Just how much computer do you get when you spend AU$200 on a 10.1-inch Android tablet? We put Kogan's latest to the test.
If you were to slip a new Agora tablet out on the train and start surfing the web in front of the rest of the commuters in your cabin, we think you'd be the only person who would know that you paid less than AU$200 for it. Kogan's design is a nice mix of the familiar and the new, so that the Agora tablet feels nice and looks expensive. From the front, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for an iPad, despite it lacking a "Home" button. From behind, this tablet has a unique look, with a stiff plastic chassis moulded to look like cool, gun-metal aluminium.
At only 600-grams, the Agora is an impressively lightweight 10-inch tablet, and its 12mm depth is easy to hold. There is a sharp-ish edge running around the tablet, which presses into the hands a little, but all in all, the Agora is quite comfortable. Kogan has the volume controls on the top-right of the unit (when the screen is facing the user) and the power button is on the lower part of the right side. This button positioning is a little awkward to find easily, but it's not a major concern after some practice.
The right-side of the Agora is puckered with a vast array of ports and sockets, including a micro-HDMI port, a micro-SD card reader and a 3.5mm headphone socket. Curiously, there are also two micro-USB ports; one for connecting to a PC and one for a USB Host adapter, included in the sales package. There is also a 2-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet and a second 0.3-megapixel camera facing the user.
The numerous ports on the right-side of the tablet.
The screen is a 10.1-inch in-plane switching (IPS) technology LCD display, and compared with the screen on Kogan's previous tablet effort, this display is an achievement at this price. Viewing angles are good, its 1024x768 pixel resolution is sharp-enough and colours are represented well. It isn't a particularly bright display, so you'll find that you need to set it closer to 100% than the battery will appreciate, and the touchscreen doesn't feel entirely responsive, though this factor is also impacted by the power of the CPU.
User experience and performance
As you might have guessed from the images above, the Agora tablet is pure Google Android — there is no Kogan-made user interface layer on top of the Ice Cream Sandwich experience here. For many, this will be a plus; Android fans appreciate Google's work and don't feel a need to have this covered by an extra layer. There's nothing flashy about this presentation, but it is certainly functional.
Our review unit came with a couple of applications pre-installed; Skype, Aldiko ebook reader, MSN instant messaging and Documents-to-Go for creating and editing Microsoft Office documents. There was also a couple of extra Live Wallpapers that are not typically included with Ice Cream Sandwich. Apart from this, it'll be up to you to fill the device with the apps you want to use via the Google Play store.
It's a very vanilla build of Android that is offered by the Agora tablet.
Gaming is another popular tablet past-time that will not always work as you might like it to. Happily, the tablet installed and executed all the games we chose to test on it, but only some of these ran at a playable speed. Games like Temple Run and Fruit Ninja do work, but the choppy frame-rate and inconsistent input recognition make these reflex-testers unplayable in the end.
The low-powered hardware effects the use of the tablet in ways you mightn't expect, too. Typing on the onscreen keyboard is really slow, for instance, and it can be difficult to convert thoughts into long sentences when the text input onscreen is so far behind the tapping of your fingers. This isn't a big deal for entering Google searches, but using the Office app Documents-to-Go is a bit more frustrating. Multitasking is also heavily impacted, and switching tasks can take a lot longer than you might be prepared to wait. The tablet can only really do one thing at a time, so if you're downloading a new app from the store and you try to catch up on emails while it installs, you'll find that the system will become unusable until the package is completely loaded.
On the plus side, the Agora had no difficulties playing videos from our standard test suite, including a 1080p MP4 video. This is good news as the tablet also has a micro-HDMI out port, so for those who are willing to spend a little extra on a compatible cable, the Agora could make a handy portable media player. That is, if you're happy to keep the charger handy, too.
The real Achilles Heel of the Agora ICS tablet is its battery life. The unit is sealed, so we haven't been able to ascertain how large (or small) this battery is, but the juice does disappear when the tablet is in use. In our heavy duty video playback test, the Agora managed only 3 hours and 20 minutes of playback before powering down. This is roughly one-half or a third of the battery life we would expect to see from a Wi-Fi only tablet, and one of the clear differences between this unit and a tablet you would pay more money for.
In the end, this review boils down to a question of value for money; a tough question to answer given how subjective a measure it is. The tablet works well, but it doesn't offer a full, smooth Android experience the way more expensive competition does. Common tasks like web browsing require patience, but work, while other past-times like gaming will be limited by the processing power on offer. Whether this low-priced tablet is good value will come down to whether or not these shortcomings will limit your use of this machine.
For us, we think the Agora is a big win. It's design is good, it's screen is great for the money and patient users will get a lot of use out of the features offered. Those wanting a tablet to watch movies in bed, or on the go, are the big winners here. Battery life is a major trade-off, but careful users will work around this limitation.