Wickr, a mobile privacy application, sweeps digital crumbs away
A new mobile application for Apple devices called Wickr lets people exchange files and messages without leaving digital traces that could be examined by law enforcement or cyberspies.
Senders of a message or photo can set a self-destruct time for the data ranging from a few seconds to six days in the free version of Wickr. As soon as the recipient who has Wickr installed opens the message, the countdown begins.
“No matter what can do, you cannot stop the clock,” said Robert Statica, an information technology professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, who cofounded Wickr with Nico Sell, Christopher Howell and Kara Coppa.
Wickr makes it hard for a person to take a screenshot of a photo or video: the recipient has to hold down a “button” on the screen, and if a fingertip moves more than a couple of pixels, the data disappears, Statica said. To take a screenshot on an iPhone, a person must push the power button and home button at the same time.
Once the time period has expired, Wickr writes over the photo or file in the device’s memory with random data.
Before transmission, text and photos are scrambled on the device using 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption. The encryption keys are also encrypted and only used once before being discarded. Wickr doesn’t have access to any of the encryption keys used for securing data.
Even a person’s user name is stored by Wickr as a cryptographic cipher.
Android Coming Soon
Price controls on Telstra apply through June 2014
The government renewed retail price controls on Telstra fixed-line telephone services until June 2014.
Untimed local calls will continue to cost 22 cents and payphone calls will be capped at 50 cents for local calls. Telstra fixed-line customers will continue to get free calls to directory assistance. Also, low-income individuals will continue to pay $22.95 for a fixed-line service from Telstra.
Google lifted the lid on the Nexus 7 Android tablet at its I/O developers conference
The Google Nexus 7 is manufactured by ASUS and will be the first device to run the Google’s new version of the Android OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Jelly Bean 4.1 platform is a minor upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich
The main feature of Android Jelly Bean is what Google calls “Project Butter”, which centres around making the software smoother, faster and fluid. The company claims using Jelly Bean feels a lot smoother than previous versions of the platform. Triple buffering graphics for a higher frame rate during games, offline voice typing, enhanced notifications that show more details and widgets that automatically resize are other new UI features.
1.3Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 processor
GeForce 12-core GPU for gaming and other graphic intensive applications
1GB of RAM and either 8GB or 16GB of internal memory but there is no removable storage
pixel density of 216 pixels per inch (ppi) which leaves it behind the iPad (264ppi) but ahead of most other Android tablets on the market
1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for video
built-in NFC (Near Field Communication) connectivity
no rear facing camera
no 3G/4G connectivity
battery will last up to nine hours for HD video playback and will offer 300 hours of standby time
The Google Nexus 7 is available to pre-order in Australia through the Google Play store. It is priced at $249 for the 8GB version and $299 for the larger capacity 16GB model.
Google’s computerized glasses steal the show at I/O
Google uses skydivers, daredevils to introduce $1,500 prototype of Google Glass
showing off Google Glass in a wild demo at the company’s annual Google I/O conference.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin ran on stage near the end of the keynotesporting a pair of the glasses, which have a processor and memory and are expected to include 3G or 4G wireless access, along with motion and GPS sensors.
two men jumped out of a plane flying over San Francisco and parachuted to the roof of the Moscone Center where the conference is being held. During the descent, they were wearing the glasses and streaming live video of their jump from them.
Once they landed, other people repelled down the side of the building whilewearing the glasses – and then yet another team, this time on bicycles, wore the glasses and biked through the conference center and up onto the keynote stage.
The glasses streamed the whole spectacle onto giant screens onstage.
Dubbing an early edition of the glasses “Google Glass Explorer Edition,” the company announced that developers attending Google I/O can pre-order them. The offer is only for developers and the glasses will cost $1,500 and won’t be available until 2013.
The demo, however, did not show anyone looking up information via their glasses or using the display screen. They also were not used to make a phone call or video call.
Google announces Nexus Q to compete with Apple TV
Google on Wednesday announced the Nexus Q streaming device, which will streaming movies and music from the cloud and will compete with direct Apple TV.
