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A super-sized S4: Samsung Galaxy Mega reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 10:00 am 02/10/2013

The five inch screen of the Galaxy S4 is nice, but what if you want something bigger, closer to the size of a tablet but with smartphone capabilities? For that, Samsung has a new device of mega proportions.

Features

When Samsung came up with the Galaxy Note back in 2011, it practically invented a field: phablets, or tablet-sized phones. Since then, this has become a big area for smartphones, no pun intended, with at least one device from nearly every major phone manufacturer, and many from Samsung.

Most of these devices are geared at the high end, but in Samsung’s latest device, the Galaxy Mega, you have to look at the mid-range, with a product that features a massive screen, and yet middle-rung specifications, with just enough oomph to power that huge display, and then some.

We’ll start with the screen, because it’s so big, you can’t ignore it, and at 6.3 inches, this is pretty much Samsung’s biggest smartphone to date. The screen resolution is set to high definition’s 1280×720 – similar to the first Note – and with a display this big, brings the screen clarity to 233 pixels per inch, around 100 lower than that of Apple’s Retina grade.

A weight of just under 200 grams (199g) accompanies the handset, as does a thickness of 8mm, which compares nicely with the 7.9mm Galaxy S4 we checked out earlier in the year.

That thickness is one thing that makes the Galaxy Mega close to the Galaxy S4, and there’s a whole lot more, including the design of the Samsung flagship S4, which has practically been enlarged to fit the frame of this oversized handset. Button placement is the same, too, with a physical home button and two soft buttons flanking this on either side, with menu and back, while the volume rocker is on the left edge and the power button on the right side.

Samsung has also included a very similar version of Android on the Mega to the S4, with Android 4.2.2 “Jelly Bean” and the typical Samsung TouchWiz overlay sitting atop Android.

The Galaxy S4 sitting next to the Galaxy Mega. Similar designs, but not so similar size.

The chip is very different, that said, with Samsung pulling back from the quad-core Snapdragon 600 on the S4 and using a dual-core Snapdragon 400, still including an Adreno GPU (305) for gaming and graphics, while roughly 2GB of storage is provided for you to use on the phone, with the rest handled by a microSD, of which Samsung supplies a 4GB card in the box.

Memory sits just below the 2GB RAM sweet spot on this device, also, with 1.5GB used instead.

Connection options are close to that of the S4, with 802.11a/b/g/n even supporting the new 802.11ac connection, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, Near-Field Communication, infrared, DLNA, GPS, and a microUSB port that also supports MHL connections.

The camera quality isn’t quite at the same level it is on the S4, hardly surprising given the Galaxy S is the flagship range and the Mega is more of a mid-range phablet, but it still promises to be decent, regardless, supporting an 8 megapixel rear camera with auto-focus, LED flash, and full HD video, while the front-camera sits at 1.9 megapixels.

The battery on the Mega is also bigger than the one in the S4, rated for 3200mAh instead of the 2600mAh of the S4.

The Galaxy Mega battery is almost two-thirds the size of the Galaxy S4. Sheesh.

Performance

With Samsung’s latest range of Galaxy products, it’s clear the brand is channelling one design, and that design is the S4, because that is the look and feel seen on the Mega, too.

We hope you like that softened rectangular design made from plastic and with a dotted plastic texture on the back, with the lens above the LED flash, because that’s the style Samsung has going here, borrowed from the S4 and enlarged to match the 6.3 inch “mega” screen size.

Plastic is still the name of the material game, at least as far as Samsung is concerned, and just like on the S4 and Galaxy Note range, it’s a slightly slippery affair, but at least you can take the rear cover off to remove the microSD, microSIM, and if you ever run out of battery life, a new pack of juice.

With the design taken care of, though, we need to address something immediately: holding a 6.3 inch phone to the side of your head can make you look like a total tool.

That needs to be said, and if you could imagine how self-conscious this reviewer felt carrying Huawei’s 6 inch Ascend Mate around, imagine what the bigger 6.3 inch Mega feels like.

There are going to be pants this just won’t fit in, and heads that will look downright silly when pressed up against the humongous size Samsung has produced.

As such, this isn’t a handset for everyone, and given the 6.3 inch screen size positively in phablet territory – or “oversized smartphone” space, for those of you not keen on the dictionary’s acknowledgement that phablet is a real word – it’s something you could probably identify from the box.

Once you get over this, you can get to using the Galaxy Mega.

In the hands, it is understandably big.

That said, thanks to Samsung’s continued use of the volume rocker on the left and power button on the right, it can be switched on comfortably with one hand, even if you really need two to operate the phone with.

On the Mega, Android looks the way it normally goes on practically every other Samsung phone, with the cleaned up TouchWiz overlay that you see on other Samsung devices, including the multiple homescreens, drop down notification bar, lockscreen widgets (though like on the S4, these feel poorly implemented), and several pages of app menus that can be customised to your liking.

