If users found the Galaxy Note phablet series to be unwieldy and an odd form factor, the Galaxy Mega is even more perplexing as it straddles the phablet and tablet computing categories. With a display size of 6.3 inches, the Mega, as reviewed on AT&T Mobility and forthcoming on Sprint in the U.S., offers the benefits of a larger display–which in the past meant a high-end premium product, but at a mid-range price point. For consumers looking at a new smartphone, the real question becomes is 6.3 inches of smartphone too much?
Design and Size
Surprisingly, the Mega is still pocketable, comfortable, and at the end of the day a delight to use and even carry around. I’ve been testing the AT&T model now for over a week and have come to appreciate the larger tablet-like footprint of the Mega. Yet, despite its larger size, the Mega is still highly portable, even with my more fitted jeans. Admittedly, the Mega doesn’t feel as comfortable when you’re sitting down, and it’s best home is probably in a jacket pocket than the front pocket of more snug denims.
The highlight of the Mega is its 6.3-inch display. Though not the premium 1080p full HD screen resolution of a mid-2013 high-end flagship, the lesser 720p HD specs on the LCD panel of the Mega is still more than useful. If you consider that up until recently, many 7-inch and 10-inch tablets came with a 720p display (1280 X 800) resolution display at the high-end, the Mega’s smaller screen real estate means you’re already getting more pixel density. And when you’re comparing this device to a smaller smartphone, you’ll actually be holding the Mega a bit further away from your eyes and face so the resolution difference becomes really negligible.
For consumers, what this all means is that I had no problems with sharpness on the Mega’s screen, even when compared to the higher pixel density of devices like the Galaxy S4. The LCD panel’s viewing angles are great–I think angles were good up to the 160-degree range. This isn’t quite as good as the 179-degree angles offered by IPS displays, but in reality who is sitting adjacent to the display and really trying to look at the screen that way?
Movies look great and webpages were a joy to browse thanks to the larger screen size. E-book reading is also great as you can make the text size a little bit smaller to squeeze in more on a page so you don’t have to turn the page quite as frequently. With the appropriate car mount, the Mega can also handle GPS navigation superbly thanks to a loud speaker and a large screen. Google Maps with Navigation sounds great and looks great on the Mega inside my car.
Viewability in sunlight was just okay–not as good as the HD Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy S4, which I thought was more readable under the sun.
In daily use, performance is good. Powered by a more conservative 1.5 GB RAM and a Snapdragon 400 processor, the Mega was generally fluid in normal use. I did notice a bit of lag when I tried to do too many things at once, like open and browse a webpage while updating apps through the Google Play Store in the background, or pulling in emails while downloading larger attachments in my email in the background.
Otherwise, in normal day-to-day use of browsing the web, checking emails, navigating using the GPS, reading the news on my news apps, and streaming music and videos, the Mega was up to the task and there wasn’t any performance issues to speak of.
Call Quality & Network
On AT&T’s network, the Mega also has a speedy 4G backbone to support its operations. Call quality was great and on par with other Samsung phones and download speeds on LTE averaged between 15-20 Mbps in San Jose, California where I spend most of time using the device. Even on the slower HSPA+ network, YouTube videos loaded quickly and there was no buffering in HD quality video streaming.
Android & TouchWiz
The device is preloaded with Android 4.2.2, and Samsung really enhanced the Android user experience with many of its proprietary TouchWiz features that are present on the flagship Galaxy S4 model.
Unlike the Galaxy Note series, the Mega doesn’t come with an active digitizer, so forget S Pen functionality, but to paraphrase Steve Jobs, God had blessed us with ten styli each in the forms of our ten fingers.
That in mind, the Mega comes with Air View so you can hover your finger over the screen, Smart Stay so the screen won’t time out if your eyes are looking at it, Multi Window mode for simultaneous multitasking, NFC, S Beam, and a hyper-sensitive display that will work with gloves in cold environments.
The Mega runs Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz UI on top of Google’s Android 4.2.2 operating system and comes with all the Google apps (Gmail, Google Play Store, Hangouts, and more) along with access to the Samsung Apps and Samsung Hub for additional content. The Galaxy Mega 6.3 also comes with an IR blaster at the top that can be used to control your TV and home entertainment center with the included Samsung Watch On app.
