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.
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.
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.
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.
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.