The circular device can stream movies purchased from the Google Play store or from Youtube to high-definition TVs, the company said at the Google I/O conference being held in San Francisco. Users will also be able to stream music purchased from Google Play store directly to stereo systems.
Users can choose a song from the Google Play Music application from a phone or tablet and play it instantly on Nexus Q. Similarly, a tablet or smartphone can be used to browse movies and TV shows from Google Play for playback on Nexus Q.
Google also pointed out the “social streaming” feature on the device, where guests at a party with Android phones or tablets can share music from their collection for playback.
The device has a diameter of 116 millimeters, and weighs 923 grams. It has the Android 4.0 OS code-named Ice Cream Sandwich and runs on a dual-core OMAP4460 processor from Texas Instruments.
Its wireless connectivity features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication). The device has micro-HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) and Ethernet ports.
The Nexus Q costs US$299 and can be ordered now with shipping in July.
Jelly Bean, also known as Android 4.1, will be the successor to the current Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, and will start to be pushed out to some Android phones next month
A significant new feature is Google Now
For example, Google Now learns roughly when a person commutes to work and what route they take. It will then check traffic reports each morning and recommend a faster route when there’s one available.
When a user is near a bus stop or train station, Google Now will tell users what time the next bus or train is arriving. And if a user searches for a flight, Google will remember that and push out notifications if the flight is delayed.
Google Now can show information about what restaurants and bars are nearby as a user walks down a street. And in a restaurant, it will even recommend what the most popular dishes are.
Google said. A million new Android devices are activated each day, it said, or 12 per second
Gunmen drive into Microsoft’s Greece headquarters, set van on fire
“Early in the morning of Wednesday, June 27, the Microsoft building in Athens, Greece, was attacked by assailants who drove a van through the entrance to the building, ushered the two security personnel out of the building and then set the van on fire,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said
The stolen van was packed with gas canisters and other cans of flammable materials, but no one was injured, local media reports said. The attack occurred at around 4 a.m. Athens time, and the gunmen escaped.
No one was injured
ABC TV launches iView for iPhones; Android app in development
ABC TV has extended its free iView streaming platform to iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads on 3G network
The iView service has proven to be a popular service for the ABC, with average monthly visits to the app increasing 22 per cent year-on-year in the 2012 year-to-date.
ABC TV told Computerworld Australia it is also developing iView for Android. However, the operating system has proven challenging for the broadcaster with iView, but it is working towards a redevelopment of iView in HTML5.
“The fragmentation of the Android platform and the number of devices makes it challenging for us to develop, test and support these devices at present.
Apple wins: Galaxy Tab 10.1 banned in US
Apple yesterday claimed the most recent win in its ongoing patent war against Samsung, after a judge granted Apple’s request to ban sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the US.
The preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab was issued by a judge who in December had turned down Apple’s request to pull the device from US. shelves.
This week California District Judge Lucy Koh ruled the Galaxy Tab does infringe on a design patent used for the iPad, thus creating a “hardship” for Apple.
Telstra stops mobile tracking
Telstra has ceased tracking web traffic from its mobile subscribers after admitting to hosting the stored data overseas.
After first calling the monitoring a “normal network operation”, the telco yesterday admitted to monitoring web traffic of Next G subscribers as part of a database it is building.
The addresses are compared to a blacklist of criminal sites curated by Canadian web filtering company Netsweeper, with IP address tracking leading to a Rackspace facility in Chicago.
The database would be used as the foundation of an as-yet-unreleased web filtering product dubbed ‘Smart Controls’.
users who use ‘Smart Controls’ would pay $2.95 per month for the ability to restrict internet access on mobiles associated with their account based on specific URLs and content categories, or allow access to only specific URLs.
The feature would only be available to newer Telstra customers — those on its Siebel-based billing system. It would also provide regular reports of internet use for users when the Smart Controls function is enabled.
Google Maps returns to iOS 6
In app form.
