Kogan Agora 8 phone: Full, in-depth review

Will this super-cheap Android smartphone save you money?

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Kogan Agora 8 phone
  • Kogan Agora 8 phone
  • Kogan Agora 8 phone
  • Kogan Agora 8 phone
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Generally quick
  • Well built

Cons

  • Poor cameras

Bottom Line

There's much to like with the Agora 8 - not least its price. But it's let down badly by its cameras.

Would you buy this?

We’ve reviewed so many Android phones in recent months and there’s been very little difference between most of them. However, here’s the second sub $200 phone we’ve reviewed in a week. 

We were impressed with the $179 Alcatel A3 XL. The Kogan Agora 8 costs $20 more but is a very different proposition. The next best phones we see cost over $100 more. So is it worth paying more?

Key specs

5in, 720 x 1280 LCD screen, 2GB/16GB RAM, 1.3GHz quad-core CPU, 13MP rear and 5MP front cameras, MicroSD/Dual SIM slot (second SIM slot is 2G), Micro USB, Android 7, 2400mAh battery, 143 x 71 x 6mm, 138g.

Design and handling

First off, this is a classy-looking device. The looks and build quality belie the budget nature of the phone with the glass surface sitting atop a ‘brushed metal-esque’  (plastic) side and base. At 6mm it’s very thin too. Often this can be a harbinger of bad battery life but we’ll check on that later.

Kogan Agora 8
Kogan Agora 8

The screen is made from Dragontrail Glass which is a Japanese version of Gorilla Glass (we’re not sure which version though). The screen is bright but colours can be a little washed out compared to the best phones. This is hardly a deal breaker, but if you like showing off pictures, we’ve seen them look slightly better elsewhere. The regular HD (720p) resolution also means that details aren’t quite as sharp as with other phones, but on a small, 5-inch screen this isn’t much of an issue.

Indeed, at this size, the whole phone feels very small (and light). If you’ve got big hands this may be an issue, not just for general usage, but reaching the fingerprint reader on the back – doing so can require a bit of contortion we found. Generally, the fingerprint reader worked OK but it’s not the fastest nor the most accurate we’ve seen and sometimes we needed two-or-three attempts to unlock it.

The fingerprint reader on the Agora 8 is generally fast but sometimes takes a few attempts to work.
The fingerprint reader on the Agora 8 is generally fast but sometimes takes a few attempts to work.

Kogan doesn’t give out detailed specs so all we know about the innards are that there’s a 1.3GHz, quad-core processor with 2GB RAM and 16GB memory. It’s certainly not as responsive as the top-end phones we’ve been reviewing lately, but simply opening apps and switching screens isn’t a chore and general handling is still relatively quick. We don’t know what the graphics chip is, but it handled the graphically-demanding Need For Speed No Limits smoothly. Angry Birds also ran smoothly too. Pokemon Go has a new update with new, complex gyms. These proved a bit taxing for the Agora but it was still very playable.

In terms of audio quality, there’s just a single speaker at the bottom (as with most phones) but it doesn’t get very loud. Bass doesn’t really exist but music and movie audio still remains distinct and well rounded – we wouldn’t call it tinny. As for conference calls, the lack of volume may be an issue for some, but our calls were still usable.

The microSD/SIM tray can double as a dual SIM slot, but it's worth noting that the second SIM is 2G only and some countries (including Australia) have already turned their 2G networks off.

Ultimately, the phone feels very usable for all applications but loading times are just that bit more stretched. It’s not a big deal under general usage but for big games and apps, expect to be waiting for the best part of a minute on some occasions.

Camera

The main camera is 13-megapixels while the selfie camera offers just five. Taking snaps feels quick and simple with minimal focusing lag. The problem is, that while we’ve come to expect this level of responsiveness from phone cameras, we also expect focusing to be accurate. The Agora regularly wasn’t. Many shots, including landscapes came out poorly focused and not sharp (thanks to excessive sharpening artefacts). Expect to be tapping on the screen to focus most of the time.

