Samsung's next big thing just keeps getting bigger. The 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega pushes smartphone dimensions into nearly ridiculous proportions. Marketed as a midtier device, the $149 phablet for AT&T delivers solid performance, minus some of the high-end amenities of the Galaxy S4. But AT&T and Samsung are willing to bet that consumers will overlook what's missing in exchange for the Mega's massive display. Is this phone too big, or just right?
It's so big! No, that's not a "That's what she said" joke. The Galaxy Mega is absolutely enormous. Measuring a massive 6.6 x 3.46 x 0.31 inches, the Mega effectively dwarves every other smartphone, including the Samsung Note II (5.9 x 3.2 x 0.37 inches), Samsung Galaxy S4 (4.6 ounces, 5.31 x 2.69 x 0.25 inches), HTC One (5.1 ounces, 5.31 x 2.63 x 0.28 inches) and Motorola Moto X (4.8 ounces, 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22-0.4 inches). The massive monolith weighs in at 7.1 ounces, but still manages to feel fairly light despite its size.
There's no question that the Mega is more of a two-handed device. We found ourselves struggling to reach all the way across the screen, and other times we had to reposition the phablet in our hand during use. However, we like that Samsung includes a one-hand-friendly dialpad you can place on either side of the screen. Holding the Mega up to your head may elicit laughter for onlookers, but we didn't find the device too cumbersome when making calls.
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Similar to the Note II and the Note before it, the Mega is comprised of solid but slippery plastic. The handsome and removable Nova Black rear panel consists of an intricate pattern of black and silver dots. An 8-MP rear camera protrudes slightly from the top of the panel above the LED flash, and tiny twin speakers are located along the lower left corner.
Up front, the 6.3-inch display dominates the design. Backlit capacitive buttons for Back and Menu with a large physical Home button sit along the bottom of the panel.
The sides of the Mega are wrapped in a thick silver band. A headphone jack and IR blaster can be found at the top of the device while the microUSB port sits at the bottom. The power button and volume rocker are housed on the right and left of the phone, respectively.
It's like having a mini TV in your pocket. The Mega's 6.3-inch LCD display was made to catch up on those back episodes of "Once Upon A Time" and fighting an interplanetary war in "N.O.V.A. 3." However, its resolution of 1280 x 720 is lower than that of the GS4 and HTC One, which both have 1080p displays.
When we viewed a 1080p trailer of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the Mega offered wide viewing angles. The Shire was a vision of emerald green, which helped Bilbo's blue eyes stand out. Color on the GS4 was slightly oversaturated, delivering borderline fluorescent colors. The larger screen made it even easier to see finer details, such as the long silvery strands of Gandalf's beard.
Measuring 427 lux, the Galaxy Mega is plenty bright, easily topping the 390 lux smartphone average. This display is brighter than the GS4 (424 lux), but fell a little short of the HTC One (433 lux) and the Moto X (458 lux).
With all that real estate, it seems like a pen would be a no-brainer. However, Samsung is saving that bright spot for the Note 3.
Big handset, big audio. We were pleasantly surprised by the volume supplied by the Mega's pair of tiny speakers. The smartphone easily filled our test room with Drake's plaintive tenor on "Hold On, We're Going Home." But where the tenor was nice and loud, the rest of the instrumentals were lost in the background. The most we heard were some overly brassy cymbals and snares.
During the LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures max volume from a distance of 13 inches, the Mega registered 82 dB. The Galaxy S4 and HTC One were a decibel behind at 81 dB.
The Mega's keyboard is firmly a two-handed affair. When we attempted one-handed typing in portrait mode, we could barely reach the Q button. However, Samsung made sure to include its one-handed operation feature, which shrinks the keyboard and shifts it to the right or left, depending on your preference.
Keys on both the Google and Samsung versions of the keyboard were large and well-spaced. The Swype keyboard was more compact, but we preferred using Samsung's keyboard due in no small part to the inclusion of a number row.
Software and Interface
The Samsung Galaxy Mega runs the latest Android Jelly Bean OS (4.2.2.) in concert with Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Fan favorites such as Samsung's Multi Window Mode are front and center on the device.
