Kogan has established itself in Australia as a budget consumer electronics brand that can sell at lower prices by cutting out the middle man – retail shops, both online and physical – and selling directly to web shoppers.
Kogan has now launched its first laptop in the UK, the Kogan Agora PRO, running the latest desktop version of Ubuntu 11.04. for its operating system, in place of more familiar Windows or Mac OS X software.
The Kogan Agora PRO is fitted with a 12in screen, but weighs less than 1.3kg. It takes a low-power budget Intel processor, and is perhaps more like a netbook than the ‘ultra portable' laptop that Kogan describes it.
There’s also a cheaper Kogan Agora without the PRO suffix, which uses Google Chromium OS (note: not quite the same as Chrome OS, as it's slightly more open-source) and has just 1GB RAM, but a 30GB SSD for storage.
Inside the Kogan Agora PRO
So inside the Kogan Agora PRO we find a single-core Intel Pentium SU2700 processor, but with a useful 2GB RAM and a large 500GB hard-disk drive. Graphics are courtesy of Intel again, an integrated GS40 solution.
It comes in black only, with a glossy plastic lid and matt anti-glare widescreen that copes well with daylight use. And its resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels takes it firmly out of claustrophobic netbook territory.
An SD/MemoryStick card reader and three USB 2.0 ports allow for memory cards and peripherals. To expand the screen, the Agora PRO has both HDMI and VGA ports for external monitors.
The keyboard is a full-width Qwerty keyboard with black Scrabble tile-style keys. The Enter button is not full double-height though, so may take some getting used to if you’re used to a regular UK keyboard. The keys themselves are a little loose and wobbly but it’s easy enough to type on quickly.
The Kogan Agora PRO’s little trackpad can be over-sensitive at times and is really rather small, although we can see it would be tricky to fit a larger version in the limited space available on this small chassis.
Our sample of Kogan Agora PRO that we tested had hotkeys along the Function buttons for various hardware functions, such as volume control/mute and Sleep.
Also here were both 3G and Bluetooth on/off switches, even though there’s no 3G modem capability nor any option for one on Kogan’s laptop. And in the case of the Bluetooth button, this didn’t actually do anything either. You can still toggle Bluetooth on and off from Ubuntu’s shortcut on the menu bar though, and this wireless feature worked just fine with an external Bluetooth keyboard.
The mouse button is a single wide bar, pivotting for left or right clicks, complementing a chrome-effect strip between screen and keyboard screen where Power, WiFi and Email launch buttons are located.
Using the Kogan Agora PRO
The Kogan Agora PRO did seem to be a little noisy, an internal fan noticeably revving up and down in normal casual use.
Running the Ubuntu 11.04 operating system, it comes ready loaded with plenty of useful programs for email, social networking, and picture and video viewing, with many others available for easy download through Ubuntu’s Software Center app.
The Kogan Agora PRO is also said to be capable of running Windows if you want to install yourself, helped along by its 2GB of memory; although given the slow processor, Ubuntu would seem to us a much better fit.
That Ubuntu 11.04 Linux operating system did mean running our usual Windows benchmark tests was not possible; but we did find the interface speedy enough for normal daily use.
Kogan advertises the Agora PRO as having 3.5 hours of battery life. We tested this by timing its lifespan while we followed normal desktop duties of web surfing, emailing and word processing. Here, it lasted less than three hours – just 142 mins from a full charge.
That’s a poor show, a sacrifice made in part by the laptop’s undersized 31Wh removable battery; good to keep weight and cost down, bad for actual unplugged operation.
Overall build quality is reasonable, but feels rather ‘budget’, most noticeably in the wobbly keys, while the inconsistency in the buttons – there are two for WiFi operation, while a 3G hotkey is redundant – somewhat betrays its generic Chinese production.