We took several snaps of this landscape shot. It's difficult to get a bad one from that angle, but all of the Agora's attempts came out soft and with different colour casts. HDR mode improved contrast (a bit) but added to the mess overall.
We took several snaps of this landscape shot. It's difficult to get a bad one from that angle, but all of the Agora's attempts came out soft and with different colour casts. HDR mode improved contrast (a bit) but added to the mess overall.

Not that this would help much. Images were frequently soft. Unless lighting and focusing was perfect we’d rarely get quality shots. In tricky lighting the Agora is one of the worst performers we’ve seen – a bright sky can completely flummox it with bright areas dramatically overpowering everything else.

We've been so impressed at how cameras handle tricky exposure conditions recently. However, scenes with bright and dark areas in them usually led to unusable shots on the Agora 8. This was one of the better attempts.
We've been so impressed at how cameras handle tricky exposure conditions recently. However, scenes with bright and dark areas in them usually led to unusable shots on the Agora 8. This was one of the better attempts.

And we weren’t too impressed with sharp, well exposed shots either. Skin tones tended to have a yellowish tinge and colours on landscapes were frequently washed out.

I needed one, usable, sharp shot of this drone (it was slowly coming into land). All of them were out of focus.
I needed one, usable, sharp shot of this drone (it was slowly coming into land). All of them were out of focus.
One of very few sharp pictures we got of the kids (and it gets soft with any zooming in). Even then they're looking a bit Jaundiced.
One of very few sharp pictures we got of the kids (and it gets soft with any zooming in). Even then they're looking a bit Jaundiced.
No movement whatsoever, in very good lighting meant that we got a decent shot with good colours.
No movement whatsoever, in very good lighting meant that we got a decent shot with good colours.

Panoramas were stitched together generally well but some lighting transitions could be a bit abrupt. Using HDR to improve lighting meant you had to have good focus and be statuesque lest images came out blurry and soft – something which we found very tricky to pull off.

In anything approaching low light, grain combined with the harsh sharpening, soft focus and motion blur to create rarely-usable images.
In anything approaching low light, grain combined with the harsh sharpening, soft focus and motion blur to create rarely-usable images.
HDR mode slightly improved contrast but once again a soft shot was rendered softer and with colour casts. Frustrating.
HDR mode slightly improved contrast but once again a soft shot was rendered softer and with colour casts. Frustrating.
Panoramas are low res and some lighting transitions are almost harsh.
Panoramas are low res and some lighting transitions are almost harsh.

Selfies weren’t much better. Five-megapixels is too low in our opinion but that wasn’t the only reason so many shots came out soft. There’s a Beauty Mode available but it didn’t seem to do much.

The 5-megapixel selfie camera also wasn't great. Pictures were again really soft more often than not - both in terms of focusing and sharpening effects.
The 5-megapixel selfie camera also wasn't great. Pictures were again really soft more often than not - both in terms of focusing and sharpening effects.
The Agora's best (HD) video wasn't great. Lighting had to be good, focusing manual and you had to keep the camera incredibly still.
The Agora's best (HD) video wasn't great. Lighting had to be good, focusing manual and you had to keep the camera incredibly still.

Videos were disappointing. Dynamic range was poor – any scenes with light and dark in them tended to come out too bright in places and black everywhere else. Focusing was very unreliable, you’d need to constantly manually refocus or get left with blurry images. Forget about walking or panning shots as any motion in this area produced horrendous footage due to a lack of stabilization. Also sound was mediocre and background noise was recorded with a robotic bent when inside. Low light performance was extremely poor. If you’re motionless in a well-lit, quiet environment and shooting subjects with minimal motion, you should get usable footage. But that’s about it.

Next: Battery Life and Conclusion

Read more: Alcatel A3 XL phone: Full, in-depth review
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