Kogan’s New 10-Inch Agora Tablet: Great Price Means Trade-Offs

EXCLUSIVE: Kogan’s just announced new 8-inch and 10-inch Android tablets at bargain basement prices. Gizmodo got an early look at what your money will buy you.

First up, we’ve been playing with what Kogan was described as a “preproduction” unit. That’s always a dangerous thing to assess; while it’s great to get an early look, if there are any problems the vendor can always brush them away because, after all, it is a preproduction unit.

As with a lot of Kogan’s self-branded wares (bearing in mind that the company does sell imported tablets — but not the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at the time of writing — as well) the key thing this tablet sells on isn’t really the features anyway; it’s the price. Kogan’s representatives told me that it’ll start at a Liveprice of $189; that’s pretty darned cheap by any estimation. There’s also an 8-inch model that I should get some hands-on time with today that starts at $149 on Liveprice; I’ll update with the ‘full’ prices once Kogan’s site goes properly live with the details.

Update: The pages for the 10-inch tablet and 8-inch tablet are now live, listing $269 as the final price for the 10-inch and $229 for the 8-inch.

So what do you get for your money? A 1GHz processor, 10-inch 1024×768 capacitive touchscreen, 5500mAh battery and 4GB of onboard storage running on Android 2.3. Yep, that’s right; like Amazon’s Kindle Fire this isn’t a Honeycomb tablet, although unlike the Fire there’s little in the way of operating system customisation. In fact, I’ll go a little further there; the only thing I’ve noticed that is in any way customised is the Kogan splash screen that fires up when it’s powered on, or when it crashes — more on that shortly.

The ports run along the base; microSD, miniUSB, HDMI, headphone and power. Annoyingly it won’t charge over USB, so you’d have to keep the AC adaptor handy.

The base has typical menu (‘M’) and back keys, as well as what looks like the optical sensor from the original HTC Desire. It’s not an optical sensor — or if it is, it’s certainly not working on this model.

Physically, this thing feels large; that’s not unusual per se in a 10-inch tablet, but the Agora 10-inch feels even larger. On a whim, I went and grabbed my Motorola Xoom, one of the largest 10-inch tablets you can buy. Yes, I know; it’s a much more expensive model, but I’m not benchmarking here. Except in the sense that I’m laying them down on a bench.

Side by side, they’re essentially the same thickness, which is to say chunky.

Laid down flat, though, the Agora’s less widescreen-friendly size becomes apparent.

It’s the same size (give or take) as the original iPad.

Annoyances? At this price point, I’d be surprised if there weren’t some, and there’s some factors I can highlight that are unlikely to change even if this is an early unit. The volume control has been built with landscape orientation in mind; this means that if you’ve got it that way, the rightmost button becomes volume up. But the controls are at the base, and this is Android 2.3, so they’re always at the base. Put it in portrait mode, and the bottom (“down”) volume button is volume… up. I guess you could get used to it, but it’s very counterintuitive.

The screen rotation is hyper-sensitive. I’m a long-time tablet user, and I don’t think I’ve used a tablet that enjoys flipping the screen as much as this one does. I’m generally averse to locking the screen down on any tablet, but for the Agora 10-inch I quickly made an exception, lest I go insane.

Performance is another issue. I’ve had slightly over twelve hours with the Agora so far (and that included an overnight period; as much as I like technology I do need to sleep intermittently), so full assessment is impossible, but even early on, this isn’t a performance machine. Loading up Fruit Slice shows that the screen struggles with rapid multi-touch. Multiple browser tabs open at once make it sleepy.

I hit a number of instances where it flat out rebooted on me in the middle of a task. Preproduction woes or an actual problem? It’s impossible to say… but I’ve got my suspicions. If you’re the numbers type, with the stock browser it recorded a browsermark score of 29062, well below what you might get from a more ‘full price’ Android tablet. Again, that’s got to be balanced against the price.

So, would I buy one? Well, I really don’t need another Android tablet. But if you’re in the market for a cheap Android tablet it’s certainly an option (and would make a great Christmas stocking stuffer), albeit one with some significant limitations.

It’s unlikely you’ll ever see Honeycomb on it, let alone Ice Cream Sandwich. The button layout doesn’t work well in portrait mode. It’s not particularly fast or responsive. Like Kogan’s original Agora tablet, this is a machine that compromises utility in favour of price, and that’s what should be top of your mind when deciding whether to buy one. A great price means trade-offs. [Kogan]

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