Kogan’s updated Smart TV dongle adds Android to your otherwise dumb telly. It’s inexpensive — but there are a few catches.
Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle: On the plus side
Most Smart TVs have the software baked in; all you do is hook your TV up to your home network via ethernet or Wi-Fi, and you’ve got access to whatever content your particular provider offers.
What if you don’t have a “Smart TV’ enabled device, but want Smart TV features? This is the market that Kogan’s latest self-branded chunk of silicon, the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle aims at, although it’s not exactly a new product; Kogan offered a previous generation of the same concept last year at around the same price point.
The Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is a simple self-install device running Android 4.2.2 on an Quad-Core 1.6Ghz ARM processor with 1GB of RAM, making it more powerful under the hood than the comparable Pivos XIOS DS PLAY!. As with most things TV-related, it’s not really about the specifications per se, but what it can do for you.
The installation of Android 4.2.2 on the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is relatively bare-bones, with sections for apps, the inbuilt (and lousy) browser, media, game and favourites, although those last three are unpopulated at the start. For tinkerers there’s a lot that can be done, and it does open up the world of Android apps to your TV, with mixed results. Some applications will work just fine, others won’t, and others don’t make much sense. Does your TV need a run tracking application? Mine certainly doesn’t.
As mentioned, the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is an update to a previous generation product — one that I was never able to test — with one of the selling points meant to be that it’s running on better silicon. With that in mind, I ran Geekbench 3 over it, generating a single core score of of 489 and a multi-core reading of 1368. Those aren’t world-beating scores, but then it’s not as though you’re likely to push this particular dongle as hard as you might a smartphone.
Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle: On the minus side
Kogan supplies a remote control that also doubles as an onscreen motion pointer for selections. It works, but Android apps aren’t always built with that kind of control in mind, which means toggling some switches, selecting some options and even scrolling down pages can often be a little more sluggish than you might expect, especially if you’re used to using Android on a touchscreen device.
It’s no surprise that Kogan also sells a keyboard accessory for this particular product. I didn’t get to test it, but adding a keyboard of any type would make the experience a lot smoother, especially if you plan on a lot of web browsing.
Setup is a little cable heavy, especially if you’ve got a wall mounted TV, with the dongle itself, a supplied short HDMI male-to-male cable, and then a separate power adaptor. If you’re plugging into the back of your TV it should be mostly invisible, but if you’re using a side connection, it does rather stand out.
It was interesting putting the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle up against Google’s Chromecast. Both use Android (the Chromecast at least in part), but the Chromecast experience is greatly stripped back and simplified for easier TV use, where the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is built on the premise that you’ll customise it to your own needs.
One of the most popular things to do with a Smart TV is watch catchup TV, and here the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle doesn’t fare very well, although it’s not entirely its fault. Android provision of Smart TV apps is still severely lacking in Australia compared to iOS, and that means there’s less choice when it comes to catchup TV. Apps such as aView do allow access to iView for now, but even its own installation notes specify that the ABC could inadvertently break it at any time.
Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle: Pricing
The Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle currently sells for $99 plus delivery.
Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle: Fat Duck verdict
The Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle delivers on its promises, in a way. It makes any HDMI-compliant TV — and it would be rather hard to buy a new TV these days that wasn’t HDMI compliant — into a Smart TV with Android.
The one issue there is that a lot of the statistics suggest that the primary thing that Smart TV functions are used for is for catch-up TV purposes. Android can do that where it’s supported by the browser, and there are a limited range of apps as well, but the key word is “limited”.
Compared to the content deals that the name brands have for dedicated iView, 7Plus, Foxtel and so on, the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is limited. Browser access for catchup TV via Android is incredibly spotty at best.
The flip side there is that because it’s running full Android, you get full access to what can be done within the Android ecosystem. It’s ultimately a choice, but you’re not quite left comparing like with like, or making your existing TV into exactly the same kind of “Smart” TV as those on store shelves.
If you understand that, and are happy within Android, the Kogan Agora Smart TV Quad Core HDMI Dongle is undeniably good value.