Kogan Agora Smart TV Dongle

If you're familiar with Android, you'll feel at home with an Agora Dongle in your living room. Just be sure you don't want an Apple TV first.


6.5
CNET Rating
1.2
User Rating

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


Design

Taking what is, essentially, an Android smartphone and whittling it down to something the size of an old-fashioned pack of chewing gum, is pretty impressive. It's not a particularly attractive packet of gum, but considering it will spend its time hidden behind your flat panel TV, this isn't a major factor to consider.

There isn't much more to know about the dongle, itself. You stick the pointy bit in the TV, there's a mini-USB port on the side that the power supply plugs into and there is a micro-SD card slot on the back, in case you need to expand its 4GB of internal storage.

Take a look at the picture of the nearly useless remote before you commit to buying an Agora Dongle, though. As part of keeping this gadget's price down, the Dongle comes with a severely limited remote, with a five-way navigation pad for controlling most of the system. Remember, this is Android, so there are many, many occasions when you are going to want to input text, and doing this with a five-way pad is majorly tedious. Kogan also sells a wireless keyboard separately, which we have used throughout this review, and we recommend you add it to your shopping cart if you decide to order a Dongle for yourself.

If you buy the Dongle, you need this keyboard (or something similar).
(Credit: Kogan)

User experience

The software on the Agora Dongle is based on Android Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0.3), with a custom overlay designed for TVs. Given the stock Android experience on previous Kogan products we've reviewed, we were impressed with how clean and easy-to-use this custom system is. There is a row of tabs across the top of the UI housing the major sections of the system, including Apps, Music, Movies, Photos and Settings. There is also a Home tab with your most recently accessed apps, and space for two Android widgets, like Facebook or Twitter.

Set up is easy, with a wizard when you first use the Dongle. Once you are connected to a Wi-Fi network and you have connected a Google account, you are on your way.

The custom UI is clean and well laid out.
(Credit: Kogan)

The performance of the system is mostly a pleasant and seamless experience. Jumping between menus is fast and without much lag, and most apps load without fuss. There isn't an option to multitask on the Dongle, which is a shame. This isn't a part of a regular TV experience, but it is something we found we needed a few times when reviewing this unit. The web browser is a highlight, especially for anyone who has used a web browser on a Smart TV or game console in the past. It is slower than most smartphones, but is OK for quick browsing in a pinch.

We did experience a few crashes and restarts while reviewing the Agora Dongle. One notable crash occurred after we attempted to set the output display resolution to 1080p, up from the default 720p setting.

Features

Out of the box, there are a number of apps pre-loaded for you to use. Amazon's Kindle app is there, in case you want to read a book, there's TuneIn Radio to, well, tune into internet radio stations, too. Facebook and Twitter are installed, along with apps for viewing PDFs and some Office compatible documents.

There is, in theory, a few hundred thousand other apps to install, as well, given that you can connect the Agora Dongle to the Google Play store. We didn't have so much luck testing this side of things. The Dongle accepted our Google account details fine, but the Play Store would not download the apps we requested. We tried a number of work-arounds, without success, including trying to push apps to the dongle via the desktop browser interface. This last attempt was foiled, because the Dongle didn't show up on our list of devices.

Luckily, Kogan offers a 14-day money back guarantee on all products, so you would be within your rights to return it if you have a similar experience.

We did manage to test media stored locally, including a 1080p video file, played from a micro-SD card we installed. It took a long time for the media on the SD card to be displayed in any of the media tabs, but once it was available, it played without complaint.

Agora Dongle vs. Apple TV

For AU$99, the biggest competitor to the Agora Dongle is one formidable foe: Apple TV. On the surface, these seem like products with a similar purpose and an identical price tag. Scratch below the surface and we'd argue that these are two very different beasts, and whether you choose one or the other may come down to the tech you already own. Apple TV, for example, works best with an iOS device in your hands. Apple has developed companion apps so that you can control Apple TV with either an iPod, iPhone or iPad, and you can easily share media from these devices using Apple's AirPlay media streaming protocol.

