The entry-level tablet market is on the rise and sub-£200 models, such as the recently reviewed Andy Pad Pro are proving very popular with those on a budget. Kogan joins the party with its Agora range, claiming to offer unbeatable value for money by negotiating deals directly with manufacturers and shipping direct to customers, thereby cutting out the middle man and passing the savings on to the consumer.
Design and specs
Also available in 7in and 8in models, the 10in Agora tablet on test was available on pre-order for as low as £149, though it now retails for £179, which isn’t overwhelming cheap in the light of similarly-priced budget rivals and discounted alternatives.
It’s a nice-looking device, though, feels solid in the hand and is constructed from far better materials than we expected at this price. It’s similar in dimensions to the iPad, with a 10in high-gloss capacitive display that has an aspect ratio of 4:3 and and a resolution of 1024×768.
It’s a little lighter than the Apple tablet, weighing 601g (compared to 680g). A silver ‘Home’ button at one end is the main distinguishing feature, and this sits between two soft keys that offer access to ‘Menu’ and ‘Back’ controls. Along the bottom edge are a microSD card slot, a mini-HDMI connector, headphones port, mini-USB, power and a reset hole. At the side are a power switch and volume rocker.
The Kogan very well specced, with 512MB of memory offering sufficient breathing room for its Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’ operating system, a 1GHz Cortex A8 processor, Wi-Fi, 720p video playback and access to the Android market. There’s also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera which, while hardly class-leading in its performance, is far better than some of the token 0.3MP offerings we’ve seen elsewhere. There’s no rear camera, though. Overall it’s a great deal on paper – so we were keen to find out how it fared in the real world.
Performance and operation
We were impressed by what appears to be a fairly quick tablet with an impressive touchscreen that offers responsive gesture control, sharp lines and bright colours that, while some distance behind Apple’s gorgeous display, is still amongst the best budget models we’ve seen.
Full access to the Android market – not always a given with budget tablet devices – means there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to customising the device, though you’ll want to get involved in this area straight away as very little is preloaded onto the 4GB of internal storage.
Video playback is enjoyable enough, but we did notice a fair bit of motion blur during frantic scenes, and colours can appear a little muted. There’s also the inevitable issue of large black bars at the top and bottom of the display when viewing widescreen content, due to the screen’s 4:3 aspect ratio – though if video really is a priority a 16:9 device would always be the better choice.
The Kogan also performed well with most recent Android game titles – though some HD or 3D titles can struggle during intensive gameplay. Battery life is pretty impressive, and you can expect between 4 and 8 hours of constant use depending on how processor-intensives the tasks are that you’re carrying out.
Apple took the deliberate decision to exclude Flash support from its iPad and iPad 2, but it’s a feature – or lack of – that it shares with many budget tablets, which simply don’t have the processing oomph to handle Flash-based video. No such problem for the Agora, which supports Flash support for web browsing. Provided you’re not doing anything too demanding this is also a very responsive and enjoyable experience. But it was while testing this that we encountered our biggest issue with the device – and it’s one that threatens to undermine all of the good things the Kogan does do.
Wireless and tilt issues
Despite being generally well specced, one glaring omission is that the built-in wireless only supports 102.11b/g standards, which means it struggles quite badly when attempting to view video from sites such as YouTube and iPlayer.
The only way to enjoy a video clip without interruption is to wait a good few minutes for it to buffer, which is far from ideal, and when attempting to initiate playback right away we’d get no more than 10 seconds into a clip before having to wait another 10 seconds for it to buffer more. In other words, it’s effectively unusable when it comes to viewing video online, which is a massive drawback considering this will be key functionality for most tablet users.
We also had problems with the internal G-sensor when playing games that offer tilt controls – in fact we tried five different titles and encountered the same issue each time. This could be a problem with the individual unit we were sent, but can’t comment in more detail since an email to tech.support has thus far gone unanswered.
- Feels far more expensive than it is, with decent specs, responsive display and solid build.
- Poor wireless performance makes online video a no-go; issues with the G-sensor in games.
The Agora 10 ultimately seems like a missed opportunity, as everything from the solid build and impressive screen to the specifications and low price suggest this could have been the budget tablet of 2011. An inexplicable choice of outdated wireless technology on a device so attuned to utilising this functionality leaves us struggling to recommend it, and it genuinely pains us to have to award a score that's far lower than it should have been.