AG#HASHTAG review: Cassper’s much friendlier Ghost

Recruiting these so-called brand ambassadors to sing a product’s praises is a marketing trick that’s getting very old in the industry. Yes, it definitely works, but it also means that companies don’t need to make the absolutely best device they can. I mean, why should they? If you can pay the likes of Jay-Z or Beyonce to flaunt their product for an entire music video?

So when AG Mobile announced that they’ve partnered with South African hip-hop sensation Cassper Nyovest with its latest phone, I let out a big, long sigh. I let out an even bigger one when I discovered the name… the AG#HASHTAG.

Granted, I always give products plenty of time to prove that my initial impressions were erroneous and unfounded. So, with that said, is the AG#HASHTAG more than a silly name? Has the company made a truly great phone for a modern audience? Or is it another hit-and-miss marketing project?

Unboxing

The press were given an adorable red box with a message from Cassper himself. It was a nice touch, but we don’t think each retail package will come with this care. Still, prying open the box revealed the bright AG#HASHTAG which consumers definitely will get.

AG#HASHTAG 2

The phone also arrives with a bright red microUSB cable and a USB charger that pushes out 1.5A. It’s not the beefiest charger, but it’ll suit just fine. Retail packaging also includes special AG#HASHTAG headphones, something that I didn’t have the chance to review.

Design and aesthetic

First thing’s first: it’s red. And I mean really red, like a fireball. It might deviate from the standard base colours of smartphone traditionalism, but it’s no less glorious. In fact, I quite like it. If you’re hoping that the phone’s available in any other colour besides, it unfortunately isn’t.

If the candied exterior doesn’t help it stand out in the crowd, the size of the phone definitely will. It boasts a 5.5-inch screen, but it’s much bigger than the similarly screened LG G4 and nearly as big as the Huawei Mate 8, largely thanks to its larger bottom and top bezels. This isn’t a bad thing at all though — it gives your fingers plenty of resting room. There are annoying aspects though, like the thick black bar that borders the phone’s screen, and the wasted space for hardware buttons at the bottom of the phone.

First thing’s first: it’s red. And I mean really red

On the top bezel, there’s a call speaker in the centre, a notification light above-it slap-bang in the middle, a front-facing flash to the left with the selfie module beside it and an ambient light sensor on the right-hand side.

Around the back, AG has tidied up the gaudy Ghost’s aesthetic too, with a simple chromed AG logo in the phone’s middle, a speaker slit in its lower right hand corner and a 13MP camera at the top left (alongside another flash).

Rimming the phone, is a shiny red lip that provides a nice subtle contrast (visually and texturally) to the candied back and front.

Overall, it’s an attractive piece of kit with a distinctive look and solid build.

AG#HASHTAG 6

Specifications and features

Under the hood, there’s plenty to make a noise about too. The AG Ghost really didn’t deliver at all, but the company definitely learnt its lesson. The AG#HASHTAG boasts an eight core MediaTek CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage (there’s room for a microSD card too).

Battery-wise, there’s a 2500mAh reservoir, which still seems small considering this phone’s massive size.

Key numbers:

Dimensions: 159mm x 77.7mm x 7.2mm
Weight: 185g
SIM Type: micro SIM
Display: 5.5-inch, 1280×720, 267ppi
Chipset: MediaTek MT6753 octa-core SoC | ARM Cortex-A53 1.5GHz octa-core | Mali T720 GPU | 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB (11GB usable). microSD card expansion
Imaging: Rear: (Primary) 13MP f/2.4 lens, autofocus, LED flash | Front: 5MP, LED flash
Video: 1080p at 30fps
Battery: 2500Ah removable
Cool features: 4G LTE support
OS: Android 5.1 Lollipop

There’s a 4G LTE radio as well, alongside much of the standard wireless standards including WiFi 802.11N, Bluetooth 4.0 and A-GPS. There’s unfortunately no NFC though.

Imaging is taken care of by a 13MP rear camera, and a 5MP selfie snapper up front.

AG#HASHTAG 12

As I’ve noted prior, the screen measures 5.5-inches from corner to corner, but only boasts 1280×720 pixels, well down from the standard Full HD standard. Still, fewer pixels generally means better battery life. We’ll get into that later.

Overall though, based on the price, there’s nothing gravely omitted on the AG#HASHTAG’s crib sheet. It’s feature rich without pushing the boat out, and that’ll do just fine in the mid-range phablet market.