Despite the massive size, though, this isn’t a Galaxy Note device, and the apps included here are specifically for the smartphone, so don’t expect a pen like in those other devices.

The screen is nice enough, and while big – massive, even – won’t please everyone.

Call it one of the downsides of producing a mid-range phablet, because 233 pixels per inch isn’t amazing, and reminds us of the screen we had on the Galaxy Note 2, which is more easily noticed if you like to look at websites in desktop mode without zooming in.

Honestly, it’s not the worst problem out there, but it’s one some people may take issue with, as the screen is nowhere near as clear as the full HD ones coming out on either the Galaxy S4 or Galaxy Note 3 handsets.

From a system performance point of view, the dual-core chip in the Galaxy Mega handles most operations without problems, though we did notice quite a bit of lag when jumping between apps and scrolling between menus on the homescreen.

That might be one of the downsides of using less than the 2GB RAM sweet spot that Android likes best, but if you switch to the giant easy-to-use TouchWiz Android screens Samsung provides, it won’t be a problem at all.

Samsung's easy mode means big icons and a simple interface.

Animations might not load as a result of this, though it’s not a major dilemma, and if you choose to use Samsung’s “easy” mode on Android, it won’t even be an issue altogether. In fact, the easy screen mode is a cool feature we’ve never really had a good play with, and on such a big device like this one, it makes for a solid usability experience if you have people in the family who prefer a bigger phone because of ailing eyesight.

On the battery side of things, the Mega performs admirably, which is hardly surprising given the massive 3200mAh.

We use our review phones as our actual phones, and that means testing it by making phone calls, sending messages, collecting emails, listening to music, running the odd speed test, and generally putting the phone to work, and the Mega lasted a good two days.

Use the phone less than us and you might be able to get an extra day out, though we suspect that would be pushing it.

Mobile performance is equally impressive, and in many ways, this could serve as a 4G tablet with phone call support for quite a few customers out there.

In fact, testing it on the Telstra 4G network, we were able to push a maximum on 95Mbps down, which is practically close to the limit of Cat3 LTE, and should please everyone.

There is at least one flaw to the Mega’s design that we noticed, though, and that’s the placement of the microphone.

This is a particular interesting one, because while the design logic Samsung has taken with this phone is to basically take the Galaxy S4 and enlarge it, the microphone placement on the bottom edge doesn’t make as much sense.

With the speaker pressed against your ear, you may find the microphone is a little too low, with the handset going lower than the height of your head, and your voice, consequently, sounding further away on the phone.

That’s a downside of blowing things up in size: they don’t always work the same way, and while The Simpsons remarks about a Rebigulator being a concept that would want to make you laugh out loud, it’s one Samsung’s designers should have paid closer attention to, as the microphone isn’t the clearest on the Mega.

Another problem with Samsung’s S4 can also be seen on this handset, and that’s the crazy set of bugs that accompany that device. It’s hardly surprising given the versions of Android being used are very similar, and it means our guide on how to fix the flaws of the S4 can be used in this smartphone.

They’re pretty much the same, and we noticed the same gallery load glitch affecting our Galaxy Mega, taking its sweet time to correct when the images were loading, and furthermore, still not allowing you to change the icon shortcuts in the dock.

This last bug may not affect every Galaxy Mega around the world since it doesn’t affect every international variant of the Galaxy S4, but it does exist in Australia, and so, as a result, Aussies (which is where GadgetGuy operates) won’t be able to change the shortcuts.

We hope you like phone, contacts, messaging, and a shortcut to the stock internet browser, because right now, that’s all you’re going to get on the Mega.

Take the back off both the S4 and Mega and you have very similar looking devices. In fact, if you leave the backs on, they still look close, if it weren't for the size differences.

Conclusion

At a hair under $600, the Galaxy Mega is possibly one of the better massive smartphones out there, providing what is essentially a Galaxy S4 without as much speed in a body that is far, far bigger.

Against the competition, Samsung’s Galaxy Mega provides a better package than Huawei’s Ascend Mate, not only out performing the other mid-range device but also packing 4G, two factors which easily make up the extra price.

That said, a 6.3 inch phone isn’t small, so before you commit, go in store and see if you like the feel of such a big device against your head, because you’ll be the one who has to use it in the end.

Price (RRP)

$599

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Two day battery life for a 4G phone is great; Excellent 4G performance; Maintains the look of an S4, except enlarged; Works as a remote control for your TV;

Product Cons

Looks ridiculous when held to the side of your head; Microphone is poorly placed; Made of plastic; Occasional slow downs can be noticed; Typical Samsung Android problems can be seen here, too;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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