With a 6.3-inch screen, Samsung's ginormous Galaxy Mega smartphone verges on the absurd. And it's further evidence that Samsung won't rest until it has a mobile device of every conceivable size and shape, the accepted conventions of smartphone ergonomics be damned.
How big is too big? When do we, as consumers, step in and stop this maddening inflation of screen dimensions? Samsung has ignored the pleas of the rational by adding yet another model to its already saturated phone lineup. And with chassis dimensions that come perilously close to those of tablets such as the Nexus 7, it's aiming to fill a niche that doesn't exist.
A phone made for giant pants
At 6.59 by 3.46 by 0.31 inches, the Galaxy Mega is bigger than both the LG Optimus G Pro and Samsung's own Galaxy Note II. If you wear skinny jeans, or anything smaller than giant man pants, you will struggle to get the Mega fully inside your pocket. And if you have small fingers, as I do, you'll find yourself constantly cradling the Mega with both hands so that it doesn't slip out. This isn't a phone that you can hold discreetly, or comfortably use one-handed. Dialing a number or replying to a text message with just your thumb is a challenge, and in my tests I often hit a button I didn't mean to.
The Mega features the same plastic chassis and bezel, the same removable backing that gives access to the battery pack and MicroSD slot, and the same button placement as the Galaxy S4. It's a little less than an ounce heavier than the Note II. But unlike with those two devices, you might feel awkward making a phone call with the Mega against your ear.
It performs like a tablet
The Galaxy Mega lacks a 1080p screen, which bodes well for battery life but feels like a missed opportunity on a device this size. Reading articles and watching movies on the 6.3-inch, 233-pixels-per-inch, 1280-by-720 display is pleasant, but the colors aren't as vivid as those on the second-gen Nexus 7. The Galaxy Mega also lacks Samsung's signature S Pen stylus--a shame for a screen this big, as the Mega could serve well for sketching.
Considering that Samsung is usually current with mobile-industry hardware trends, the Mega's midrange components are unfortunate. Inside, it has a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1.5GB of RAM.
Initially, in tests the Mega didn't perform like a midrange phone--it switched from the Amazon Kindle app to a game and then on to email without any lag. But then I discovered its Achilles' heel: The Mega runs the latest version of Samsung's interface overlay, TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0, and while it's faster and more responsive than previous iterations, the phone's dual-core processor reveals its shortcomings in the form of slight lag as you cycle through home screens. This lag will likely get even slower as Samsung pushes forth more software updates.
Camera performance on the Mega's 8-megapixel rear sensor and 1.9-megapixel front-facing sensor is merely acceptable. Zoom produces blurry lines, while videos come out shaky. White balance and color aren't always accurate, but it's never a problem that a few touch-ups can't fix. Samsung also packs the phone with settings for low-light situations and making Cinemagram-style animated images. The biggest roadblock for taking photos with the Galaxy Mega is its large size, as your subjects might lump you into the same category as that annoying guy who takes photos with his iPad.
In battery life, the Mega is impressive, lasting longer than many of its competitors. During anecdotal testing with power-saving mode engaged, its 3200-mAh battery survived for an entire weekend without needing a charge. Our official battery tests stated otherwise, though: The Mega managed only 10 hours of constant streaming video before it petered out. That's about an hour less than the results of our previous tests with the Galaxy Note II. The Note II had a similar-sized 3100-mAh battery pack, but it was running the less resource-intensive Android 4.1 with Samsung's last version of its TouchWiz overlay.
I mentioned that you'll look silly making phone calls with this device, but call quality is clear, and you can turn up the sound loud enough to hear it over a noisy car ride. The Mega also makes a pretty decent music speaker if you're in a quiet area.
For the uninitiated, Samsung's TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 is the cartoony, blue-hued interface that Samsung overlays on top of Android. Although it's perfectly functional, it is not aesthetically pleasing. It can also be a bit of a pain to work with if you're used to stock Android, since you'll have to get accustomed to flipped hardware buttons, a segregated Settings menu, and extra features like AirView and Smart Screen that are mostly marketing ploys. Samsung has included its own Samsung Apps store, meant to steer you away from aquiring apps through Google Play. You don't have to use it, but you can't remove it either.
To its credit, TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 isn't all bad: The interface is manageable, and sometimes it goes a step further with its offerings than Google does with stock Android. The applications drawer, for instance, provides additional settings for creating folders, completely removing applications from the system, and hiding those extra apps you can't completely remove. It also has extra widgets, ready and waiting, that you would otherwise have to download from the Google Play store.
The Galaxy Mega's size and reasonable $150 (on contract) price might work for a student looking to cram a phone and a tablet into a very tight hardware budget. But unless Samsung manages to carve out its own niche market for absurdly big phones, I can't see the Galaxy Mega making waves. In the end, it guarantees that Samsung has a smartphone of every single size imaginable--but is that a good enough reason to unleash yet another phone into the wild?