Samsung is well known for producing a wide range of smartphones, 'phablets' and tablets — an approach that sometimes leads to a potentially confusing choice of similarly sized devices. So it is with the 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega, which sits in the same 'phablet' bracket as the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 but lacks the latter's stylus support.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega is certainly on-trend when it comes to the evolution of ever-larger smartphones. Its 6.3-inch LCD screen gives it an overall size of 88mm wide by 167.6mm deep by 8mm thick and it weighs 199g. It's not a device you'll slip into your pocket when heading out, unless your pockets are voluminous — the only pockets we found that could accommodate the Galaxy Mega are in serious winter coats.
The Galaxy Mega's build is distinctively Samsung with its front physical home button flanked by a pair of touch buttons. The backplate is the usual thin affair that comes off to reveal MicroSIM and MicroSD card slots stacked one above the other. You need to remove the battery to access the MicroSIM, but MicroSD cards slot in and out fairly readily with the battery in place.
Rounded corners complete the Samsung look, and the plastic build is also telltale — other vendors might go for a more premium finish, but not Samsung. Buttons and ports are intelligently located: MicroUSB port on the bottom, headset jack on the top, power button on the right edge and volume rocker on the left. All buttons are easy to reach , but the power button benefits particularly from being on a long edge rather than on the top.
The specifications are straightforward rather than cutting edge, one indication of which is the LCD rather than AMOLED display. The huge 6.3-inch screen's resolution — 720 by 1,280 pixels, or 233ppi — isn't going to blow anyone away, but a higher pixel density would both inflate the price and reduce the battery life.
On-screen text is is a good size for easy reading. Web browsing is also rewarding as very little scrolling is needed to get around, and you can read desktop versions of websites without zooming. Ebook reading works well too, and Samsung's tweak of letting you have two apps running at once also works well — on smaller screens there's little point in having a web browser and notes app open at the same time, but we found it (just about) workable on this 'phablet'.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega has a decent upper-mid-range specification, but there's a serious let-down on the internal storage front. Even the 8GB headline figure seems a little average, but the reality of what's available to the user is even more disappointing.
Alongside Android 4.2, the Galaxy Mega includes Samsung's apps and user interface tweaks (TouchWiz), and there's so much going on in this respect that user-available memory is just 4.7GB. That's not a lot of space when you consider that Android 4.2 doesn't let you install apps on external storage.
The Galaxy Mega's 1.7GHz dual-core processor is a long way off the leading edge, but we encountered no serious performance problems in everyday use. It responds quickly enough to taps and sweeps of the screen, and the various apps we installed and Samsung features we used were perfectly responsive.
The Galaxy Mega offers GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSUPA/HSDPA and LTE support, along with NFC (Near Field Communications) and GPS. Local- and personal-area wireless connectivity runs to a full set of 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi standards (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
The main (rear) camera's 8-megapixel resolution is average at best these days, and it's limited to 720p video capture rather than full-HD 1080p. The front-facing camera is a 1.9-megapixel unit.
Characteristically, Samsung has thrown a lot of Android extensions and add-ons at the Galaxy Mega, and it's slightly annoying that many of these duplicate Android's standard fare. You could relegate those you don't want to a folder where they're out of sight and out of mind, although of course they'll still clog up internal storage. Aware that the abundance of extras might confuse, Samsung includes an 'Easy mode' that offers a less cluttered experience for newcomers to its smartphones.
DLNA, screen mirroring and Samsung's Wi-Fi-based Kies file exchange system are all present, along with the panoply of touch, motion and front-camera-based features that Samsung is so keen on promoting. Some of these we like, some we don't. We really like Smart stay, which uses the front camera to detect whether you're looking at the screen and overrides any auto screen dimming you've set up. Air view, which purports to provide information when you hover a finger over the screen in some apps, seems pointless. Why hover a finger over a web page to magnify a portion when a simple two-finger motion does the same job?
Still, there are some gems among the myriad features. We really like the one-handed operation setting that pushes the keyboard, dial pad (and a few other things) over to one side of the screen to make it easy to use the phablet in this mode. We also rather like the ability to alter colour depth to suit what you're doing — reading, watching a movie and so on (this has an auto mode, which is useful).
Battery life is a big plus point for the Galaxy Mega. With frugal usage we could get through two days without recharging, and had no trouble making it through a day of moderate usage. The device's 3,200mAh battery really earns its keep. That said, if you're going to make full use of the Galaxy Mega's large screen (for streaming content or in-vehicle satnav, for example) you'll undoubtedly need to charge it once a day.
The 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega isn't easy to carry around or use one-handed. It's also short on internal storage and lacks the stylus support of the Galaxy Note series. Having said that, the Samsung Galaxy Mega is rather good. It's the obvious handset for anyone who likes Samsung's 'Android-on-steroids' approach and is attracted by the Galaxy Note 3's size, but doesn't really need the stylus.