The Kogan Agora tablet: serious piece of kit, or a fool’s folly?

The latest version of Kogan’s “Agora” tablet range has been released just in time for Christmas shoppers, and unhindered by patent disputes and other commercial obstacles.

Marketed as “the best value tablet PC in the world”, the Agora tablets run Google’s Android operating system. But how does the Agora compare to Apple’s iPad, or other tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Asus Eee Pad, or LG’s Optimus Pad? I thought I’d buy one to find out.

Kogan says the Agora is "the best value tablet PC in the world"

Kogan LivePrice

The pricing of the Agora models is certainly attractive, with 7″-screen models starting at $199, 8″ models starting at $219, and 10″ models starting at $269. (These prices are all ex-delivery.)

Kogan sometimes offers a feature called “LivePrice”, whereby they accept orders ahead of manufacture and product availability. This (they say) helps Kogan to assess demand for a particular product, and better meet stock requirements. The “price clock” starts ticking early, until the day of release when the LivePrice, in theory, hits RRP. By ordering early, if you’re prepared to wait for manufacture, delivery, and “unforseen delays” (my delivery date went from the first week of November to the third week of November), then you’ll get an even cheaper product.

My Kogan Agora 10″ cost $239.38, so by ordering a few weeks prior to general availability, I saved about $30.00.

The Numbers

Here are the specs of the Agora 10″-screen tablet, taken straight from the Kogan website.

First impressions

The device arrived by courier. It was promptly unpacked, charged and powered-up. In addition to the above specs, the Agora is also supplied with a stretchy-cloth cover and a cleaning cloth.

Unboxing the Kogan Agora 10" tablet

Without any difficulty I had connected to the home WiFi network and sync’d it with my Google account. So far so good. I was web browsing, Tweeting, reading Gmail and loading applications from the Android Market.

The 10″ capacitive touch-screen is quite nice to use, and works predictably (albeit considerably less responsive than Apple’s iPad).

The inputs and outputs are handy, although the power socket and the headphone socket are almost identical in size. Don’t confuse the two.

Inputs and outputs, showing (L to R) Micro SD slot, DC 5V power in, hardware reset, USB connector, HDMI output and headphone socket

It looks and feels like a giant Android phone, but as sleek and swish as it first appears, my excitement turned to frustration after a few days of use. I bought the Agora in the knowledge that it wasn’t running Android version 3, but a number of things I’ve subsequently discovered are frustrating and irritating.

Frustration and Irritation

Navigation button. The silver navigation button is handy as a ‘home’ button, but it’s not set up for navigation like on the HTC handsets. All it does is let you press it, and it returns you to the Android desktop. You can’t navigate screens, web pages or menus by swishing your finger across the button.

Crashes and reboots. A number of times I’ve had to hit the hardware reset button, because the device has got itself into an endless “Try Again / Cancel / Ignore”-type loop. This is disappointing. Once or twice a day, an application will just close, or crash, usually when you’re trying to do something quite basic, like send an email or look at a webpage or open an application.

Battery life and charging. Kogan says its tablet will give you “4 hours of normal use”. I seem to get four or five hours solid use every day, before it needs a charge. What frustrates the hell out of me is that the Agora won’t charge via its USB port. What the frack?!?! You’ll need to carry the super-duper Kogan-proprietary power supply around with you, if battery life is an issue. This is just poor hardware design and not acceptable in the tablet computer product-space.

Android thinks it’s a phone. Okay, I understand *technically* this is not Kogan’s fault, but it’s their tablet, they’re selling it, and any product shortfalls reflect badly on them. The build of Android installed on the Agora tablet (v2.3, code-named Gingerbread) thinks it’s a telephone. This is dumb, dumb, dumb. It’s taken Google until version 3 of Android (code-named Honeycomb) to release a product which can be configured as a WiFi-only device, and a number of products have been released way ahead of the Agora which run version 3, like the Asus Eee Pad and the Motorola Xoom.  Even now, we’re seeing new products being released which run version 4 of Android (code-named Ice-Cream Sandwich), like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

So why on Earth the Agora tablet wasn’t released running Android 3.1 (at least) is beyond me.  Sadly, this means there’s a “No Service” warning in the left-hand corner of the desktop, and it’s there for good.

To make matters worse, the operating system reports that most of its battery life is spent looking for radio hardware and components which don’t physically exist. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The Agora reports that most of its battery consumption is used for "cell standby"

“Screen wake”. This appears to be a systemic problem with the Kogan Agora tablets, and is discussed in detail on forums like xda-developers.com. When the device is not in use, every one or two, or five or ten minutes, the display just turns on. This appears to be related to the fact that Android keeps trying to connect to a mobile telephone network, but can’t. The solution is to root the tablet (get root access to the device) and install 3rd-party software. I haven’t been brave enough to try this just yet.

Internal G-Sensor. I switched off the auto-screen-rotate feature after about 10 minutes of use. It’s very sensitive – too sensitive – and unusable.  The slightest change in angle results in the display doing uncontrolled “360”s until you keep the device still.

Recommendations

I considered returning the Agora to Kogan for a refund. It’s flaky and frustrating. I think I’ll persevere for now, and I’m actively researching the best way to root the device and install a more up-to-date version of Android. I’m hoping that will fix a lot of the issues I’ve had to-date.

Would I recommend the Kogan Agora to the “tech-inquisitive”, dipping their toes in the sea of Android tablets for the first time? Sure, why not. It’s okay for what it is. Make sure you understand what you’re buying, and why it’s so cheap.

Would I recommend the Kogan Agora to IT professionals or power-users who want a stable, reliable and useful tool in their technology arsenal? No. While it’s only about $270, your money would be better put towards a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or an Apple iPad.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.

5 thoughts on “The Kogan Agora tablet: serious piece of kit, or a fool’s folly?

  1. how the hell do i get my email to operate on this thing. i keep getting to the OUTGOING SERVER SETTINGS and then it says it is checking them but ultimatelysaysit couldnt open connection to the server.

      • maybe i do not extend it to its full potential.
        i notice that it charges by direct connection to my desktop.
        we just use it for internet, email , and card games for my wife and other games for the grandkids.
        once i got it going it has done all that.
        no problems so far.
        zenon

  2. I recieved my 10 inch tablet today. Its running ICS and still has all the samw problems as was mentioned in the article above. So far I have had to reset the machine 3 times because of crashing. I will call Kogan tomorrow re getting a refund

  3. I got the smaller seven inch tab and after 1 month it broke so i sent it away and they sent me a new one ive had it for just over a year and ive had lots of problems but the most recent one is half of my screen is no longer touch screen i can see it still but it just doesnt do anything it wont type of even scroll its a pile of rubish DO NOT GET ONE!!!

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