The first time I sat down with the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, my thoughts were similar to the first time I sat down with the Dell Streak; “that’s too big.” I’ve been using one for the last few weeks to better understand the handset and of course how it could fit into my life as a productivity tool. My opinion of the device changed quite a bit during the first couple of weeks, which is why this review has taken longer than usual to write.
I’m going to start with the design and hardware specifications. It fits in with the rest of Samsung’s 2013 range: it looks like a scaled up Galaxy S4. It’s constructed of plastic so it’s light, it’s thin and it has a replaceable battery so the back comes off. The finish is smooth and glossy; it does not feel cheap until you have spent time with some of the metal and glass handsets, or even the Nokia Lumia devices such as the 620. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised at how the Mega doesn’t feel so amazing to handle as some of the competition as this is how Samsung make their handsets. The Mega feels okay in the hand and for me, it is not a dealbreaker.
Let me write about the Mega’s screen, because this is most of the point as to why somebody would consider the device. It uses a 6.3” LCD screen of 720p resolution. As a cell ‘phone, this is huge. As a tablet, it’s small. The Mega straddles both camps, a compromise. It fits into a pocket without looking like there’s something oversized stuffed into your pants thanks to how thin it is, but it still surprises people when you pull it out.
Although Samsung have not used their characteristic AMOLED screen, the display is still decent. It’s a little sharper than the 2012 Nexus 7 but isn’t anywhere near as sharp as the 2013 Nexus 7. One interesting point is that the screen is not made of Gorilla Glass so it will be easier to scratch than many high end devices.
The device uses a dual core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor backed up by 1.5 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage (with around 5 GB free), a MicroSD slot. When it comes to networks, the devices comes with 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, WiFi, NFC and Infrared. Everything is powered by a 3,200 mAh battery with a MicroUSB port for charging. It is fully voice capable other than the huge size of the device. It has a pair of cameras, the main one being an 8 Mpixel unit. The Mega runs Samsung’s custom Nature / TouchWiz skin over Android 4.2.2.
Hopefully, readers won’t have immediately disregarded the Mega because it uses a dual core processor rather than a quad-core processor. The reason is almost certainly down to the compromise between cost and performance, with the current generation dual core Snapdragon processors being powerful enough to keep most people happy. Giving it 1.5 GB of memory is an interesting compromise between the 1 GB devices such as the HTC One Mini and the original Nexus 7, and the 2 GB of the Nexus 4, Galaxy Note II and HTC One.
When it comes to running speed, the Galaxy Mega is a mixed bag. It is not a slow handset but some operations cause it to take a moment longer than I would expect. Bringing up the application switcher causes a momentary pause, as does working with some Internet-connected applications such as the Google Play Store. Once you are in an application, the device is smooth and quick: web browsing is fast, Documents-to-Go quickly renders text, presentations and spreadsheet cells. But pulling down on the notification tab or switching between screens in the launcher occasionally causes the device to stutter just for the briefest of moments. I am pointing my finger squarely at Samsung’s Nature or TouchWiz interface. Performance is noticeably poorer when Power Saving mode has been activated.
The camera module appears to be lifted straight from the Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II; it’s good. It’s perhaps not as great as Samsung’s 2013 ‘phones, but it acquits itself well. Any camera that can capture my kitten in such detail deserves a gold star!
I’m also going to write about Samsung’s changes to the Settings menu, where because of the huge number of options, Samsung have seen fit to extend Settings across four tabs. The Mega includes many of the extra features of the S4 including gesture control, eye detection and similar. Some, no actually, most of these features are what I consider to be fluff: with the best will in the world, I am not going to scroll a web page using my eyes, or wave my hands in front of the screen to move around a document until their execution is more reliable. They are not yet at the point where they always work and because of this, I will try to eye scroll a document once, maybe twice, then I’m just going to touch the screen (and disable the feature).
In some respects, the TouchWiz launcher is great: users can customise the order of, uninstall or hide applications right from the home screen. But I wish I could reorder the Settings so I could hide the stuff I don’t need.
In my testing, I’ve found that battery life on the Mega is a mixed bag. When used with the screen in automatic brightness and in brighter environments, battery life is similar to the Nexus 4. I would see an easy twenty four hours from the handset, a little more. Using it with the screen deliberately dimmed extended the battery life by quite a bit, it was much closer to the Nexus 7. In standby, the device shows decent longevity as you’d expect from a modern device, modern operating system and large battery. The device I’m using appears to have a bug in the firmware, which causes the radio to use more battery than I would expect.
Samsung’s included Power Saver mode can be used to help prolong the battery life; it can dim the screen, lower the processor speed and stop the device from vibrating. The Mega feels less responsive in use with Power Saving on and from my testing, it does not make a significant difference to the ‘phone when it is in standby and only a small difference when in use. It is not worth the slower interface.
Unfortunately my carrier sells the Mega with just 8 GB of storage with around 5 GB of space available for the user after the operating system and Samsung’s application suite. Quite simply, this isn’t enough if you want to store any media on the handset. I appreciate that there’s a MicroSD slot but some applications cannot put data onto external memory. And in any event, I am not a huge fan of MicroSD cards, either, because many clients buy the cheapest possible card and then wonder why it fails after a few weeks of use. There’s too much temptation to put a twenty buck expansion card into a device with a sticker price of several hundred dollars.
On that note, I need to throw price into the ring. In the United Kingdom, the 8 GB unlocked model costs around the same as the 32 GB unlocked LTE Nexus 7. With the Mega, you get a voice-capable device that’s slightly smaller and so more portable, a better camera and a replaceable battery, plus expandable storage. With the Nexus 7, you get better battery life, faster hardware, better build quality, five times the local storage and a better screen.
It’s time to put the Mega into perspective and consider it as a productivity tool. On paper, it has the credentials to replace both a normal sized smartphone (my Nexus 4) and a small tablet (my Nexus 7). It still fits into my pocket but has a bigger screen that’s perfect for reading, writing and emailing. Battery life is reasonable, it has all the connectivity we can ask for and it’s reasonably smooth. Samsung do make you suffer some compromises: there’s not a lot of internal storage and you don’t get the bragging rights of the latest and greatest of hardware. Depending on what you need to do on your device, these may not matter.
Overall, I like the Galaxy Mega. It’s more portable than I thought it would be. I would, however, like it a lot more if Samsung had given it 32 GB of storage for my music. And perhaps I’m too used to stock Android but I would like it more if Samsung offered a Play Edition version device.