The confirmation came from Google executive Jeff Huber who wrote in a Google+ post, “we look forward to providing amazing Google Maps experiences on iOS.”
Google Maps will return as an application
Sony said Google TV would provide Australians with an enhanced entertainment experience through apps and games from Google Play, a web browser using Google Chrome and a YouTube on TV experience.
It would be available with the purchase of selected models from the company’s BRAVIA TV range and the offer would begin in retail stores and online from Thursday.
Hackers shut down Twitter with denial of service attack
We just #TangoDown’d http://twitter.com for 40 minutes worldwide!” said a tweet from the group called UGNazi, which has been linked to attacks on US government websites.
The term “tango down” is sometimes used in the hacker community to refer to a so-called denial of service attack which can shut down a website.
The company first acknowledged “issues accessing Twitter”, and said its “engineers are currently working to resolve the issue”.
Around an hour later, Twitter said: “The issue has been resolved and all services are currently operational”.
But after the problems resurfaced, Twitter said: “Today’s outage is due to a cascaded bug in one of our infrastructure components”.
Megaupload raid warrant ‘invalid’, New Zealand judge says
Action by the FBI to copy data and take it offshore to the US was also deemed unlawful.
“The warrants did not adequately describe the offences to which they related,” High Court judge Justice Helen Winkelmann said
Millions of dollars in assets were seized or frozen including almost 20 luxury vehicles, dozens of computers and art works.
However, Justice Winkelmann said the warrant for the search fell “well short” of outlining Mr Dotcom’s alleged offences.
“They were general warrants, and as such, are invalid,” she said.
The site’s lawyers have said Megaupload simply offered online storage.
Mr Dotcom is currently on bail.
New York Times launches Chinese language website
The New York Times has launched a Chinese language version of its website in a bid to tap into the world’s biggest internet market.
The paper said the portal was targeted at “educated, affluent, global citizens” of China’s growing middle class.
The move comes despite concerns over China’s strict control and censorship of online content.
However, the paper said that it would follow its journalistic standards.
Samsung in galaxy of pain as tablet banned in US
SAMSUNG Electronics Co says a US court has prohibited it from making or selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer in the United States.
But for the time being, it will still remain on sale in Australia.
Samsung said it was disappointed that the court ruled that its tablet infringed Apple technology because it was too similar to the iPad.
The court said that Samsung has also been banned from importing the device, or any other product that is “no more than colorably different” and “embodies any design” that infringes Apple’s patent, into the country, according to court filings.
District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Apple make a strong case that Samsung had copied the design of the iPad, NASDAQ reported.
Apple last year asked the US District Court of Northern California to block sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, firing up a legal battle between the two electronics giants over smartphones and tablet computers.
The preliminary injunction bars Samsung from making or selling the tablet or any similar devices in the US.
The latest court order is the second decision that rules Samsung’s Galaxy tablet copied the iPad’s design. In 2011, a German court issued an injunction against the Galaxy tablet upon Apple’s request.
Samsung will be unable to make, sell or import the tablet into the US.
Big bang theory: Samsung investigates ‘exploding’ Galaxy S III
Samsung Electronics said it was investigating reports that one of its flagship Galaxy S III smartphones exploded in a user’s car in Ireland.
Samsung launched its latest Galaxy S, the strongest rival for Apple’s iPhone, in Australia in late May and in the United States on Thursday. It plans to roll out the device in its lucrative home market in South Korea on today.
A Dublin-based consumer posted comments and photos on a website on Wednesday, saying his Galaxy phone “exploded” while mounted on his car dashboard. He wrote that while he was driving, “suddenly a white flame, sparks and a bang came out of the phone.”
“There’s no confirmation it was a fault with the phone. It may actually have been caused by a combination of my car mount and my car’s heating system,” he added.
There have been other reports of Samsung smartphones overheating. In March, a Korean schoolboy reported that a spare battery for his Galaxy S II exploded in his back pocket. Samsung said then that the cause was massive external pressure or force.
