Many would cringe at the idea of spending near $1,000 outright on a smartphone. That’s where quality budget devices step in, offering most of the benefits, without the price tag. The Kogan Agora 4G by BenQ looks to take a slice of the pie, with specifications that on the surface, offer plenty of performance and features for a bargain price.
Rather than having their own device created by an ODM like its first two Agora smartphones, this time Kogan have done a little rebranding, taking the BenQ F5 and added their logo and packaging.
The design is a notable step up from the previous Kogan Agora smartphones. The all-glass front rolls off smoothly to a thin gloss-black rim, with satin-finished edges and a rubberized back cover with subtle red grill speaker grill and ring around the camera. You never catch an edge when swiping across the display, a very classy touch.
The Agora 4G has a smooth feel in the hand, with a notable improvement in quality over previous Agora’s. Our review unit suffered from a slightly insensitive power button, but otherwise the in-hand feel impresses.
Front and centre is a 5-inch IPS display with a 720p resolution. It’s barely 18 months ago that you’d have to buy a flagship to get 720p and IPS, but here we have it at just over half the price of a Nexus 5, or slightly less than a 4.5-inch Moto G.
It’s a nice display too, with good colours and brightness, and decent viewing angles. It won’t best the displays on flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, but to my eye it’s viewing angles are no worse than those on my LG G2, a 1080p flagship from last year.
The power button is awkwardly located at the top, not ideal on a 5-inch phone, but like it’s contemporaries the Kogan Agora 4G lets you double-tap on the display to wake it up. Alas double-tap-to-sleep isn’t an option.
The interface is as close to pure Android as a modern Motorola. There are some subtle tweaks here and there, but on the whole Kogan (or rather BenQ) has maintained Google’s vision of Android, much to the improvement of the experience.
The Agora 4G is running Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box, as close to up-to-date as some flagship devices. The question is whether it will ever see an update beyond this. The good news is the ROM on our review device was very stable, and since it’s being made by BenQ rather than some unknown ODM offers a glimpse of hope, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The stock Google launcher and all Google’s apps are present and accounted for, with FM radio and voice recorder apps the only additions to the app drawer.
In the settings menu there’s options for further optimizing power consumption.
All this cleanliness makes for a very smooth experience, helped by the choice of silicon under the covers.
Rather than an off-brand processor, the Kogan Agora 4G features a 1.2Ghz Snapdragon 400 quad-core chip with an Adreno 305 graphics. Finish it off with a 4G LTE modem with 700/900/1800Mhz bands and there’s a lot to like.
Phone call quality was very good on both ends of a call, though the speaker on the back of the Agora 4G is merely average. Crank the volume on voice calls, music or videos too high and it starts to distort. Audio quality through the 3.5mm headphone jack or via Bluetooth streaming was loud and clear. The second GSM SIM slot from the previous model is gone too, though I doubt it will be missed by most in the Australian market.
Without exaggeration, this is a properly smooth device. Apps open quickly, multiple Google Chrome tabs don’t bog down proceedings, and animations are smooth and snappy.
I won’t lie, I had fairly low expectations of performance based off previous Agora’s, but the Kogan Agora 4G has eliminated this problem.
Battery life is another area where the Agora 4G excelled in testing.
I’m pretty hard on my devices, usually having them off charge for a solid 12 hours, with plenty of calls, email and web browsing in that time. I’ve starting throwing in 30-60 minutes of Pandora radio streaming over 4G through a car stereo via Bluetooth too.
My daily driver, a Motorola Moto X, seriously struggles to cope, always needing a midday top up to make the distance.
Not so the Kogan Agora 4G. On one particular day I managed over 14 hours, with over 4 hours on screen time and 30 minutes of Pandora streaming, an impressive result. This phone can last a day without issue, and if you are a bit lighter on the activity you’d likely be able to stretch that to two days.
Some may lament the lack of a removable battery, but as someone who hasn’t carried a spare battery for several years I can’t say it bothered me. For some though it may be a dealbreaker.
While the 8GB of included storage is quite small, microSD expansion is present and accounted for. Kogan list cards up to 64GB being compatible, enough for all but the heaviest of multimedia hoarders. Playing videos and music off a SanDisk Extreme microSD card was flawless.
The 8 megapixel camera is a step up on cameras found in most low-end devices, producing sharp if slightly desaturated images. A little bit of noise creeps in a times too, in part due to that sharpening. It’s nothing that a little bit of tweaking in a photo editing app like Photoshop Express can’t improve, but the Agora 4G won’t be winning any camera contests.
The images are more than good enough for posting on Facebook or looking at on your computer.
The Kogan Agora 4G by BenQ really was quite a surprise from the moment I set it up. It combines a very nice 5-inch 720p display, snappy processor and 4G data performance and excellent battery life, for a very modest price.
Would I recommend it over a Moto G? I’d have to say yes. The Kogan Agora 4G really is a “third time’s the charm”.
The Kogan Agora 4G can be purchased directly for AU$229 from Kogan.com.au
Source: This review unit was provided by Kogan Australia.
What I Like: Display, performance, 4G LTE, battery life, clean Android experience
What Needs Improvement: Android updates are an unknown