We’ve covered Android and TouchWiz at great length in our review of the Galaxy S4, so we’ll redirect you there to learn more about all the Samsung enhancements.
Is It a Small Tablet or a Large Phone?
My biggest complaint about devices in the Mega’s league is that when having this much display, I’d expect more tablet-like functionality in apps. The Mega doesn’t run any apps that are made for or designed for tablets, and instead only runs smartphone apps. Here, you’ll begin to find the limitations of the Android operating system in supporting hybrid devices like the Mega as the screen real estate is wasted when apps are just stretched to fill a very large display, but don’t add any additional utility.
Only a few pre-loaded apps, like the Samsung Email app (not Gmail though), will display a multi-column view in landscape mode. On the email app, the left column shows your sender’s names while the right column shows the email’s subject so you can preview all this without having to open the email. It lends to a more desktop-like experience, and I wish the Mega would support tablet-optimized apps for this very nature. Instead, like smaller phablets, the Mega only runs apps designed for smartphone, so you’ll only get a single column view and will have to constantly to click on things and use the back button. Given the popularity of the Note, Note 2, and the newly launched Note 3 coming to market, Google may be wise to address the larger phablet market by enabling support for tablet apps on these devices, which are still classified as smartphones.
Slim is In
And though the device does have slim side bezels, a problem that I pointed out on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 review as Android unlike the iPad mini doesn’t have intelligent detection algorithms to realize if you’re pressing the display or if it’s just your hands holding the side of the sreen, this isn’t an issue on the Mega 6.3 due to the fact that you can wrap your hand around the rear of the device when holding the Mega in portrait orientation and tap the screen with your other free hand. In landscape mode, the home button offers a comfortable place to rest your thumb when holding the Mega with both hands so you’re not accidentally activating the capacitive touch buttons.
And like the Galaxy S4, the design language hasn’t changed here. You’re treated with glossy polycarbonate. Due to a larger size overall, things felt a bit more hallow on the inside of the Mega as compared to the Galaxy S4, but that’s just a perception. In reality, the Mega is highly durable. In my “accidental drop test” where the device fell out of my jacket pocket when I was trying to hang my coat on a bar stool resulting in the Mega face-planting itself on the hardwood floor of a restaurant, the Mega survived with not a scratch in sight.
Power users will appreciate that the device has a removable back battery cover so you can swap out batteries if you run low. There’s access to a micro SDXC card slot too, helpful to augment the rather paltry 8 GB of built-in storage on the device, as well as micro SIM card. On the rear, you have a Galaxy S3-era 8-megapixel camera with single LED flash. A 2-megapixel camera sits on the front side for selfies and video chatting.
I had began my journey with the Mega not expecting to like the device due to its large size, but leaving my review I am a huge fan of this form factor. Speaking on the Mega as a phone is still somewhat awkward as the screen really does engulf one’s face, but using it as a connected data device and for the occasional phone calls, the Mega has been a joy to operate. It’s a large phone, but it’s not your grandfather’s megaphone. It’s modern marvel and Samsung’s bold experiment with new screen sizes may open the Mega up to a new demographics of users.
Power users may look towards the Galaxy Note 2 or the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3. Those devices offer more functionality thanks to the S Pen features, more powerful processors, and lots more RAM and built-in storage for multitasking. However, those devices cost more. On contract, when the Galaxy Note 2 debuted, it came in at double the Mega’s $150 contract price. And the extra powers and features may be lost upon a utilitarian user who just want a device with a larger screen that can still make calls, unlike tablets sold in the U.S. where voice calling functionality has been stripped. For these users, the Mega is a natural choice.
Still yet, there is a new group of older users who may be interested in the larger screen. The Easy Mode home screen may be enticing to these users. With Easy Mode, Samsung re-skins the Android UI to use larger buttons and hide away the complexities so you’ll experience a larger touchscreen feature phone with larger buttons, suitable for older people who may want more than a Jitterbug phone.
For me, the larger screen allows me to be more productive on the go. As a phone, the Mega is too much of a megaphone to place against my face for calls, but I am happy that the feature is there when I need it. In my use, the Mega has become my new mega mobile office.