Raw performance

More importantly, do these numbers translate into decent real world performance? Well, yes, surprisingly.

The AG#HASHTAG isn’t insanely quick, but it’ll get from A to B faster than most phones in its price range. This is clearly apparent in some of the benchmarks we ran, which just loved using all eight processing cores.

Noticeably, gaming wasn’t as great but that’s to be expected. That’s not to say the AG#HASHTAG can’t game though. You’ll get away with playing some mild Angry Birds or Crossy Road, but getting more graphics-intensive games jogging along smoothly is more difficult.

Benchmark results:

AnTuTu 6.0.1: 37072
Geekbench 3.1 Battery: (Total time) 7h50:50 (Score) 4694
GFXBench OpenGL 3.1: (Manhattan 3.0) 557.4 frames, 9 per second; (T-Rex) 1152 frames, 21 per second

Real world usage mirrors the synthetic numbers too. You’ll won’t be able to run a million and one apps in the background, but jumping between Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Slack showed no noticeable slowdowns. It’s a solid damn phone this.

Granted, with 2GB of RAM, you’ll need to regularly close apps to keep performance fluid but that’s only if you have a habit of opening and forgetting apps.

It’s definitely an every day workhorse I could use for hours on end, but what of the battery? Well, even that’s solid. This device really stands-by well. If you aren’t planning to use the AG#HASHTAG for a while, letting it chill on a desk for a few days doesn’t do much to the battery at all. It’s in part due to that frugal MediaTek processor and Android Lollipop. Users should get at least a day’s battery usage from the phone, which I found to be more than enough, and in our benchmarks, it’s up there with the extremely frugal LG G4 Stylus in battery usage.

AG#HASHTAG sample snaps
left right

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 1

Here's a quick snap of a sunset through leaves, just to see how well the camera could handle my jitters and the fading light.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 3

On my count, it didn't do too badly. Still not stellar though.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 4

Focusing in fairly substandard light is the phone's major problem.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 5

If you happen to catch the right light, you can get snaps like this (even if the dynamic range is awful).

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 6

Snapping images with dense colours in bright light is a pleasure.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 7

A picture taken from within our office. Note the admirable white balance in this particular snap.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 8

The 13MP snapper provides each image with more than enough data for reasonable zoomage.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 9

The tight dynamic range ruined this shot. The camera's focal length also didn't help, as I was forced to focus on the very bottom of this branch.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 10

A snap of a very moody Table Mountain.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 11

Probably the best snap with the AG#HASHTAG. One thing's for sure -- the camera on it is much better than the AG Ghost's.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 12

A train moving as a fairly steady pace was snapped without much hassle.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 13

Tapping the mountain on the screen forced the camera to adjust light balance, resulting in this rather dark snap.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 14

Tapping on the sky in this pic did the exact opposite -- it feels a tad washed out.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 15

The light wasn't particularly great in this snap, but the spire is at least legible.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 16

One last snap of a human-made object.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 17

Heading into nature, this camera does quite well with flowers.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 18

The focal length isn't a major issue when snapping long branches or fronds. It actually makes for a pretty cool shot.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 19

This pink is a big more luminescent than actual life, but still much less expressive than the S7 (which takes colours to the extreme a bit too often).

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 20

Fooling around with focal zones in the next two snaps, this particular image was snapped while my hand was shaking. Not bad.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 21

And this was as close to the flower as the camera would allow me to get. Not exactly macro.

Ag#hashtag Review Sample 22

Low light and bright colours makes for a very unhappy camera.

It doesn’t charge as quickly as I’d like though, often requiring around four hours to fully juice. But this can probably be solved by using a beefier charger (AG doesn’t exactly bundle the world’s greatest example alongside).

But while everything is all good and well on the usage front, AG stumbles over its own feet yet again on the camera front.

It’s up there with the extremely frugal LG G4 Stylus in battery usage

The 13MP rear snapper isn’t awful, it’s just uninspiring. I didn’t enjoy using it, namely thanks to the torrid, standard Android camera software which Google needs to rework. Additionally, the camera’s slow to react to most things, be it adjusting to available light or focusing on barely moving objects (there’s no stability controls).

Dynamic range is also a problem, and that’s made even worse using the flash.

The selfie camera will do well to capture the shape of your face. Surprisingly though, that front flash does help when snapping group images in a dark setting with an outstretched arm or selfie stick. Nice inclusion there, AG.

