Review :Kogan Agora ICS Tablet

Introduction And design :

Australian technology company Kogan has built its success on creating cheap but functional products that offer an alternative to premium priced brand names.

The Agora 10-inch tablet is no exception. At AUD$199 (£129), it is by far one of the most affordable tablets on the market, especially for a device running the Ice Cream Sandwich build of Android. The question is whether or not the sacrifices made to hit that sub AUD$200 price point are too great to justify spending your hard-earned money on it.

With either 8GB or 16GB of storage inside alongside the MicroSD slot, and all run by a 1GHz ARM processor and 1GB RAM, the Kogan stacks up pretty well spec wise.
From front on, the Agora's 10-inch screen is deceptively simple. The front of the tablet is barren of buttons, with the 2cm bezel surrounding the screen only interrupted by a tiny 0.3MP camera in the top left hand corner. In fact, the front of the tablet is so plain that if it weren't for the camera, it would be impossible to tell which way was up.

Turn the tablet over, and it's a completely different story. The back is littered with descriptions for the bevy of ports littering the top and left hand side of the device. The standard volume rocker is partnered with a small physical back button on the side, while the top of the device comprises of six different holes, allowing you to plug in things like headphones, micro USB cables, MicroSD cards, Micro HDMI cables and 5V DC power plugs.

Interestingly, there are two micro USB ports on the device. One connects to your PC and charges the device, while the other offers a connection to USB storage via an included adapter

There's a pin-hole hard reset button on the back of the device, stereo speakers and a 2MP rear camera, without flash. And just in case you forget, Kogan's logo adorns the back as well, a testament to your quest for a bargain, if you will.
At 545 grams, the Agora tablet feels pretty good in the hand, with the tapered edges making it easy to pick up and giving the impression that it's thinner than its 9.8mm. It feels nice and solid, right up until the point you squeeze the front and the back together a little bit and you feel the flexibility in the back. It feels like there's a bit of extra space inside the device, and undermines the perception of a solid build quality

Display And Interface :

 From a purely spec perspective, the 1024 x 768 IPS display seems like a fantastic addition to a AUD$200 tablet. Switched on though, the screen seems dull unless you've dialled the brightness up to maximum.

On the upside, viewing angles are good, images are sharp and colours are pretty accurate.Unsurprisingly, the resolution doesn't come close to the high-end Retina Display of the iPad though, so while images are sharp, you can still see some jaggedness if you get up nice and close.

The screen may support 10-point multitouch on paper, but in practice it feels sluggish and unresponsive. Truth be told, that could have a lot to do with the ARMv7 processor running things, but the end result is like a hungover soldier, following commands at its own pace instead of when you shout your orders at it.

Interface :

Kogan is renowned for its passion of Google products, so it's no surprise that it has opted for the most vanilla of vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich builds. Fortunately, vanilla is delicious, so using it feels natural and tasty.

The lock screen offers a simple combination of time, important messages (like "Connect your charger" when the juice is running low), a battery and Wi-Fi indicator and the ICS unlock mechanism, which lets you quickly access open applications depending on which way you swipe the lock.

Unlocked, the customisable home screen maintains the dedicated soft buttons of Home, Back, Open Apps, Volume controls and Menu across the bottom, while access to your app collection is located in the top right of the screen. The top left features a shortcut to Google search, either through typing or using your voice.

The tablet's 1GHz ARMv7 processor appears to be the device's Achilles heel. Despite the 1GHz clock speed, the 1GB of RAM and the 400MHz GPU, the Agora is sluggish.

There's a very clear delay in responsiveness in almost everything you do on this tablet, from typing on the keyboard to swiping between home pages. It can literally take seconds for the typing on screen to catch up to what your fingers are doing on the on-screen keyboard.

Opening apps takes half a second to start. Frame rates in games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja can only be described as poor, seriously impeding any enjoyment of the games. Which is itself perhaps the most disappointing aspect given the price point sort of lends itself as a gaming tablet.

High definition video is refreshingly watchable, given the disappointments on the gaming front, although it does depend on your video player. With plenty of detail, the screen isn't perfect with fast motion, but doesn't judder too much, while images are crisp and clear.

