Godzilla, Frankenstein's monster and Bigfoot are mythical creatures that don't exist (although you might dispute the latter). But now, an equally beastly smartphone -- one seemingly designed specifically for them -- is available to buy. The Samsung Galaxy Mega is a 6.3-inch woolly mammoth of a handset, and it reigns as the largest of its kind, even if only for a brief period of time; the title will soon be taken over by the Sony Xperia ZU once it hits the market. We were curious to see how a phone of its size would hold out during regular use, so our friends at Negri Electronics -- an online retailer which currently sells the Mega for $570 or $600 (8GB and 16GB, respectively) -- were kind enough to let us take one for a test drive for a few days. Is the phone's magnitude a benefit or hindrance to the user experience? Is it even worth considering if you don't need the largest possible screen? Find out as we dissect it after the break.
If this review taught us nothing else, we at least discovered that the Mega makes for an amazing icebreaker in elevators, parties and anywhere else. The odds of hearing "Wow, that thing's a phone?" were, expectedly, incredibly high. Of course, novelty isn't typically a factor we consider when reviewing a phone, nor should it be; perhaps a few folks may think of this as an opportunity to cure their shyness, but we believe it's far more important to judge a smartphone by its actual merits rather than perceived social implications.
So how huge is the Mega, exactly? For the sake of comparison, let's toss out a few numbers. This new king of the hill measures in at 167.6 x 88 x 8 mm (6.60 x 3.46 x 0.31 inches) and weighs an outlandish 7.02 ounces (199g); it's much wider and taller than the Galaxy Note 2, which in contrast is 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm and 6.35 ounces. It definitely doesn't compare to the 5-inch Galaxy S 4, which comes in at 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm and weighs 4.59 ounces. Indeed, the Mega is no lightweight, nor is it for the tight-pocketed or weak-armed. I found that when holding the Mega to my ear, my phone conversations became increasingly uncomfortable as time progressed, and despite the fact that it fits snugly in your average jeans pocket, it's a buzzkill once you sit down. Conversely, the phone fares decently in loose-fitting pants pockets, but it's much more likely to fall out when you're sitting.
We were only comfortable holding the Mega when two hands were involved.
Even if you're not dissuaded by those dimensions, you'll be far more comfortable using the Mega with two hands. Sure, we were able to palm the device in one hand for reading, browsing or other similar activities, but our thumbs couldn't reach the back button located on the bottom-right corner of the phone. In order to make the phone work this way, we noticed that we had to hold the phone closer to the bottom, an action that was at odds with its center of gravity and significantly increased our chances of dropping it. Needless to say, it wasn't an ideal solution, which means the only times we were truly comfortable toting it around were when two hands were involved.
The Mega uncannily mimics the original Galaxy S 4's overall design to the point that it essentially looks like someone in Samsung's factory zapped it with Rick Moranis' machine in Honey, I Blew up the Kid. That is, unless you're looking really close. First, let's discuss how the two phones are the same. The overall button, port and soft-key layout is near-identical: volume on the left, micro-USB on the bottom, power on the right and 3.5mm headphone jack, IR blaster and noise-canceling mic on the top. On the back, the camera and LED flash are arranged vertically near the top and there's a speaker grille on the bottom-left corner. It's also available in the same two colors (white and black) with straightened edges, a glossy plastic chassis and the same checkerboard pattern. Among the few variations are a much larger battery with a double-decker microSD / micro-SIM slot setup. It's also missing a sensor on the front, and the power button along the edge is a bit closer to the middle of the device than on the original GS4.
As much as we'd like to see the specs rival those found on the Galaxy S 4, Samsung didn't craft the Mega with the high-end buyer or power user in mind -- our guess is that the Korean manufacturer will pull out all the stops with the Note III for that particular demographic. That said, it still makes for a solid mid-range device: it wields a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 720p LCD panel, 8MP rear camera, 3,200mAh battery, NFC, IR, MHL 2.0, 1.5GB RAM and numerous other notable specs listed in the table below.
The unit we received from Negri is the I9200, which features quad-band HSPA+ (850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100) and quad-band GSM / EDGE; the I9205 adds penta-band Cat 3 LTE (800 / 850 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600), to be specific. Users of the latter model won't enjoy faster data speeds in the US, but at least it will make for an enjoyable experience in other countries around the globe.
