preview Four years after he first promised to deliver a smartphone under his own brand, maverick Australian consumer electronics entrepreneur Kogan has finally gotten one out the door – and it’s cheap as chips at $149 despite boasting some pretty high-end specifications. But can the Kogan Agora kick it with the big boys? Read on to find out.
Note: This article represents an advanced look at the design, features and likely performance of this product, but we haven’t tested it yet. A follow-up full review will be published when we have.
We haven’t played with the Agora yet, but from the high-res photos we’ve seen, what the smartphone most appears to draw from is Samsung’s design ethos, with the Agora appearing to sit somewhere between the Galaxy S, S II and III models in terms of its design. It looks like the Agora has the metallic rim and overall black aesthetic which the original Galaxy S I boasted, along with a similar dimpled soft plastic backing, but it also looks like the Agora is a bit curvier, in ways that reminds us a little of the Galaxy S III. This is a good thing, as these Samsung smartphones have been some of the best-designed models we’ve tested over the past few years.
From the photos we’ve seen, it looks as though most of the buttons and interfaces on the Agora are to be found where you expect. On the left-hand side sits the usual volume rocker, while the top has the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and the right-hand side appears ot house the model’s power button. The main camera and flash are on the back as normal, and it appears as the unit’s micro-USB port is on the bottom. There’s a small front-facing camera and speaker grille above the unit’s screen, and another small speaker grill on the back of the phone at the bottom. Below the screen sits a physical home button and capacitive menu and return buttons to either side.
Unfortunately the weight of the Agora, at 180g, lets it down somewhat. The Samsung Galaxy S III, for comparison, weighs only 133g, and the iPhone comes in even lighter at 112. The Agora is not a light phone and it won’t feel light in your pocket. Of course, there are other similar models out there – Nokia’s current flagship, the Lumia 920, for example, comes in even heavier at 185g, although of course the 920 offers many features the Agora doesn’t. In terms of its size, the Agora is also fairly chunky, at 142.8 by 80 by 9.8 mm. Yup – that’s almost a centimetre thick. Again, not a huge issue, but the Agora is on the larger and heavier scale of modern smartphones.
If you’ve used any modern Android or Windows Phone smartphone in the past couple of years, it looks as though you’ll be fairly at home with the Agora – basically everything appears to be in its normal spot and easily accessible. In general, we’d say that the Agora appears to have gone a bit beyond what we could call the ‘stock Android experience’ in terms of its design. All of the generic elements are there, but the Agora boasts a little Kogan styling all of its own which we like. It doesn’t appear as if the Agora’s design will make it stand out from the crowd, but it also appears as though that design will make the smartphone feel like it’s worth more than the $149 which Kogan is charging for it.
We were pleasantly surprised with most of the Agora’s specifications on paper, with the smartphone actually doing fairly well compared with some of the best models on the market.
Firstly, let’s go over what the Agora does right. It has a large and what appears to be vibrant screen at 5”, its processor is a dual-core 1GHz Coretex-A9 model, and it comes with 512MB of RAM. Its battery is a decently sized 2000mAh model which Kogan says will let you speak on a 3G connection for almost five hours, and the Agora comes with 4G of on-board storage and the option to add another 32GB via its microSD card slot. There’s a moderately specced 5 megapixel camera, and the Agora supports all of Australia’s 3G networks at speeds of up to 7.2Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up. The front-facing camera is a 0.3 megapixel model and of course there’s 802.11 b/g/n support. All of these specifications are quite solid, and in fact we consider them pretty amazing in a $149 smartphone, but they’re not at the high end, unless you count the Agora’s speedy CPU.
One stand-out feature of the Agora is it support for two SIM cards simultaneously, of which we’ve read that one will only support 2G networks. This is a feature popular in Asia which we wish would come to more smartphones.
And now for the bad news.
There’s no 4G support on the Agora. There’s no Jelly Bean, with the handset running the previous Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google’s Android platform. And perhaps most importantly, its screen resolution is relatively poor – just 480×800, which delivers a pixel density of around 186 pixels per inch (the iPhone 5 weighs in at 326 ppi, the Galaxy S III at 306 ppi).