Similar to other Galaxy phones, you can customize the Mega's lock screen with widgets and shortcuts. Seven customizable home screens are available to the user.
There are 16 quick settings buttons in the notification drawer, enabling users to toggle everything from Wi-Fi connectivity to unique features such as Smart Stay. These buttons can be rearranged by clicking on a tile button in the top right corner of the notification drawer. We also appreciate the brightness slider.
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However, as a midtier product, the Mega doesn't have all the bells whistles and gestures of Samsung's flagship, the GS4. There are no Smart Screen features such as Smart Rotation, Pause and Scroll. Mega users will also miss out on Samsung's Air Gesture features, which include Quick Glance, Air Jump, Air Browse, Air Move and Air Call-Accept.
AT&T's built-in browser bar appears along the bottom row of the preinstalled browser with three pages of icons including Facebook, Share and Sports. We prefer the cleaner Chrome.
The Mega was made for Samsung's Multi Window Mode. The massive display afforded us plenty of surface area to simultaneously surf the Web and scroll through our Facebook feed.
Long-pressing the back button opens a sidebar with a list of 12 Multi Window-compatible apps, including Chrome, Email, Gmail, Google Maps, Facebook and Hangouts. These apps can be placed onto half of the screen, allowing the application to run concurrently next to any other app. We found it useful to browse the Web and check our email at the same time.
Though we were able to view videos in Multi Window Mode, we preferred Samsung's pop-up play feature, which allowed us to play clips in a floating, draggable window that appeared on top of our desktop and other apps.
With Air View, users can access information previews, progress previews, speed dial previews and magnify Web page areas by simply hovering a finger over emails, Web pages and progress bar. When we hovered over our email, we saw a box displaying the first three lines of our message.
The Web page magnification ability was particularly useful, letting us enlarge certain passages of Laptopmag.com without zooming in on the whole page. Just keep in mind that Air View can be too sensitive at times; fortunately, it's easy to turn off this feature.
he S Translator app on the Mega helps users translate foreign language voices, bodies of text and signs in 12 different languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The audio translator, which looks almost identical to Google's own Translate app, allowed us to speak into the microphone or type in text and have it immediately translated in text or spoken aloud.
We spoke a Spanish phrase into the microphone and watched as it was accurately translated to English. There's also a handy list of preset phrases that might be of use to tourists, such as "here is my passport."
S Translator's engine is built directly into the email client. Users can select the Translate button whenever a foreign language email is received and S Translator will convert the note to the reader's native tongue. We sent a note in Spanish, which was translated correctly, although we had to manually select the original language because autodetect did not work.
Samsung includes a helpful collaboration and entertainment features called Group Play on the Mega, which allows users to share music, documents and photos from the phone or play games with other Galaxy S4 and Mega users over Wi-Fi Direct. There's also a music-sharing feature, which allowed us to play a single song over multiple devices by connecting to friends' phones, which seemed like more of a party trick than something we'd regularly use.
AT&T preloaded its usual suite of carrier-branded apps, including Code Scanner, FamilyMap, Locker, Navigator, Ready2Go, Smart Wi-Fi, DriveMode, Messages and MyAT&T.
On the Samsung front, there's Kies air and AllShare Play for file and media sharing, Music Hub, Music Player and ChatON. WatchON has also been added to transform the phone into a remote control via the built-in IR blaster. There's also the S Suggest app store if you're looking for some app recommendations.
Samsung's S Health app is noticeably missing from the Mega's line up of S Apps.
Third-party apps include Amazon Kindle, Trip Advisor, Flipboard and Qello, an app to check out the latest live concerts and documentaries.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega is powered by a dual-core 1.7-GHz Qualcomm MSM8930 Pro processor with 1.5GB of VRAM. There's enough oomph here to play casual games and navigate menus and launch apps at a relatively smooth pace. However, this handset isn't nearly as fast the Galaxy S4's 1.9-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU.
During our testing, the Mega got consistently outgunned by the S4, taking longer to launch apps and rotating the screen. When we played the first-person shooter "N.O.V.A. 3" on both devices, the Mega began to stutter when more than five characters were on screen.
