Review: A month with the Samsung Galaxy Mega
Whatever sort of smartphone you might want, Samsung has got you covered. Unlike its chief competitor, Apple, which recently broke with tradition by unveiling (gasp!) two new models of iPhone at once, the Korean monolith makes devices of all shapes and sizes. Samsung's huge 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega sprang forth from that spirit of concocting a flavor for every taste last month, and I've spent the past few weeks putting it through its paces to try to find out if there's room in my life for such a sizable smartphone. Here are a few of the conclusions I've reached over the course of my month with the Mega.
The Galaxy Mega is basically just Samsung's Galaxy S4 in a bigger package. Many of the same wacky features and software tweaks Samsung used in its marketing pitch for the S4 also surface in the Mega. The main obvious difference is that the screen has been stretched by more than an inch (certain international versions of the Mega are 5.8-inch, AT&T and Sprint in the US offer the larger version) without adding any thickness, which actually makes it look particularly skinny and sleek with its metallic sides and reflective faux chrome plastic back.
One other thing sets the Mega apart from the Galaxy S4 and other top flight Android phones – the price. In the United States, AT&T offers the Galaxy Mega for just $149 with a new two-year contract. That's half the price of the Galaxy Note 3 and still less than a new Galaxy S4, which was unveiled over six months ago. Unfortunately, for those of you living beyond the borders of North America and our weird system of carrier subsidies and contracts, the full retail price of a Galaxy Mega won't be much better than the other phones mentioned above.
So there's a few ways to describe what the Galaxy Mega actually is: its place in the massive Samsung family is either that of a big brother to the S4, or perhaps a less sophisticated, stylus-less (and cheaper) sibling of the Galaxy Note 3.
On a practical level, it's a great bridge for someone who likes an oversized phone screen and might enjoy having one really big phone rather than owning both a large smartphone and a small tablet like the Nexus 7. The price makes it particularly attractive for this type of user, who would save $200 off the cost of an LTE Nexus 7 and still lose less than an inch of screen real estate while adding the phone and SMS capabilities to the mix.
Build and feel
I'm a pretty big guy with hands to match, but the Galaxy Mega is a handful even for me. I am able to fit it in most of my pockets, but I'm also the sort of person that's been seen slipping a Nexus 7 into my pants as well – many of you with smaller hands and pockets will find it completely unwieldy. The majority of the time I've been toting the Mega around in a messenger bag with my laptop or tablet and keeping a smaller phone (like the Moto X or Droid Razr) in my pocket.
On the plus side, the Mega weighs about 60 grams more than a Galaxy S4, but still feels surprisingly light for its size, probably due to Samsung's penchant for plastic.
It doesn't fit perfectly in the palm of my hand like a Moto X and one-handed use is tough, but I do like the way it feels overall. A glossy finish allows it to slide in and out of tight pockets and elsewhere easily, and a settings tweak moves the keypad and other on-screen buttons to make one-handed use at least a little less awkward.
For "lean back" use, the bigger screen offers one of the better experiences available on a phone for things like web browsing and reading. But there is one problem ...
If I had to guess where Samsung opted to cut corners on the Mega to help push the price down, the most obvious choice is the display. While the Galaxy S4 shines with a Super AMOLED 1080x1920 display, the Galaxy Mega is fitted with a lackluster 720 x 1280 pixel LCD screen, giving it just a little above half of the pixel density of its smaller sister Galaxy phone.
This was a little baffling to me, as the size and shape of the Mega are really ideal for streaming HD media on the go, but images on the bigger screen aren't nearly as crisp and full of "pop" as they could be.
Despite its deficiencies, I still found the display to be a great size for casual gaming that isn't too graphics-intensive. The Mega turns out to offer an ideal experience for watching cartoons for the kids, and I particularly loved using certain apps like Flipboard and Google Maps.
Ironically, the Galaxy Mega's camera can capture 1080p HD video despite the fact that its display wouldn't be able to play it back at its full resolution.
Its rear-facing 8-megapixel camera is essentially a pared-back version of what's found on the Galaxy S4 and performs about as well as any other middling smartphone camera. Likewise, the 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera also gets the job done without wowing anybody.
Samsung's camera app in the Galaxy Mega also lacks the full suite of bells and whistles found on the S4, but key modes like panorama, HDR and continuous shot are still there.
This shot was taken with the rear camera in a dimly-lit room and managed to deliver most of the detail without too much noise or washing out the color.
This one was taken outside on a cloudy day and also comes out fairly crisp and clear, if slightly heavy on blues.
In this one, I attempted to focus on the bunch of mint on the right using the native camera app. How well do you think it came out?
A phone before its time?
While it's not a perfect phone (I opted to omit my rant on the abundance of bloatware and superfluous features the Mega ships with), I really enjoyed my month with the Mega. I like the size for a number of uses and even delayed my planned purchase of an LTE Nexus 7 since I knew the Mega would be able to cover the role of a small tablet in my life temporarily.
But I think I might be a special case. I like a big phone with a big display and don't mind carrying a big device around, yet it's still a little hard to imagine this being my sole smartphone.
And if I'm hesitant, much of the rest of the people I know are downright disturbed by such a large phone. The majority of times I pulled out the Galaxy Mega in public, I was meet with puzzled looks, snarky comments and outright laughter.
I heard "Is that really supposed to be a phone?" more than once, and even from complete strangers.
I could almost be ready for a super-sized smartphone, but the rest of society clearly isn't.