Back in 2006, Ruslan Kogan turned the Australian consumer electronics market on its head. The entrepreneur built his business empire by selling private label televisions online and competitive prices.
In the years since, Kogan has expanded his product line to include a range of household appliances and other electronics goods.
His deceptively simple business model quickly won over consumers, leading to Gerry Harvey’s ongoing campaign to reduce the GST threshold on imported goods.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January, Kogan announced his next target would be the low-end smartphone and tablet market, with the line-up including a 7-inch Android tablet called the Agora Mini 3G.
Priced at $199, it’s aimed at a growing segment of the market. A recent report from market analysts Telsyte projects tablets costing less than $200 will account for more than half of the Australian market by 2018, up from 29% today.
The research also shows that one-in-five households now own more than one tablet, with consumers often opting for a lower-cost device as the second tablet.
Internationally, a range of tech giants including Microsoft/Nokia, Lenovo/Motorola and Mozilla (with its Firefox OS) are all making a play for the low-end device market.
So is the Agora Mini 3G good enough to fight off both the premium products from retailers such as Harvey Norman, and the other low-cost devices set to hit the market? It’s time to find out.
Hardware and features
The Kogan Agora HD Mini runs Android 4.2 JellyBean and features a 1.2GHz quad-core processor.
It has a 7.85-inch IPS LCD touchscreen with a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels.
Aside from 1 gigabyte of memory, along with 16 gigabytes of internal storage and a microSD slot supporting up to 32 gigabytes of storage.
The Agora features a 5-megapixel front camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera.
Along with WiFi, it offers HSPA+ 3G internet access on the Telstra (850 MHz), Vodafone and Optus (2100 MHz) mobile networks.
What’s the consensus?
By now, the phrase “entry level Android device” (or “Firefox OS device” for that matter) almost immediately evokes images of flimsy devices cased in cheap, nasty plastic.
So it’s a pleasant surprise to find the Agora HD feels quite solid and substantial, featuring a textured aluminium case. It actually feels almost like holding the tablet half of an Asus Transformer.
The next pleasant surprise comes when you boot the device up. Far too often, Android devices are weighed down with custom skins from manufacturers, 10,000 widgets and a host of poorly coded custom apps.
That’s not the case with the Agora, which comes with stock Android, along with only a handful of standard Google apps preinstalled. The net result, when combined with a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, is a tablet that is frankly far more smooth and responsive than a device in its price range has any right to be.
Being a 3G tablet, you can use this device to make phone calls. While there is a growing trend in the tech industry towards larger 6-inch “phablet” smartphones, there comes a point when a device becomes just too large to use as a mobile phone – and for most people 7-inches is beyond that point.
That said, if you have a Bluetooth headset lying about, you can use this device as a replacement phone in a pinch.
The other nice extra feature included on this device is a full FM radio, which could be a handy extra if you intend to use this tablet while commuting on public transport.
However, there are three small issues you need to be aware of before you buy this device.
The first is that while it comes with a USB cable for transferring files from a PC, there is no charger included with this device (or at least with the test unit I received). That being said, it will work with any standard micro-USB smartphone chargers you might have lying around.
The second is there is no printed manual, although you can download a copy from Kogan website. However, the set-up process is so incredibly straightforward that this shouldn’t be an issue for most users.
The final point is that 4.2 JellyBean is not the latest version of Android (which is 4.4 KitKat). Given most Android devices are at least one version behind, and the thousands of apps available on the Google Play app store, this is less of an issue that it might at first seem.
And realistically, none of these points is a real deal-breaker, especially when you’re getting such a capable 3G tablet for just $199.
Should I get one?
If you’re one of the growing number of households looking for a low-cost second tablet, or something to read a magazine from Google Play on while on the train, this tablet should definitely be one of the ones you look at.
This review is based on a test unit provided to TechCompany by Kogan.