Road Worrier Tests The Kogan Agora ICS Tablet

Kogan’s sub-$200 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet has attracted plenty of attention, but would it cut it as a business travel companion? In its favour are the price tag and (potentially) the range of Android apps available. But a deathly lack of stability and the absence of a 3G option make it tricky to recommend for work use.

We offered up some first impressions of Kogan’s latest tablet late last week, and Luke over at Gizmodo has a much more detailed review of the Agora experience. We only had one test unit to check and I only had it for just under 24 hours, so I certainly didn’t get to test everything or take it on the road. But I did have it for long enough to conclude that it wouldn’t be a particularly useful tool for business travellers. (Which is the Road Worrier context — broader value is a different issue.)

Tablets can be extraordinarily valuable as a business travel accessory — I’ve written at length about how useful I found my BlackBerry Playbook whilst on the road. One key consideration in this scenario is battery life. Because we received the test unit uncharged, much of the my test day was spent with it plugged in, which made it hard to assess the battery performance. Charging certainly takes a while, but that’s true of virtually every tablet I’ve encountered. Luke tells me it worked well over the weekend and it didn’t need a recharge.

One potential drawback is that there’s no 3G model. For a tablet for home use, that’s rarely an issue, but if you’re on the road constantly, you may not want to be using your hotspot or phone for access while moving. (The main challenge with phone tethering is the drain on the phone’s battery life, which is a problem on every major smartphone platform.)

The real problem with the Tablet for me, however, was a really noticeable lack of Android stability. The browser crashed frequently. It was literally impossible to access the Apps segment of Settings; every time I tried that, the entire Settings app crashed. When I installed WordPress, it refused to run. Dropbox ran, but crashed soon afterwards. Attempting to update the Gmail and YouTube apps crashed Google Play. The Google Reader app didn’t crash, but ran incredibly slowly — I could get a much better outcome simply using the browser version. Something tells me that a bit more testing before finalising the ICS build would not have gone astray.

When you’re working and travelling, you need technology to work reliably. I just didn’t have that experience with this device, and that makes it really hard to recommend it.

Undoubtedly, the biggest selling point for this model is the price. One potential advantage of a sub-$200 tablet is that you’ll be less worried about it getting damaged on the road, which could be a selling point if you’re clumsy with your tech. But ultimately I think the need to be productive might outweigh that. As Luke notes, it’s a fine choice if you want something to entertain your kids on family road trips, but for work it wouldn’t be my top choice.

Given that this was a pre-production model, it’s certainly possible that the released tablets will see a big improvement in stability. According to Kogan, the shipping models will include Android 4.04, while the test models had 4.03. Suffice to say that if I’d purchased a tablet and received it in this state, I’d be demanding a replacement unit. And if the second unit had the same issue, I’d be insisting on a refund.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman does prefer his tablets in 7-inch form. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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