Apple TV is also much more about Apple's digital content sales. All of the major media menus on an Apple TV deliver colourful advertisements for the content you could be watching or listening to, after a quick, painless purchase. The same isn't true of the Agora Dongle. It doesn't really push content to you, though you can rent movies through Google Play, and it doesn't play nice with other Android smartphones or tablets. There's no media streaming on offer out-of-the-box, though we suppose you could download the Twonky app and give that a try (and we would have if it wasn't for that pesky Google Play error).

The Agora dongle can also browse the web and install third-party apps; things the Apple TV won't do. But that said, you have to wonder how many apps you'd want to download and whether your TV is the best medium for the web. Apple TV is also way more polished, and when you're relaxing after a hard day at the coalface, the value of this shouldn't be underestimated.

Overall

The Agora Smart TV Dongle is a great idea and is reasonably well executed. We stumbled across a few obstacles as we reviewed this unit — the use of Google Play and a few unexpected restarts — but largely, our experience was positive. The nicely designed user interface helps a lot to makes the Dongle usable, though we can't stress enough how much you need the additional keyboard accessory, or a wireless USB keyboard of your own choosing.



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jessie07
1
Rating
 

jessie07 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:none

The Bad:everything

and i forgot to add how bad their customer services is: "If Technicians are unable to find a fault with the unit we reserve the right to charge for Shipping and Technician Fees" --- not good enough. you have to wait for a few days before kogan will reply to your query! will not buy from them again

jessie07
2
Rating
 

jessie07 posted a review   
Australia

This tv dongle is cheap china made, less than a month my dongle is broken. Kogan does not want to replace they just want to fix it nor will provide a loan unit to use while my dongle is being repaired. Waste of money, just buy a cheap smart tv and Oh do not buy the keyboard for this dongle it is useless just a rip off.

 

PeterD6 posted a comment   

I already have Apple TV .Unfortunately this device does not compare'Don't waste $100 when for a few bucks more you can have an Apple TV.Very disappointed- promises a lot but delivers little!

 

LornaN posted a comment   

I don't know what you are all talking about, it works fine.
now my tv is a smart tv, such a transformation.

agreed, a wireless keyboard is required, the on-screen keyboard is slow to navigate.
some apps are obviously not compatible for tv viewing, designed more for tablets, but if you have some patience, then you can find what you need.

 

"Cannot recommend."

Jacob1 posted a comment   

The Good:Struggling to find any.

The Bad:Terrible remote. No VPN. Even mini-keyboard is poor.

Huge disappoinment. You are better off using your approx. same price cheap android tablet, at least you'll be able to watch Netflix instead of the horrible Quickflix. BTW there is no way of setting up VPN on this dongle, the facility is just not there. You could set up VPN on Kogan's earlier Smart TV portal but it was only Android 2.2, that wasn't all it was cracked up to be either.
I hope their SmartTVs perform better.

 

KathyT1 posted a reply   

Jacob, can you please explain about Netflix. I wanted to buy so I can watch Quickflix but after reading the reviews I decided against it. I'd like to check out Netflix.

IMPERATO
1
Rating
 

"Shocking product"

IMPERATO posted a review   

The Good:Nothing good about this cheap useless quality product

The Bad:It has been mis-advertised to increase sales.

Just don't buy it to avoid heart breaking experience. Do not make other people richer for selling you rubbish. It simply does not work. Can I get my money back??? I guess not!

VasuN Facebook
1
Rating
 

VasuN posted a review   

It's a terrible terrible device it's keep disconnecting wifi. If you open fire fox the system crashes and reboots. The only game work is angry bird and the system hangs if you play 3-4 stages. Online video lag a very much even though the device is sitting literally next to wireless route.absolutely have no idea how CNET rated it so high. looks like CNET rating were bought

EagleS Facebook
1
Rating
 

"never buy"

EagleS posted a review   
Australia

The Good:nothing

The Bad:the list is too long

do not buy, I bought because cnet gave it a good rating, how WRONG could I be,
its the worst thing I ever bought doesn't work, but another product, no support by kogan, not worth your time buying on line, go else where
Eagle

JamesF2 Facebook
1
Rating
 

"A great example of how NOT to implement new technology"

JamesF2 posted a review   

The Good:A great idea

The Bad:Abysmal remote and non-intuitive software

I have recently installed a Kogan Agora TV Dongle, designed to turn any digital TV into smart TV using the HDMI port. It is difficult to say how disappointing this dongle is - both in hardware and software - but I'll try to give you some idea...

