delivery charge to most Australian locations.