On Friday, the company said it was still looking into the reported Irish incident. “Our initial investigation found no fault with the phone, but we’ll conduct further investigations to decide the exact cause of the problem,” spokesman James Chung said, adding the result of those investigations could be released as early as next week.
Heat issues have been reported with other devices. In March, influential consumer watchdog Consumer Reports said Apple’s latest iPad tablet threw off a lot more heat than the previous version, lending weight to complaints on internet forums that the device could get uncomfortably warm after heavy use.
Google to launch 7-inch Nexus ‘Jelly Bean’ tablet
Google will announce a Nexus-branded 7-inch Android tablet at its developer conference later this week, according to a report.
The tablet, which is believed to be called the Nexus 7, is expected to be the first device to run Google’s next Android OS, Jelly Bean, and be available for $US199 for an 8 GB model and $US249 for 16 GB.
The Nexus 7 is being reported by Gizmodo Australia, which claims to have got the details from a training document that says the device could arrive, at least in Australia, as early as next month.
The announcement of the tablet is expected to come at some point during Google I/O, the company’s conference that is being held in San Francisco and begins on Wednesday.
The in-house Google tablet, which has been rumoured for a while, is built by Asus and has a 1.3Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 processor. It has 1 GB of RAM and it has a GeForce 12-core GPU. The Nexus 7 is also expected to come with near-field communication (NFC) and run Google Wallet as well as Android Beam.
The report says the tablet will have a battery that lasts nine hours, an IPS display with a 178-degree viewing angle and a screen resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. It is also expected to have a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera and a 10-point touch capability.
Rumours that Google may sell its own tablet have been circulating since late March, so news of a tablet isn’t shocking but the possible details are fresh news.
Sony launches Google TV in Australia
Google TV is coming to Australia next week.
Google’s efforts to mind-meld televisions with Android got off to a shaky start, but Sony has stuck with it. Next week it intends to start selling the next generation of Google TV media players in Australia, based on Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”. For now you’ll only be able to get an “Internet Player with Google TV” box bundled with Sony’s new high-end HX750 and HX850 Bravia TVs, but eventually you’ll be able to buy them separately.
Sony’s Bravia gear already offers access to an impressive range of online content including movie rentals, Catch Up TV and subscription music. Google TV isn’t designed to replace these features, but rather complement them, says Paul Colley — Sony Australia’s Group Manager of Network Services and Technology.
“The built-in Smart TV features in Sony televisions are all about the lean-back entertainment experience — select a channel or movie and then sit back to watch it. Google TV is about lean-forward interaction with the web,” Colley says.
“For example you’ve got the benefit of the full Chrome web browser with Flash support. It’s the first good web experience on the TV.”
Previous Android set-top boxes such as the Kogan Agora Internet TV Portal and Nixeus Fusion XS were clunky and cumbersome devices. One of Sony’s advantages is the Google TV interface, which is optimised for the big screen. Another is the inclusion of a full QWERTY keyboard built into the back of the remote control, similar to the Boxee Box remote. Sony has also added a multi-touch trackpad, which lets users pinch to zoom on webpages, scroll down pages and interact with other Android apps.
Sony’s Google TV box has access to the Google Play app store, with some Android apps already optimised for Google TV. The remote control also includes gyro sensors, which app developers will be able to take advantage of.
ABC TV launches iview app
Viewers will now be able to catch up on all their favourite ABC television programs on their iPhone, with the national broadcaster launching its new app on Wednesday.
ABC iview features a complete catch-up TV service, where all programs on ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 and ABC4Kids, the ABC News 24 livestream and ABC exclusives will be available.
Programming will be streamed via 3G on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
ABC TV was the first to enter the market with an online streaming catch-up service with ABC iview, which was launched in 2008.
The service is now available via web browsers, internet-enabled TVs, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, media centres, tablet and mobile devices.
“ABC iview was one of the important first steps in the evolution of ABC TV’s content offering. It provides choice in terms of what people watch, when they watch it and on what device. Today we are taking it another step forward,” says director of ABC TV, Kim Dalton.