1. The remote is a small cheap piece of rubbish with the feel and responsiveness of pressing blue-tac into jellyfish. Sometimes it works, more often it doesn't, and the feedback is irregular and inconsistent. You just have to keep on pressing and hope for the best.

2. The software is hugely non-intuitive and you need the patience of Job to use the software keyboard. Navigating thru the screens seems intentionally designed to frustrate you at every opportunity.

3. Despite buying the unit solely for the Quickflix application, it took three weeks and numerous phone calls before the Quickflix application became available.

4. It takes about 30 presses of the DOWNLOAD button and at least three restarts before it actually downloads.

5. Once installed, it works reasonably well, except the "Unlimited Downloads" from Quickflix actually means unlimited downloads of ancient movies. It seems you still have to pay for any movie under five years old.

6. When you power down and come back again, you find the unit has forgotten Quickflix is already installed and it asks you to install again, but I'll give you a tip. Go to Downloads and you'll find it is already there so just install it again - you can skip the 30 button presses to try to download it again, unless you'd like 2 or 3 copies of the same QUICKFLIXV1-1.APK file.

7. About the only redeeming feature is that it continues to remember your username and password so at least you don't have take another 5 minutes to re-enter that every time you re-install.

8. If you're listening to digital radio, then decide to watch a movie, the unit will continue to play the radio unless you work out how to stop the digital radio before exiting. I can assure you it is possible, but you need to have a degree in astro-physics and forget everything you know about logic before trying this.

I can't believe anyone in Kogan or Quickflix has actually tried to use this unit,otherwise they would not have let it on to the market in its current state. I have decided NOT to send it back and am going to retain it and show it to all and sundry as a wonderful example of how not to introduce technology.

I was contemplating buying 60 of these dongles to provide an enhanced multimedia experience for our motel guests, but you can imagine what sort of response I would get for giving them this sort of "experience".

I suggest Kogan and Quickflix have a close look at Apple TV as a contrasting example of how to introduce a quality product to market. The software is bug-free and the remote is a delight to use. Maybe this is why Apple shares are forging ahead while Quickflix shares have halved over the last few months.

 

StuartA posted a comment   
Australia

I recently purchased this device, along with the wireless keyboard and a 16 Gb Mini SD card. I couldnt get the device to boot up at first, the problem seemed to be insufficient power coming from the USB power cable connected to my Samsung TV. I switched the USB power to connect to my LG DVD USB slot and it booted into Android. I was able to load and install apps. I installed Spotify and Rdio (I have subscriptions to both). Both apps worked fine, except Spotify didn't load artwork while the songs were playing, but Rdio did. It's great to have your music collection playing from the TV into the lounge room stereo. The installed browser worked fine but I wasn't able to get Chrome or Firefox apps working after I installed them. The Facebook app works well on a TV screen. Facebook image posts look better on a big screen. I couldn't change the screen resolution from 1280x720. I had a choice of 720 or 1080 but couldn't get 1080 to work. I put the mini SD card in and it seemed to be there in some settings menus but not in others. I'm still figuring that out. The software advised that I can update 13 of the apps but when I tried to do so nothing happened. The YouTube app was good but there seems to be a bug that causes the mouse pointer to disappear and not come back. Overall I think it's a good device, it's well worth it's price for the browser and the music apps alone and I haven't tried streaming video yet. Some software is a bit unstable Im hopeful that will improve with future updates.


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User Reviews / Comments  Kogan Agora Smart TV Dongle

  • jessie07

    jessie07

    Rating1

    "and i forgot to add how bad their customer services is: "If Technicians are unable to find a fault with the unit we reserve the right to charge for Shipping and Technician Fees" --- not good enough..."

  • jessie07

    jessie07

    Rating2

    "This tv dongle is cheap china made, less than a month my dongle is broken. Kogan does not want to replace they just want to fix it nor will provide a loan unit to use while my dongle is being repa..."

  • PeterD6

    PeterD6

    "I already have Apple TV .Unfortunately this device does not compare'Don't waste $100 when for a few bucks more you can have an Apple TV.Very disappointed- promises a lot but delivers little!"

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