To sum up, most of the features which the Kogan Agora boasts are moderate, with some tending towards the high-end, and some tending towards the low-end. There’s some surprising additions not found in other models, such as dual-SIM support, and some areas which should be able to be easily improved, such as the addition of a more modern version of Android. In general you get a lot for your $149 from Kogan, and we were quite surprised with the strength of the found here.
As always, it’s hard to judge the performance of a product without having tested it yet, but what we can say about the Agora is that we expect its performance to be pretty good, based on its specifications on paper. For starters, the model features a decent CPU and a good amount of RAM. This, coupled with its low resolution screen, should mean it handles decently.
This informed guess is backed up by this comment by Gizmodo from the site’s hands on with the Agora: “We’re hands on with the device right now and it feels smooth and zippy. The screen is bright and vibrant the price is stellar.”
Engadget adds: “… the build quality is solid. The square handset looks alright, too. We liked the dimpled back panel and prominent metal Kogan logo, as well as the shiny dark grey rim holding it all together. It’s not exactly a Retina display, but it’s not notably terrible, and performance-wise, it ranged from slick to jittery depending on how much we were telling it to do in how short a time.”
The lack of 4G speeds and the decent battery size mean you should get decent battery life from the Agora, and the 5 megapixel camera should mean you should get servicecable photos – but we wouldn’t expect anything special.
In general, there are three areas we’re mainly interested in testing when it comes to concerns the Agora. The first is the integration. In our experience, there’s a subtle fusion between hardware build quality and software integration which governs whether a smartphone actually performs well in the hand, regardless of its specifications. Take Huawei’s models, for example. Although they offer quite high-end specifications, in practice there’s quite a few intangible build quality and software integration factors found in handsets from rival manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung which generally mean their models perform better in the hand: Apps load more smoothly, screens are more responsive, sound quality is better and so on. You find this excellent build quality and software integration with Nokia models as well.
Kogan’s Agora has most of what it takes to compete with much more expensive smartphones, but we’d like to see how the model actually performs in the hand before passing judgement on it.
The second factor we want to test is its camera. While its five megapixel rating should deliver serviceable photos, it is a truism that megapixel ratings don’t necessarily tell us much about smartphone cameras at the moment. We suspect the Agora’s model, like the models in many cheaper handsets, will suffer in situations such as low-light conditions and when its flash is used, and we’d like to put that to the test. Lastly, although we suspect it will be OK, we want to take a bit of a gander at the Agora’s hardware screen quality to make sure it’s at least decent as this factor can vary in low-end models.
However, we do have one last thing to say about what we expect from the Agora’s performance. We still expect it to perform very well for its price. We can’t remember ever seeing a smartphone with anything like the Agora’s specifications for anything like its price. Usually you’ll pay several hundred dollars more or need to buy an older model second-hand to get this level of specifications for this price. For $149 a pop, we suspect that the Agora will punch WAY above its weight and will probably deliver 90-95 percent of the performance of models which cost four times as much or more.
Regular Delimiter readers will know we’ve had our differences with Ruslan Kogan over the years, and not everything Kogan tries succeeds. We’ve long been sceptical about the entrepreneur’s ability to bring a decent smartphone to market. However, with the 2012 Agora, it looks like Kogan’s onto a winner.
In his media release announcing the Agora this week, Kogan himself stated: “The big brands are going to need a new nappy when they see what we’ve been able to cram into a phone for under $150.”
We couldn’t agree more. This is a model which looks like it will offer at least 90 percent of the performance of smartphones which cost four times as much. At $149 the Agora is almost an impulse buy, but it looks as though it has the guts to come close to being a heavyweight. We’re looking forward to testing it. And we can only hope Kogan sells a lot of them – because at $149, we can’t imagine his company will be making much profit margin off the Agora.
Image credit: Kogan Technologies