AG#HASHTAG lead

Ultimately, it’s the same real disappointments we felt while using the Ghost: it’s all a bit average..

Practicality, usability and UI

Practicality is where this device really excels though. It doesn’t have a stylus for note taking (AG missed a bit of a marketing trick here), but thanks to the large screen, media consumption is a dream. Gandering through Instagram or watching a YouTube video on the large screen is comfortable, in terms of holding the phone and for eyes as well.

The ambient light sensor doesn’t really do a great job, but the screen thankfully has a wide-enough brightness curve to fine tune adjustments.

Using the phone every day is passable as well. It’s definitely one of the heaviest phones I’ve used this year (heavier even than the 6.0-inch Huawei Mate 8), which decreases comfort after long use spells, but slipping it into a pocket is a lot easier than Huawei’s monster.

It looks like a five-year-old was given a bottle of spray paint and asked to finish the job

I’m not too sure how well protected the screen is, but tapping it with a fingernail gives that taut ting that comes from glass. And on that note, let’s talk build quality.

It was another issue with the AG Ghost and sadly, some cost-saving continue through to the AG#HASHTAG.

The rear plate, for instance, still relies on that multiple pop tab system that requires a fairly sharp nail to pry open. It gets worse. The rear panel isn’t sprayed entirely red, with clear speckles visible on the inside of the phone’s spear white rear plate. It looks like a five-year-old was given a bottle of spray paint and asked to finish the job. Just tacky.

AG#HASHTAG 9

The phone’s still a wad of plastic too, but at least the chassis is a lot stronger than the Ghost’s which felt as though it could melt on a relatively sunny day.

In terms of UI, it’s good ol’ standard Android Lollipop that’s employed here. No skins, just standard Android.

With that said though, AG just couldn’t resist installing some bloatware, namely an app that pops up immediately upon first boot asking users to sign up to the company’s mailing list (and continues to hound on every restart if you don’t), and a Cassper Nyovest app, which doesn’t do much more than what Googling his name could achieve. Yes, I get why this needs to be there, but what about users who couldn’t care less, who only care about the phone?

AG just couldn’t resist installing some bloatware

Nevertheless, both apps can be uninstalled in two minutes, so it’s not of much concern.

Again though, with standard Android comes standard Android annoyances too, including the two-swipe settings tray which doesn’t get user friendly the more I use it. LG and Samsung have found workarounds for this, but the likes of Sony, Proline and AG Mobile are unfortunately stuck with it.

Hey, at least Lollipop is seriously swift on this device.

Value for Money

And that brings us neatly on the AG#HASHTAG’s credentials as a budget purchase. For R3699, it’s coming up against some stern competition from China, namely the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2, the smaller Huawei P8 Lite and Korea’s LG G4 Stylus.

AG#HASHTAG 4

Main competition

Huawei P8 Lite 16GB: R13 499 (Takealot)
LG G4 Stylus 8GB: R3799 (Takealot)
AG#HASHTAG 16GB: R3699 (RRP)
Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 16GB: R2999 (MIA Africa)

On one hand, all those mentioned offer arguably more solid devices with better imaging. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 is the best phone below R3000, but compared to the LG G4 Stylus at least, I’d have to side with the AG#HASHTAG.

While the AG#HASHTAG is clearly aimed at the younger generation familiar with Cassper Nyovest, and the now ubiquitous “hashtag” marketing convention slapped on every damn thing, AG could’ve sold this phone on sheer value alone.

Ultimately, it’s a massive improvement from the AG Ghost. The company noted the phone’s flaws and promptly addressed them without increasing its asking price. It’s what all smartphone manufacturers should be doing with each new device, but rarely do.

Positives

  • It’ll definitely stand out
  • There’s plenty of screen real estate
  • For the price, AG Mobile’s covered practically everything

Negatives

  • The camera is still a weak point
  • I would’ve loved a slightly bigger battery
  • Can Cassper help raise this device’s credentials above its rivals? I’m not too sure.

Verdict: Apart from the idiotic name, the AG#HASHTAG is by far the company’s best phone. It’s a solid mid-range phablet that’s quick, frugal and solidly built. It offers loads of personality and oodles of colour, but there’s still room for improvement namely in terms of camera performance, UI and build quality. But overall, AG has done well to remedy past mistakes without penalising consumers.

Score: 8/10

Andy Walker
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