Kogan isn't alone in the low-cost Android game these days. Can it keep up with the bigger names in the fight for your bottom dollar?
What Is It?
The latest phone from Kogan to bear the “Agora” name comes with a 1.2Ghz Quad-Core processor, 5″ display screen with a stated resolution of 1280 by 720, 8MP rear camera and Android 4.4, AKA “KitKat”.
The new Agora gives you more than the last model by featuring Category 4 4G antenna on the 700MHz, 900MHz and 1800MHz bands, expandable storage up to 64GB by virtue of a MicroSD card and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Kogan Agora 4G goes on sale from 5 August and will set you back $229 (plus delivery). That puts it right in the middle of the Moto G ($249) and Moto E ($179).
The new Agora 4G looks exactly the same as the old Agora, which is to say that it looks like a reminiscent throw-back to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It was one of the first Google Nexus devices, and it was excellent (until Samsung stopped updating it). Kogan and its new partner in phones, BenQ, want to continue this excellent legacy into the future, but instead of a premium phone at an extra-premium price, it wants to compete on the other end of the market: decent hardware at a cheap price to give consumers excellent bang for buck.
The Agora 4G is the third such handset from Kogan, and the first to come in tandem with another brand attached to it. Kogan is serious about making phones and it's demanding to be noticed in what's becoming a very crowded cheap phone marketplace.
For the first time in a long time, we have a real ball game on our hands at the bottom end of the market. If you want a smartphone that doesn't suck these days, you may only have to part with between $180 and $350 of your hard-earned dollars depending on what you need. So let's break down the Agora by the numbers and see how it really stacks up to the competition.
Competitors to the $229 Agora 4G on a sliding scale from cheapest to most expensive include the Moto E at $179, the Moto G for $249, and $399 for the Nexus 5. The Agora 4G fits neatly at the bottom of the scale, and that's a perfect spot for it from a bang-for-buck perspective.
Now that every carrier that matters offers 4G on their pre-paid services, it's smart that Kogan ditches the dual-SIM option offered in previous Agora models in favour of a pure-4G device. That's going to make it look more appealing than the cheaper option, the Motorola Moto E which still has dual-SIM instead of 4G support. Notch one up for the Agora 4G.
It's also interesting to see that Kogan and BenQ have teamed up on design for the new Agora this year as well. Previously, Agora handsets have been 5-inch, black, rubberised bricks, but this one is different. It's packing red accents around the camera lens, and the front and rear speaker grilles. Everything is nicely centred and the rear cover isn't an all-encompassing shell like on previous models (which looks and feels terrible), it's a handsome little plate. We like the way this one's put together.
One thing the Moto products really have going for them is where they were developed: in the beating heart of the Google beast itself. As a result, both are running the closest thing to stock Android they possibly can, which makes them cut-price Nexus devices by anyone's calculation. To compete, Kogan is back with another vanilla version of Android 4.4 KitKat to keep users happy. And when we say, vanilla, we mean it. The only bells and whistles Kogan has thrown at this is pretty average video editing and camera software, which thankfully can be replaced. So from a software standpoint, all three cut-price models kick stock Android goals.
From a hardware perspective, the Agora 4G is impressively well-stocked versus its competition. It's packing a 1.2GHz quad-core processor which is faster than the Moto E and matches the Moto G at a lower price; 1GB of RAM much like both Moto competitors and a bigger 5-inch screen.
Interestingly, the Agora 4G hasn't changed much from the previous iteration, the Agora Quad-Core. The new Agora features the same 1.2GHz quad-core processor as its predecessor, the same 5-inch screen, the same 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage.
The new Agora gives you more than its bigger brother by featuring Category 4 4G antenna on the 700MHz, 900MHz and 1800MHz bands, expandable storage up to 64GB by virtue of a MicroSD card and Bluetooth 4.0.
None of this is bad per sé, but it is interesting to see the ongoing maturity of the Agora brand. I'd hazard a guess that we're reaching the limit of bang for buck that Kogan can offer its customers in the Agora range. $229 gets you a fantastic device with better connectivity options than ever before for $30 more than the previous generation. Clearly there's a margin in there for the manufacturer and the reseller otherwise it wouldn't exist, but with specs so similar to the last model and a price barely more expensive, it's safe to assume that the Agora is well on its way to brand maturity.
Maturity means that evolution and brand diversification is coming. Don't be surprised if at CES next year we're telling you about a flagship-level phone from Kogan that looks set to cost around $400-$600.
Where was I?
Like all cheap phones, Kogan and BenQ had to make concessions when building Agora 4G so it would fit neatly into that $229 price point.
Despite the fact that BenQ makes displays and imaging products all the live-long day, the screen on the Agora 4G is sadly sub-standard. I didn't expect a $229 handset to have a 1080p panel, but a 720p one where I couldn't see every single individual pixel while also lamenting the lack of saturation would have been nice. It almost looks like you're viewing the device through a piece of Cling Wrap.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, you're going to want to replace the Gallery and Camera software as soon as you can. It's deeply average. Set your defaults to Google default apps you can download from the Play Store like Chrome for your browser, Google Camera, Google Keyboard and Google Photos.
Finally, the camera module may say 8-megapixels on the box but as we've seen before, it takes more than a megapixel count to take a decent image. Mind you, if you expect to get a flagship-quality image out of a bargain-basement-priced product, you're doing it entirely wrong.
Should You Buy It?
So it seems that Kogan's claim of having the cheapest 4G phone on the market in Australia right now holds up. Pretty spectacularly too, I must say. Whenever I pick up a cheap Android handset, I imagine the things I'd rather live with on a day-to-day basis than the device in question. Phones like the Agora 4G, and the Motos E and G, however, have completely changed my mind on the cheap end of the market. Phones like these are no longer terrible.
If you want a great 4G phone with mid-market specs at a small price, look no further than the brand new Agora.