Samsung Galaxy Mega
167.6 x 88 x 8 mm (6.60 x 3.46 x 0.31 in)
7.02 oz. (199g)
1,280 x 720 (233 ppi)
8/16GB (4.8GB user accessible)
MicroSDXC (up to 64GB)
8MP, AF, LED flash,
1080p, 30 fps (front and back)
Depends on market -- see hardware section
v4.0 with aptX
Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
1.7GHz dual-core Krait
MHL 2.0, DLNA, IR sensor
Dual-band, 802.11a/b/g/n, WiFi Direct
Android 4.2.2, TouchWiz UI
When we mentioned that the Mega uses a 720p display, you likely already assumed that it would offer a horrible viewing experience -- pixel density aficionados will scoff at the phone's 233 ppi, and indeed, we had the exact same expectation going into this review. However, it's not actually as bad as we had originally imagined. If you look close enough at the screen, the pixels definitely come out to say hello, but larger screens are also designed for longer-distance viewing than your run-of-the-mill 5-incher. So, from an ideal distance, the Mega is surprisingly decent. We would never turn down a 1080p display when offered to us, of course, but our overall experience wasn't nearly as disappointing as anticipated.
The display is only 720p, but its vibrant LCD popped out at us.
On the contrary, the bright LCD panel presented us with an unusually vibrant lock screen that always took us off-guard whenever we turned it on. We never felt like we had to crank up the display's brightness -- even in direct sunlight, which was a huge plus -- and we typically found ourselves happy keeping it at the halfway mark. Lastly, viewing angles were superb. On a more sullen piece of news, the Mega doesn't feature a Wacom digitizer like the Note series, so your attempts at using an S Pen here will be fruitless.
As long as this isn't your first time at the Samsung rodeo, the Galaxy Mega user experience won't require much getting used to; it's TouchWiz through and through, which means the UI will look basically identical to whatever Samsung smartphone you purchased two years ago. The main difference between now and then, of course, is the inclusion of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and the additional features it brings.
Although the user interface is generally the same on the Mega as it is on the Galaxy S 4, the former's repertoire of Samsung-branded features is much more limited here. Whether you consider that good news or bad is completely up to you, but the Mega lacks air gestures and several smart features such as rotation, pause and scroll. Additionally, it takes advantage of Smart Stay, Driving Mode, Safety Assistance and Air View. You won't find any option to change the screen's touch sensitivity here, though we have a feeling that this will come as a frustration to only a select few users.
The Mega has Android 4.2 and TouchWiz, but is missing many of the GS4's signature features.
Sure, the Mega's firmware is incredibly similar to what you'll find on the GS4, but Samsung has at least tweaked it to take advantage of the larger screen size. While we still consider this device a smartphone, the line between the phone and tablet categories is blurred when you consider the way most apps appear on it. For instance, a significant number of third-party apps (not to mention a few native ones) behave much like they do on a tablet -- Engadget's mobile app, S Planner and plenty more are this way -- and even the home screen rotates into Landscape Mode when you tilt it. Frankly, the Mega seems to have an identity crisis. On the one hand, there's no shortage of standard smartphone apps (albeit, with much more content fitting on the screen). Still, other apps look normal in portrait mode but then transform into their tablet versions as soon as you throw it into landscape.
While the Mega may look a lot like the original GS4 (hardware and firmware), Samsung didn't bestow its full litany of smart features onto the device. You can take advantage of Smart Stay, but Smart Rotation, Pause and Scroll aren't offered; Air Gesture isn't there; and a few GS4 camera modes didn't make the cut either (we'll discuss this in more detail in the next section). This may be in part due to the less powerful dual-core CPU inside, or perhaps it's just Samsung's way of ensuring it won't cannibalize GS4 sales. Either way, many of the missing features aren't essential to maintaining a good user experience -- heck, we turned most of them completely off during our GS4 review because they were a huge drain on resources -- so this won't be a dealbreaker for most potential buyers.
Finally, the Mega also offers Safety Assistance, Drive Mode and one-handed operation settings, which condenses the keyboard, dialpad and calculator. It doesn't resolve our inability to reach all of the capacitive keys, and we must admit that the two-handed typing experience on the Mega's full-sized keyboard is superb, thanks to the size of each individual key and the space in between them.
It's no secret that we've historically been fans of Samsung's work in the imaging department, and we don't have any reason to be disappointed in the company's choice of an 8MP sensor in a mid-range phone like the Mega. In fact, we even snuck one of the phone's sample images into an earlier post, so the shots can definitely hold their own amongst similar devices -- the still-relevant Note 2, for instance, uses an 8MP camera as well.
One obvious benefit about using a camera on such a large device is the huge viewfinder (especially when you choose 16:9 mode, which takes images at 6MP), but we noticed this can be a double-edged sword if you're not careful; with big phones (and tablets) comes a greater chance of taking a blurry shot. Fortunately we were able to avoid this pitfall in most circumstances -- all it involves is a little extra concentration. We'd love the option of a hardware shutter key in these situations, but such things have become increasingly rare in the Android universe.