DATA DETOUR: Spying? No, we’re tracking for a web filter, says Telstra
IT’S okay, Telstra’s Next G mobile users, you can carry on web surfing. No, really.
All those rumours about Telstra spying on your web browsing activity have been put to rest. It turns out Telstra wasn’t spying at all – they were simply tracking what sites you visit and then sending that data to an overseas company called Netsweeper, which is working on an internet filtering system for the telco. Phew! Thank goodness for that.
They would have told you, of course, but it wasn’t really important. I mean, it’s not as if they were capturing customer data, storing it and sharing it with third-party operators, right?
So all that conspiracy talk on the Whirlpool user forums can be explained. And hopefully this user can sleep better.
But Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was troubled by the serious privacy implications.
He told SC: “It is potentially problematic. Anything in the US is subject to the Patriot Act, even if the data is anonymised, or sent as batches.
“Why weren’t people asked if they could opt-in?”
Telstra moved quickly to explain what has been happening.
“We will shortly launch a cybersafety tool that allows parents to specify the website categories their kids can browse. To prepare for this, we are working with a company called Netsweeper to ensure web content is accurately characterised,” Telstra told ZDnet in a statement.
Race to get TVs an Olympic sport
WITH exactly one month until the opening ceremony, the Olympic race is on.
That’s not a race to a finish line, however, but a race to an electronics store.
The Olympic Games traditionally ignite a rush for new TVs as living room athletes dash to upgrade existing screens to better deliver the sporting spectacle.
Australian retailers say they are already seeing heightened interest in screen upgrades, though not necessarily for the advanced models manufacturers are promoting.
While the 2012 Olympics will be the first broadcast in 3D, retailers say consumers are not specifically asking for the new technology, instead choosing televisions based on picture quality and size.
But retailers, manufacturers and researchers all agree that consumers are poised to make serious savings in the 2012 Olympics TV rush, with prices lower than ever.
When it comes to buying TVs, Australians are gold-medal contenders. Despite challenging economic conditions, research firm GfK reports consumers spent more than $1.3 billion on TVs in the last half of 2011.
Harvey Norman technology and entertainment general manager Ben McIntosh says 2012 could prove to be a bigger year for TVs thanks to the Olympics, but he says the traditional 40-inch TV is no longer enough for today’s buyers: they want something a lot bigger.
“There has been a lot of interest in really big screens over the past couple of weeks,” he says.
“We’re talking about 60-inch, 65-inch and 70-inch screens, so really big TVs.
“We’ve seen a very big spike for the 70-inch screen in particular because four or five years ago those sorts of TVs were well out of any consumers’ price ranges.”
McIntosh says that while the rush has already begun, he expects consumers to descend on electronics stores in greater numbers from this week on, with reinforcements joining in if Australian athletes start to win medals.
With the London Olympics the first to be filmed in 3D, many manufacturers expected a boost in 3D TV interest.
Channel 9 will broadcast 3D footage of the Opening Ceremony on July 27 as well as events including the swimming finals, gymnastics, athletics and diving to viewers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and on the Gold Coast.
But Videopro operating manager Massimo Rosazza says consumers are not asking specifically for 3D screens.
“About two years ago there was a big push on for 3D but the content hasn’t been there so it has suffered,” he says.
Toshiba product marketing manager Justin White says consumers are currently more focused on two-dimensional images and the colour and quality of moving images.
While viewers might be buying big screens, they may not have to spend big dollars. GfK research shows average LCD TV prices fell 23 per cent between 2010 and 2011, and plasma screens fell 19 per cent.
Compare current TV price tags to those in early 2003 and the gap is even more startling. Average prices for plasma TVs have plummeted a whopping 90 per cent and LCD TVs 73 per cent.
You’re being watched, but help is on the way
Listen very carefully to me. Don’t look up. You are being watched.
That stranger sitting across from you. Though it looks as if he is talking on his smartphone, he is actually snapping pictures of you using a paparazzi-like app.