On the Quadrant benchmark, the Mega scored 8,203, easily topping the 5,607 smartphone average. The Samsung Galaxy Note II and its 1.6-GHz quad-core Exynos CPU managed a score of 6,036 while the Moto X's 1.7-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU achieved 8,864. The S4GS4 notched 12,422 while the HTC One's 1.7-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU achieved an impressive 12,706.
When we tested graphics performance, the Mega notched 5,300 on 3DMark, far below the 8,502 average. The Moto X and GS4 achieved blistering scores of 11,568 and 10,973 while the HTC One posted 9,231.
Using VidTrim, the Mega transcoded a 205MB 1080p movie to 480p in 9 minutes and 15 seconds. That's slower than the 7:51 smartphone average and the GS4's time of 7:27. The Moto X took just 6:25.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega comes with 16GB of storage but can be expanded to 64GB via the microSD Card slot.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
The Galaxy Mega was blazing fast over AT&T's 4G LTE network during our testing in the Bronx. Using Speedtest.net, we saw an average download speed of 16.7 MBps and upload speed of 5.3 MBps.
In our real-world testing, the Mega zipped from site to site over AT&T's 4G LTE network. We loaded NYTimes.com in an average of 3.5 seconds, ESPN.com in 4 seconds and Laptopmag.com in just 4.1 seconds.
Camera and Camcorder
The Galaxy Mega's 8-megapixel rear camera does a bang-up job on delivering vibrant color and nice contrast. In side-by-side shots of flowers with the GS4, the Mega delivered richer, more realistic color. The Mega did especially well with greens, blues and pastels, such as pink and lilac. The Galaxy S4's 13-megapixel camera offered sharper images with more detail, however.
A shot we took of a golden retriever puppy near a bed of flowers looked quite clear and mostly in focus. Indoors, an image we captured of a painting was a little fuzzy but bright.
The Mega's rear camera can shoot 1080p videos that are sharp and colorful. We took some video of a busy street in Manhattan and yellow cabs really stood out.
The 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera also captured high-quality images. We took a picture of ourselves and could easily make out the details of our jean jacket and red shirt dress. Colors were crisp and rich.
Compared to the GS4, the Galaxy Mega has an abridged selection of camera features. Regular settings such as HDR, Sports and Panorama have made the cut, but some, such as Drama Shot, Dual Camera and Eraser Mode got left on the cutting room floor.
Still, there's Best Face Mode, which selects the most flattering faces in a photo from a list of thumbnails, creating the best-looking image. Sound and Shot is another fun mode that captures 9 seconds of audio to play along with a still.
Samsung's Story Album monitors your photo-shooting activity and sends you notifications suggesting you turn your photos into attractive virtual flip-books. We were able to create an album by simply tapping a thumbnail, typing a name, choosing a layout style, hitting the Create button and either deleting or captioning the automatically curated photos. Users can order printed photo albums directly through the app, with prices ranging from $14.15 for a small softcover book to $31.15 for a large hardcover.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The Samsung Galaxy Mega's large 3200 mAh battery lasted 7 hours and 3 minutes during the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE). That's an hour longer than the 6:07 smartphone average. The HTC One posted 5:55 on standard power and 6:20 in Power Saver Mode. The Samsung Galaxy S4 delivered times of 5:13 and 5:54, respectively. However, the Samsung Galaxy Note II was the last phone standing with a whopping 9:27.
Because of its size, some people might be embarrassed to use the Mega as a traditional phone. Thankfully, the speakerphone is nice and loud. During our test call, our test subject reported a little bit of background noise, but couldn't tell when we switched from speakerphone to regular headset mode.
Samsung's Galaxy Mega lives up to its name. For some, this 6.3-inch will reek of tech frivolity, but those looking to combine the size of a tablet with the functionality of a phone will appreciate what this phablet has to offer. As a multimedia device, the Mega is great for watching video and playing games (as long as they're not too demanding). The 8-MP camera is also quite good for the price, and the Mega delivers loud audio. Being able to use this phone as a remote control is yet another plus.
However, the $149 asking price is a little steep for a midrange device that lacks the bells and whistles of the GS4. The Mega is essentially a $99 smartphone with a $50 premium for its oversized display. While its simply too large for many users, the Samsung Galaxy Mega offers a good mix of endurance, features and--of course--screen size for the money.