Photos snapped in the daytime were much more detailed than we originally anticipated, and colors were mostly accurate, too, with some slight oversaturation in others. However, shots taken in direct sunlight resulted in washed-out hues. Most images turned out well, but we had a few issues with exposure and the camera's dynamic range capabilities. Specifically, it would favor either shadows or bright areas -- but not both at the same time. The Mega's HDR feature helps ease the pain a little, but you're missing crucial seconds switching back and forth between modes. And while our review unit kept close to the GS4's camera interface, Samsung opted to ship the Mega without Drama Mode, Eraser and dual-camera features -- the most endearing of the bunch, if you ask us.
Low-light pictures were a mixed bag as well. Most shots were a bit noisy, but we were satisfied with the amount of light we were able to capture in city shots with the phone's f/2.6 aperture lens. The Mega's night mode predictably snatched up more errant photons at the expense of an increased level of noise; we also snapped way too many blurry images that ultimately had to be tossed out, since smooth nighttime pics require an incredibly steady set of hands.
The above sample video was taken in MP4 format at 1080p, the Mega's top resolution, with a bit rate of 17 Mbps and frame rate of 30 fps. We actually came away quite impressed with the overall quality; the footage is well-detailed, colors are accurate, motion is quite smooth and the mics did an amazing job of picking up the audio we wanted (the music, in this case) and filtering out background noise coming from passers-by and traffic.
Performance and battery life
The Galaxy Mega mainly shows its mid-range status with its processing power, as it possesses a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (MSM8930AB). Granted, it takes advantage of a 1.7GHz clock speed and lower pixel count (when compared to today's 1080p flagships, at least), so you won't see much lag or delay with the majority of your work. Here's how its benchmark scores stack up against other devices.
Samsung Galaxy Mega
Samsung Galaxy S 4 (Snapdragon 600)
SunSpider 1.0 (ms)
GLBenchmark Egypt 2.5 HD Offscreen (fps)
SunSpider: lower scores are better
Given that the Mega shares some common software traits with the Galaxy S 4, while featuring a similar (yet higher-clocked) Snapdragon 400 chipset to the HTC First, we chose these two models for performance comparisons. As you can see, it bests the First in nearly every category -- with most scores clearly showing the advantage in clock speed -- and only loses in Vellamo. Strangely enough, the Mega wound up with a better score in this same test than the Snapdragon 600-powered GS4, while the latter phone whooped its 6.3-inch cousin in every other category. Comparisons aside, the benchmarks give us a solid indication that you're not going to run into any workload-related problems on the Mega.
We also discovered that gaming was a joy on the Mega: who would've thought that combining an Adreno 305 GPU with a huge screen would make for such a great experience? The speaker sounds loud and crisp, and we were able to crank out more than enough noise from our movies and music to stay happy. Even though the earpiece was a little quieter, it was still sufficient. All of our calls went through perfectly, with no drops or hiccups. GPS performance was also more than decent, though on a couple occasions, when traveling through the sparsely populated countryside, we noticed that the little-blue-dot-that-could was having some difficulty keeping up with us. This usually remedied itself after a few minutes (perhaps after we hopped onto a different tower), but it was a good thing we didn't have an immediate need for a change in direction. That tiny frustration aside, the performance is exactly what we'd hope to see on any mid-range Samsung phone.
If a phone is going to have a 3,200mAh battery, we expect it to hold a charge longer than nearly anything else on the market.
Finally, if a phone is going to have a 3,200mAh battery (the Mega is second in size only to the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx), we expect it to hold a charge longer than nearly anything else on the market. The Mega didn't disappoint: although we were unable to put the device through our typical video rundown endurance test, we attended Microsoft's Build 2013 during our review period, and were able to push the phone through 17 straight hours of heavy use before we needed to recharge -- on both days we were in attendance. This means that you should easily get a couple days of less-intense use.
The Galaxy Mega is a very solid mid-range device, but the phone's make-or-break trait is -- you guessed it -- the size. If you prefer (or require) the ability to use your smartphone one-handed most of the time, you're not going to have a satisfactory experience. We would love to see the option of using an S Pen as a sort of compromise to persuade fence-sitters, but sadly its absence will act as more of a detriment to the phone's chances of success.
Even though the Mega was made to satisfy one group of people -- anyone who loves or needs an excruciatingly large smartphone -- we admire Samsung's willingness to dip its toes in the water and try new form factors. If nothing else, the Mega will mean something even more significant to its manufacturer than sales metrics: it's a forerunner for the company's future prospects in the "large phone" category, and a way for Samsung to figure out how to do an even better job with the upcoming Galaxy Note III. We figure Bigfoot will be just as happy with that device when the time comes.