Internet And Connectivity :

Despite all the connection options littered across the top of the Agora tablet, Kogan left off one key component: A SIM card slot for 3G connectivity. That said, given the difficulties the tablet had with basic gaming tasks, the processor is probably grateful for the lack of 3G.
Being a vanilla build of Android, the stock browser is naturally competent, automatically using your Google Login to offer shortcuts to all your Google services.

Pinching and double tapping to zoom work well enough, but aren't as snappy as other, more powerful tablets. But the 10 inch screen displays websites well even without needing to zoom in, which is a nice positive for those looking for a web browsing device.

Connectivity :

Without 3G, Kogan has relied on 802.11 b/g/n for its connectivity, and it works, so long as you're within a fairly reasonable distance of the router.

Bluetooth is equally functional, while the ability to connect to a USB drive via an included adapter is a nice touch, and sure to be a useful workaround for anyone frustrated with the 16GB of internal storage. Although the MicroSD card slot also helps in that regard.

Camera And Gallery :

They say that the best camera is the one you have on you. The truth is that while taking a photo with a tablet is always an awkward experience, taking photos with the Agora tablet is just disappointing.
With no ability to automatically select your focus target, the Agora tablet requires every subject to be placed firmly in the middle of the shot.

Rudimentary exposure and white balance controls give some manual options, although you would honestly be better off heading to the shops and buying a dedicated camera.

Low light shots are noisy and lack detail. With no flash on the back of the tablet, there's no way around that, either.

Recording video through the camera app offers a similarly disappointing result, with a lack of detail matched by washed out colours and noise in dark situations.

That said, the rear camera far surpasses the front-facing 2MP camera. Of course, you shouldn't be using that particular camera for anything other than video calls over Skype, so its lack of prestige performance isn't as big a strike against the tablet as you might think.

 Battery Life And Storage :

 The closed case on the back of the Agora means there's no real way to tell how big the embedded battery is without pulling it a part. But we do know that no matter its size, it's not big enough.

Testing the tablet on full brightness running an HD video on a loop, the tablet only gave us three and a half hours worth of playback before demanding a recharge. Given similar sized tablets generally offer at least seven hours, and without 3G connectivity to drag that number down, we were pretty disappointed with the result.

Storage :

While the tablet itself only comes in 8GB and 16GB versions, the inclusion of both a MicroSD card slot and a USB host port and included adapter make the Agora one of the better options for Android tablets when it comes to storage.

That said, given the empty 16GB unit we reviewed only arrived with 13GB of available storage internally, we can't see why anyone would opt for the 8GB model, especially given the tiny price difference.

Verdict :

There's a really tough decision to be made when considering the Agora ICS tablet. Is it better to spend more money to have the latest specifications in a device that will perform your every command at a moment's notice? Or id it better to buy something cheap, and make do with its underpowered flaws?

We liked :

The Agora ICS ships with Ice Cream Sandwich in the box. That means you're already a step ahead of some of the major tablet manufacturers who still believe in Honeycomb. For a tablet priced at under AUD$200 (£130), that's enough to get excited about in itself.

A full compliment of connectivity options - including everything from MicroSD to HDMI output - is a step beyond what many other Android tablet companies are offering. It's also nice to see that even with all those ports on the back, not one of them was a proprietary connection.

We disliked :

The processor just isn't up to scratch for an ICS device. While the operating system is mostly fine, having to wait seconds to see the results of your typing is the kind of thing you'd expect from a Pentium II processor these days, not a brand new tablet.

Battery life is also impossibly weak. If you can't spend a five hour flight watching TV on a tablet, it's simply not good enough. The Kogan wouldn't have made the cut.

The screen, while decent enough for the price, also doesn't compete with the high resolution displays making their way to competitors devices. It's generally a bit dull and lifeless though

Verdict :

Ultimately, the decision to buy an Agora ICS tablet is a subjective one. The tablet is a far cry from being one of the best Android tablets ever created. Its lightweight processor simply isn't powerful enough to handle the latest software, and the device itself is built with components that matches the price point.

But it is one of the cheapest tablets on the market, and in terms of value for money, it certainly competes with the best products out there.

It doesn't have the best performance, the best specs or the best design, but it does open up the Ice Cream Sandwich experience to a whole new market. That's a pretty impressive feat in itself, really.
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