Review: Kogan Agora 4G

Kogan has a history of making budget devices for the Aussie market, and the Agora 4G totally fits that bill, offering LTE connectivity for just a hair over $200. Is it worth it, or should you spend a little more?

Features

A new Agora for a new year, Kogan’s latest handset isn’t cut from the same templates the company has used for handsets in the past.

This time, the Kogan is letting BenQ do all the heavy lifting, taking the template of another phone — the BenQ F5 — and changing aspects for the Australian market.

In this handset, you’ll find a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2GHz, working alongside 1GB RAM and 8GB storage, with a microSD slot also provided in this handset to boost that considerably if you need it. The Adreno 305 graphics chip is also working here, as is Google’s Android operating system, running the 4.4 version also known as “KitKat.”

Wireless and mobile connections are relatively standard in this handset, catering to 802.11b/g/n WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, and Category 4 LTE 4G connectivity. No trace of Near-Field Communication (NFC) can be found in this model, unlike its F5 cousin.

Also unlike the F5 is the camera, which is an 8 megapixel shooter with a flash, while the front-facing camera will let you fire off 2 megapixel images.

Buttons are included, though there are few of them, with a power button up top and a volume rocker on the right edge. Soft buttons are also included, as Kogan and BenQ distance themselves from the on-screen buttons used by Google, with light-up soft buttons below the screen for back, home, and multi-tasking.

Ports are limited too, with a microUSB port for charging and data transfer at the bottom, and a 3.5mm headset jack up top. A microSD expansion slot can also be found when you remove the plastic back from the phone, as can the microSIM slot.

The battery is rated at 2520mAh.

Performance

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a Kogan phone, and it probably won’t be the last, but for the first time, we’re not seeing the local e-tailer source the parts and build something specifically Kogan for the purpose.

For the Agora 4G, Kogan is actually coming together with BenQ, a brand more known for monitors in Australian than anything else, as it grabs one of its international smartphones and — together with Kogan — releases it for the local market.

What would normally be known as the BenQ F5 is being rebadged, with the new name — the thoroughly local name — now being Kogan Agora 4G, with the addition of the Kogan name to the back, just to make sure you knew who was selling it to you.

Grab the phone and you’ll see a 5 inch device with very little around it to take your attention away from the screen. There’s a sprinkling of red at the top near the speaker, and three light-up soft buttons at the bottom of the handset, as well as a soft plastic back with a few more dashes of red — around the lens, on the speaker — but by and large, it’s a minimalistic effort, and that’s good for people who like it basic, because that’s precisely what you’ll get.

It’s a relatively comfortable fit, though, with the soft back comfortable in our palms.

The back is also removable, revealing both the microSD and microSIM slots, as well as a battery held in by metal that cannot be removed. Given that you probably won’t be able to find BenQ batteries easily, this isn’t like to be a big deal, but if replacing the battery is one thing you won’t move from, cross the Agora 4G off your list.

Then switch it on, with the power button up top.

While that position is a little clunky, a fact we’ve noted in the past on HTC’s handsets and one forcing smaller hands and fingers to stretch, this is a $229 phone, so we’re not going to argue too much over button placement.

Instead we’ll talk about the screen quality, because while 720p isn’t the best screen resolution on offer, including a 5 inch at this price point is hard to argue aggressively with. In fact, the 1280×720 resolution on the 5 inch screen reveals a pixel per inch number of 294 PPI, a value that is barely 30 off from where the iPhone 5S is, which means pixels will be hard for most to people to peep.

The IPS screen shows colours nicely, though it does need more brightness, a fact we’ll get to later on.

Performance is a bit of a mixed bag in this one, with the strength being in 4G mobile and battery, but the weakness being that of the system.

Basically, if you’re keen to have solid mobile speeds and a battery that can outlast a day, you’ll be happy.

If, however, you think of this as a powerhouse, think again.

Proving that last bit is the benchmark, which shows Kogan’s Agora not exactly coming close to even last year’s Samsung Galaxy S4, even if it does manage to push past HTC’s One Mini, possibly providing valid competition for HTC’s pint-sized performer.

We’re not quite sure if this means Kogan’s 4G Agora will fall down with modern games, but we’d certainly be hesitant to do much more than Quiz Up and Angry Birds, especially with 1GB RAM sticking around.

That said, it should survive the rigours of every day life, with the odd bug or two present, which we’ll get to shortly.

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