That’s not all. At that meeting last week, when you made that snide joke about your boss, your co-worker’s smartphone, innocuously sitting on the table, was recording everything you said.
Later at a restaurant, when you made an innocent, flirty joke to the server, someone recorded video of the entire interaction.
There is nothing you can do to stop any of it. Hundreds of millions of smartphones in the world mean hundreds of millions of recording devices ready to capture your every move or utterance.
Then, it is easy to catapult those photos, recordings or videos onto the internet for all to share.
So how can it be stopped? Either someone invents that invisibility cloak from Harry Potter, or companies will have to take a cue from James Bond and develop countersurveillance products that allow us to move about without worry in public.
It could be the companies that have created these technologies that help protect us from them. For example, late last year Apple patented a technology that can disable an iPhone camera, using infrared sensors, when it is pointed at a concert stage or movie theater. It was created to prevent music or movie piracy.But this product could be useful to regular people, too.
Todd Morris, founder of BrickHouse Security, a surveillance and counterspy company, said some limited technologies exist today to help protect people from being recorded. For example, women can use the SpyFinder camera detector in dressing rooms to detect if a secret camera is hidden among a pile of clothes.
Yet there are limits. A dressing room or an office is quite different from a large, crowded space. Disabling a phone camera in a crowd using something like the Apple technology would be a nuisance to the innocents who are taking pictures of friends or landmarks.
iPad’s deep Australian secret drove Microsoft to Surface
Around the time the iPad came out more than two years ago, Microsoft executives got an eye-opening jolt about how far Apple would go to gain an edge for its products.
Microsoft learned through industry sources that Apple had bought large quantities of high-quality aluminium from a mine in Australia to create the distinctive cases for the iPad, according to a former Microsoft employee involved in the discussions, who did not wish to be named talking about internal matters.
The executives were stunned by how deeply Apple was willing to reach into the global supply chain to secure innovative materials for the iPad and, once it did, to corner the market on those supplies. Microsoft’s executives worried that Windows PC makers were not making the same kinds of bets, the former employee said.
The incident was one of many over the past several years that gradually pushed Microsoft to create its own tablet computer, unveiled last week. The move was the most striking evidence yet of the friction between Microsoft and its partners on the hardware side of the PC business.
It is the first time in Microsoft’s almost four-decade history that the company will sell its own computer hardware, competing directly with the PC makers that are the biggest customers for the Windows operating system.
For hardware makers, the PC market has long been a struggle because Microsoft and Intel, maker of the microprocessors that power most computers, have long extracted most of the spoils from the industry, leaving slim profits for the companies that make them. Manufacturers pay hefty fees to license Windows from Microsoft, putting pressure on them to make computers as cheaply as possible using commodity parts.
That, in turn, has limited their ability to take the kinds of risks on hardware innovation that have helped define the iPad. Furthermore, with the iPad, Apple has proved that there are significant advantages to designing hardware and software together. When separate companies, each with its own priorities, handle those chores, integrating hardware and software can be more challenging.
The New York Times
Hands on: Kogan Agora Ice Cream Sandwich tablet
Kogan is first with a budget Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” tablet, but you get what you pay for.
Ruslan Kogan is great at making headlines, but his reputation is more hit and miss when it comes to making gadgets. So I didn’t have high hopes for Kogan’s new $179 Agora 10-inch
Android tablet — the world’s first tablet to run ICS out of the box. I only got to spend a weekend with the Agora, but what I found was a budget tablet in every sense of the word.
As with many gadgets, the Agora looks good on paper. It sports a 10-inch 1024×768 IPS LCD display, with a 1GHz single-core ARM Cortex A8 powerplant under the bonnet accompanied by 1GB of RAM and a 400MHz GPU. The tablet is 12mm thick and weighs in at 600gm, meaning it sits somewhere between the iPad and iPad2 in terms of bulk.
It comes with 8GB ($179) or 16GB ($199) of storage, along with micro-HDMI, micro-SD and two micro-USB slots (the second is a USB host port and Kogan throws in a full-sized USB adaptor for connecting a USB stick). You’ll also find disappointing 0.3 and 2MP front and rear cameras which produce terrible results.
