Google's Nexus 7 has brought some serious game to the budget Android tablet market. Powerful, slick and under £200. But is it the best out there, and does Kogan's just-released new 10-incher, which only costs £119, have a chance?
Both tablets are running naked Android and pretty much have the same apps. The only real difference, software-wise, is that the Nexus 7 has Jelly Bean pre-loaded complete with Google Now, while the Agora is running Ice Cream Sandwich (but will see Jelly Bean at sometime in the future). Both tablets were used on a day-to-day basis for general browsing, consuming media and other tabletty usages.
Cheap tablets have a habit of being severely underspecced, often with resistive touchscreens and basically no connectivity. The Kogan Agora bucks that trend. What you have here is an incredibly cheap 10-inch tablet with an ok capacitive IPS screen. It's usable in a way cheapo tablets rarely are; this is the kind of tablet experience you're accustomed to from the likes of the Motorola Xoom or the iPad.
Apart from the price, where the Agora really kicks arse is on the connectivity front. It's jam-packed with Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; mini HDMI; microUSB, as well as USB-host, and even a separate tiny power jack, should charging over microUSB be just too slow for you. The USB-host capability lets you connect all sorts of peripherals, including USB 3G modems, meaning you can just hook up your dongle and you've instantly got a 3G-capable tablet. There's a VGA front-facing camera for video chat too, plus an average 2MP rear-facing snapper, if you fancy looking like a tool taking photos with a 10-inch tablet while out and about.
So, it's bursting with features, but not everything is hunky dory. The Agora is cheap; it's just £129, and that's for the 16GB iteration -- the 8GB version, bearing in mind you've got a microSD slot in the side for expansion, is just £119 -- but, it also feels cheap. The device flexes and creaks badly; the screen is noticeably separated from the touch panel, plus it's pretty low-res for a current-generation tablet at just 1024x768. It's also got pretty rubbish real-world battery life, especially in standby, and is pretty heavy too at 545g. The bad news doesn't stop there though; possibly the worst part is just how damn sluggish this thing is.
It's got 1GB of RAM in it, so that's not too shabby, but its single-core 1GHz processor is unsurprisingly just not up to the task. It's so slow you sometimes wonder whether it's hung. It's ok if you're just browsing with a single tab or something, but as soon as you try and switch apps, it takes an age.
A cheap tablet is great, but a tedious tablet experience is not, and that's where the Agora falters -- which is a shame, but then what do you expect for £120?
The Google Nexus 7 couldn't be any further from the tedious experience of the Agora. Asus and Google have worked wonders with this thing. Admitedly it's not anywhere near as cheap as the Agora, but it's still a really low-cost tablet at £160, and one that truly feels like a premium device. Thanks to both Jelly Bean and its quad-core Tegra 3 chip, plus 1GB of RAM, it's fast, responsive and slick -- there's little to no lag anywhere, and you just don't notice you've got loads of things open. Basically, this is the best Android experience I've ever had the pleasure to use, bar none.
In terms of hardware features, though, the Nexus 7 isn't a match for the Agora. It's only got Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and microUSB on the connectivity front; no HDMI, USB-host, ad-hoc 3G, or microSD slot. It does have a 1.2MP front-facing camera, NFC and GPS built-in though, which makes sense given how much more portable the 7-incher is. The biggest let down for the Nexus 7, then, is its non-expandable storage -- even at its largest capacity, 16GB storage really isn't a lot for a tablet, so you might struggle to fit all the movies and music you'd want on it for your next plane or train-ride, for instance.
Asus has done wonders on the build quality front; this thing is rock solid (apart from the loose screen issue). There's absolutely no creak or flex; it's light at 340g; feels great in the hand with a really nice, texturised back, and packs Gorilla Glass on the front so there's no scratching to worry about. The Nexus 7 also has great real-world battery life, both in standby and usage. Using it extensively, I managed to eke out almost 4 days' usage -- that's pretty damn good; not even my iPad 2 gets that.
The screen itself looks crisp, clocking in with a resolution of 1280x800 at 7-inches, and while there have been complaints that it's not as bright or saturated as it could be, it's perfectly fine for watching video; browsing the web, and reading books. Its widescreen nature also helps on that front, as even games like Dead Trigger look and play great on the Nexus 7.
Overall, while the Kogan Agora is both cheaper and bigger than the Google Nexus 7, when it comes down to it, there's really no comparison. For things that matter most, like a slick user experience, great build quality and sheer pleasure to use, the Nexus 7 has the Agora well and truly beat. Saying that, the Agora has a larger screen; much more in the way of connectivity options, and a microSD slot, so if you're looking to do advanced things that demand better connectivity, the Kogan delivers. Plus it's a whole £40 cheaper, so it's even more affordable.
Ultimately though, the Nexus 7 is a pleasurable experience from start to finish, and I found myself coming back to it, time and time again, finding almost any excuse to use it. It's cheap, but really, really good, and for that reason, it comes out miles ahead of the Agora in this cheapo Android tablet two-horse race.