Review: Kogan Agora 4G
4.0Overall Score
Price (RRP): $229 Manufacturer: Kogan / BenQ

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.

At least Kogan has nailed mobile and battery performance, with solid results here across the board.

On the mobile broadband side of things, the Category 4 LTE modem is working well, pushing out speeds ranging from 30 to 84Mbps on the Telstra network in Sydney, while the battery lasted us a good day and a half before it was done.

That day and a half result came from making phone calls, texting, checking several mail accounts, playing the odd game, listening to music, social networking, and some web surfing, and if you’re harder on your phone than we are, you can bring that life down a touch closer to a full day compared to the extra half day we found.

In either case, that’s not a bad result, especially for a device carrying such a low price, and that’s an area you can’t fault Kogan on, either, because with an e-tail price (no recommended retail price, specifically) of $229, Kogan’s Agora 4G offers a tremendous speed boost over at least one 3G phone: Motorola’s Moto E, which manages to cost just $50 less.

Kogan’s 4G phone isn’t the cheapest LTE handset out there, either, as Telstra offers its own branded products locked to its network for less, but Kogan has the advantage here, thanks to unlocked BenQ hardware, meaning it can be used on any network in Australia.

Android is pretty much up to date, though, so you can cross investing in an out-dated handset off your list, a problem often associated with spending less money in the mobile marketplace.

Kogan and BenQ have come together to bring the BenQ F5 up from Android 4.2 “Jelly Bean” to Android 4.4 “KitKat,” which is a positive thing, and it’s mostly a stock interface too, with the vision Google put out for Android found in the launcher, the menu, and Google Now also available here.

A pretty stock version of Android.

That said, it’s not all perfect, and the Agora 4G lets us down with mediocre cameras, some underwhelming system performance, and a bug here and there that might really get to people.

One of these bugs is noticed in Instagram, whereby the image is uploaded in complete black, which we’ve seen on other smartphones — a Samsung Galaxy originally did this — and is something Instagram will eventually patch, but could take time.

Other issues that pop up here and there come as a result of speed, or lack thereof. You might find the screen doesn’t flick up or swipe down at the right moment, and apps take a little longer to load in some instances than you might otherwise expect. Given the meagre amount of memory inside, we’re not surprised, and we see the same issues with the screen.

It’s not that the screen is bad, because it’s not.

No, it just has colour and brightness lost at angles, thanks in part to the sheer lack of brightness, meaning when you’re out and about, it’s particularly hard to see it in daylight. Go inside and it’s fine, but for direct viewing with a particularly bright day, and you’ll have a hard time with the Agora 4G.

The camera is also weak, and we’re not totally surprised by that.

An image from the Kogan Agora 4G 8 megapixel camera

On paper, the idea of an 8 megapixel camera with a back side illuminated sensor sounds good, and even though the flash looks more like a piece of clear Lego stuck to the back of the phone, it’s at least positive that there is one included.

But take the photos from the handset and you really see that for Kogan and hardware maker BenQ, the camera is one of the weakest parts of the package, with detail issues and plenty of noise when the lights go down. Speed is also a problem, taking a second or two to open the camera and take the shot, a problem which is no doubt affected by that mediocre CPU and RAM combination we mentioned earlier.

Kogan’s front-facing 2 megapixel camera is equally mediocre, but will certainly do for most people, providing adequate selfies if you need them.

An image from the Kogan Agora 4G 8 megapixel camera

Conclusion

With a price of $229, it’s hard to argue Kogan’s Agora 4G, a phone that does a great job of bringing an unlocked example of 4G LTE to anyone who wants more than 3G and isn’t prepared to spend more than the $300 that would normally require.

If “unlocked” and “4G” are your primary reasons for buying a phone, then we’d advise checking out the Agora 4G, since it offers doses of both for not too much cash.

 

Review: Kogan Agora 4G
Price (RRP): $229 Manufacturer: Kogan / BenQ
Comfortable in the hands; Excellent 4G speeds; Runs a fairly stock version of Android; Great price; Decent battery life, especially in relation to the price;
Screen isn't brilliant from all angles, especially when it comes to daylight viewing;No removable battery; Cameras aren't amazing; Some hiccups in programs, such as Instagram uploading black screens;
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