Connectivity includes Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz only), but it’s Wi-Fi only and there are no 3G/4G-capable models.
So far so good, but when it comes to real world performance that old Cortex A8 processor is found wanting at times. At first the Agora’s menus feel responsive and apps load fairly quickly, but as soon as you start to multi-task you notice things slow down a bit.
The browser can also be sluggish when responding to commands such as pinch to zoom, which isn’t helped by the fact that the screen isn’t very responsive to your touch and you sometimes need to tap onscreen buttons twice. The tablet supports Adobe Flash, but videos struggle to play smoothly if at all. The browser crashes when trying to play some Flash videos.
Pitted against the Browsermark and Quadrant benchmarks, the Agora performed miserably compared to competing Android tablets. It fares poor even compared to older tablets such as the original Motorola Xoom (which recently received an ICS update). I wouldn’t go as far as to describe the Agora as sluggish, but it’s likely to frustrate those who like to push their gadgets to the limit.
The use of an IPS LCD screen offers good colour accuracy and decent contrast, but unfortunately the Agora’s display isn’t very bright even. This may be due to aggressive power management settings, but it’s difficult to say because ICS seems to hide away the advanced power management menus found on smartphones. The dull display makes fingerprints more noticeable.
The Agora’s reliance on a 1024×768 display doesn’t help when it comes to picture quality. In fact at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking it’s not even that sharp, but the benchmark app Quadrant insists that it’s running at full resolution — well actually 1024×720 once you allow 48 pixels for the system bar at the bottom (thanks to Phil at Ausdroid for helping me get to the bottom of that).
Combined with the low brightness, the Agora looks slightly murky compared to the bright, crisp 1280×800 displays generally found on Android tablets of this size.
The more you look at the Agora the more you appreciate that it’s a story of compromise. The processing power and display are disappointing but not appalling, perhaps what you’d expect from a sub-$200 Android tablet. It really depends if you take a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty view. Keep in mind you can get an iPad 2 for $429, or an original Motorola Xoom for less.
Perhaps less forgivable is the Agora’s general flakiness. Like I said, the browser has a tendency to stall or crash when you ask too much of it, such as playing some Flash videos. The tablet’s general Settings menus are also flaky. Get used to the error message “Unfortunately Settings has stopped” when tweaking settings such as how long before the display goes to sleep. It’s a error I’ve never encountered on an Android device before and it’s not a good omen.
Like I said I only got to spend a weekend with this tablet, but previous Kogan Android tablets also have a reputation for general flakiness. The review unit is running Android 4.0.3 but apparently it will ship with 4.0.4 which deals with stability issues. The more cynical amongst us might think this is a convenient way for Kogan to dismiss criticisms of the review units. I certainly wouldn’t purchase this tablet based solely on Kogan’s assurances that it will get better and would wait to see how early users find Android 4.0.4 before taking the plunge.
As an interesting side note, the tablet comes preconfigured with the Chinese timezone, as you’d expect considering where it was made. But what’s disturbing is that it also comes with the Chinese version of Skype pre-installed, which only eagle-eyed users might notice. It’s the version which lets the Chinese government snoop on your Skype sessions.
Thankfully you’ve still the option to install the standard version of Skype from the Google Play app store. This is probably the way the tablet ships from the Chinese factory, but it’s still a little disturbing. Kogan assures me this won’t appear on the 4.0.4 review units delivered to customers, but if you buy one of these Agora tablets I’d still check carefully to ensure that it’s not running the “tom.com” Chinese version of Skype.
So what’s the verdict? It seems you get what you pay for. If you’re on a tight budget you might consider the Kogan Agora 10-inch tablet, but don’t set your expectations too high in terms of performance or stability. A bargain is only a bargain if it’s up to the task at hand. Personally I think you’d be better off saving your money and putting it towards a tablet with better specs, better stability and a bigger brand name behind it.