Known for its low-priced, no-frills smartphones, Australian retailer Kogan last week released its first "high-end" phone, a machine that shares many bullet points with market-leading Android handsets but is sold at roughly a third of the price.
What Is It?
Available direct from Kogan at a seemingly reasonable $349, the specs sheet of the Agora 6 Plus — 5.5-inch screen, 21MP camera, octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, NFC, fingerprint sensor — is similar enough to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Sony Xperia X Performance to give weight to Kogan's high-end claims.
Of course the age-old adage that "you get what you pay for" still holds true. So what are you paying for here?
Physically the Agora 6 Plus very much resembles a hybrid of a Huawei handset and a knock-off iPhone, with a glossy black front and a steely rear. The back features a square fingerprint scanner, similar to what you'd see on a Nexus 6P or Huawei P9. It's plasticky and light, but seems solid enough.
The weirdest design decision was to put a capacitive home button on the lower bezel of the device, in addition to the software home button already found in Android. It's even made to look like Android's white circle home icon, so when using the phone you have two home buttons on top of each other.
The Agora runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow and is network unlocked, so you can swap and change SIM cards as you like. Speaking of which, this is a dual-SIM phone, meaning you can shop around to get a great deal on data and another great deal on calls if you like, or use one Australian SIM and one from another country if you travel a lot. If you only want to use the one SIM you can put in a MicroSD card to expand the phone's storage beyond the standard 32GB.
Overall — and keeping in mind I only enjoyed the company of the Agora for a weekend and so can't speak to its longevity — Kogan's latest phone seems like a great budget option for those who don't want to sign up to a plan, don't want to pay $1000 or more for a phone and don't want to settle for an old or underpowered device.
All that said, there's a reason Sony and Samsung charge $600 more than Kogan for their best phones.
Like a Kogan TV that has the same panel as a flagship LG but doesn't have the proprietary tech and software to back it up, the Agora 6 Plus has raw materials in common with $1000 phones but doesn't do anywhere near as much with them.
The screen, for example, shows its lower spec immediately with pretty ordinary colour depth and contrast. It's not bad, but it won't bring out the best in your games, videos and photos. The 1080p resolution is lower than the current standard for a screen of this size, but with few exceptions the content is nice and sharp. The Xperia X Performance's screen is of the same resolution, but a bit smaller, and a side-by-side look shows clearly what your extra money pays Sony for.
Still, it bears repeating that Kogan's is a $350 phone, and comparing it to incredibly expensive units as though it's apples-to-apples isn't really fair. The deepest blacks and most glare-resistant screens are, after all, a luxury rather than a necessity.
Elsewhere the fingerprint scanner and cameras (21MP on the back and 8MP on the front) are unremarkable. They do exactly what you expect them to do. Kogan will make a point to tell you the main shooter is a Sony sensor, but again without the post-processing and other bells and whistles it's not what you would get from an expensive flagship phone.
Navigating the phone is nice and snappy, and the biggest benefit of the high specs is that the latest Android version and apps run without a hitch.
Of course, software-wise, all Kogan had to do was not get in the way too much. For the most part this is the same stock Android experience you'd find on a Nexus phone, and Kogan has played it smart by not trying to improve on a pretty solid system.
Google's messenger, keyboard, browser, calendar, clock, photos, email and music apps are all installed by default, and they run comparably on the Kogan as on any other Marshmallow phone. Google's excellent Now launcher is also installed.
The generic file manager and camera apps are fine but best replaced by one of the many high quality free offerings on the Google Play store, while a weird Kogan app that notifies you of hot deals from the Kogan store is a bit of an intrusive and un-killable addition. Bargain-hunters may find it handy, but otherwise you can flick a switch to keep it from notifying you.
Make no mistakes, the Agora 6 Plus is a budget phone. It's not particularly glamorous, and it doesn't do anything that most Android phones don't also do. But it is a Marshmallow-powered, 4G-enabled, dual-SIM phone for $349, which will serve your day-to-day needs without overheating or slowing down, and that's pretty good.