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Samsung Galaxy Mega review: A smartphone with an identity crisis

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Large-screen handsets are all the rage right now, and that's just as well for Samsung considering the size of the latest addition to its Galaxy range.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega is yet another derivative of the popular Galaxy S4 smartphone, and the largest entry in the South Korean manufacturer's flagship line.

With a 6.3-inch display on board, the device is an absolute behemoth - but is this a case of bigger being better or a step too far?

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



Hardware and Design

The 4G-ready Galaxy Mega is essentially a gigantic version of the Galaxy S4, built from the same blueprint using larger materials.

Expect the same nearly-edge-to-edge display dominating the front of the handset, with a physical home button on the rear, and that flimsy polycarbonate casing that has long been one of the biggest drawbacks of the Galaxy line.

Measuring in at 168x88x8mm, the Galaxy Mega is almost big enough to star in a remake of Trigger Happy TV, and this comes with both advantages and impediments.

The tablet-like display is fantastic for viewing video footage and photographs, surfing the web, and composing emails or text messages, with the larger virtual keyboard minimising the margin for typing errors.

However, it's ill-advised to carry this thing around in your pocket. While 199g isn't exactly paperweight proportions, its sheer size severely limits its portability, and we were shot some questioning looks from passersby when making calls in public.

Running off a 1.7GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM, the Galaxy Mega packs similar specs to the much smaller Galaxy S4 Mini, but these internals have their work cut out powering a larger screen with a higher resolution.

However, the performance is only marginally slower, with some apps stuttering for a mere second before loading up, and data-heavy websites showing evidence of relative lag.

Surprisingly, this lag doesn't extend to 3D gaming, as we ran the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3 and the N.O.V.A. titles without any issues - and they looked great on the hefty screen.

It goes without saying that a phone with a display this size is a glutton for battery power, so it is fortunate that Samsung has equipped it with a 3200mAh power cell. This adds some unwanted weight, but that's a small price to pay for an entire day of power amid heavy usage.

We were also impressed with the handset's built-in speaker, located towards the bottom-left of its rear. It may not be the stereo offering found on some Android devices, but it strikes a balance between volume and clarity.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



Camera

The Galaxy Mega's camera specs are also on par with the Galaxy S4 Mini's, with an 8-megapixel camera on the rear and a 1.9-megapixel shooter on the front.

While the gulf between the device's main shooter and its 13-megapixel counterpart on the Galaxy S4 is apparent on the large display, it is still capable of producing results.

Photographic output is typical of mid-range Galaxy products - heavily-processed imagery that is high in contrast, but somewhat unnatural-looking under close scrutiny. This will suffice for everyday usage, but the Galaxy Mega is not one for the hardcore photography enthusiasts.

Macro performance is fair, though the rear camera does struggle to capture objects any closer than 15cm away with any real clarity, and users will have no choice but to call on the single-LED flash in low-lit conditions.

A broad range of software features boosts performance considerably, with shooting modes including high dynamic range and continuous shot burst proving useful in certain conditions, and filters such as Solarise and Vintage adding some welcome flare.

The Galaxy Mega is capable of shooting video in 1080p, and comes with a range of in-app bonuses that enhance the recording process. Mid-capture touch focusing and autofocus serve to fine tune the footage captures, while software stabilisation minimises judder.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



User interface and Software

The device runs the same software combination as other recent additions to the Galaxy range, with Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system and Samsung's TouchWiz overlay coming pre-installed.

This combination has served users well in the past, with Jelly Bean's Project Butter ensuring a zippy performance and TouchWiz providing a unique set of widgets and customisation options.

As we previously mentioned, the operating system is marginally slower than for the standard Galaxy S4, but the level of lag when carrying out basic tasks is minimal - an impressive feat considering lesser hardware is powering a larger screen.

Some of Samsung's gimmicky software from the Galaxy S4 has made the jump to the Galaxy Mega, such as Smart Stay - which uses the front-facing camera to detect whether the user is looking at the screen - and the gesture control-enhancing Palm Motion.

Other Galaxy S4 features such as Smart Scroll - which lets users scroll through a page of text using their peepers - have been jettisoned, but some concessions were to be expected.

The demands of the pre-installed software leave users with little more than 5GB of the Galaxy Mega's 8GB of on-board storage to play with, so you won't get very far without a microSD card.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



Movies and Music

The Galaxy Mega's humongous display comes with a 1280 x 720-pixel resolution and pixel density of 233ppi, which make it well-equipped for handling video content.

These specs may pale in comparison to the Galaxy S4's 1080 x 1920 pixels and 441ppi on paper, but in practice, the difference in sharpness is only apparent under close scrutiny.

The extra screen real estate makes the Galaxy Mega a joy to watch video footage on, whether we are talking feature films or YouTube clips. Imagery is bright and clear, and colours almost as rich as they appear on the Galaxy S4.

That built-in speaker grille we spoke highly of earlier further enhances the media playback experience, making headphones more of a bonus than a necessity. Output is slightly tinny at higher volumes, but you get more clout here than smartphones traditionally provide.

Users are spoilt for choice when it comes to music software, with Samsung's default Music player and Google's Play Music on board - both of which more than cater for the needs of the majority - plus there are countless alternatives in stock on Google Play.

However, the Galaxy Mega's potential as a music player is hampered by its size. You wouldn't want this thing strapped to your wrist arm while exercising at the gym, and those who plan on carrying it around for extended periods are going to need spacious pockets.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



The Competition

The Galaxy Mega is a solid choice for customers who value screen size above all else, but it isn't the only giant-sized handset on the market.

Sony's 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra is similarly proportioned, but comes with the specs to match. It is powered by an impressive 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and comes with a Full HD screen resolution.

However, customers can expect to pay at least £100 extra for this specs boost, so the Galaxy Mega is a less costly alternative to the Sony powerhouse at around £450 SIM-free.

Those in the market for a super-sized handset might even want to hang fire for the inbound HTC One Max, especially if they are after a device with a superior build quality to the plastic-cased Galaxy Mega.

HTC will unveil its new smartphone at next month's IFA tradeshow in Berlin, where new battle lines at this end of the market will be drawn.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone

© Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone



The Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Mega is the perfect handset for users whose first priority is watching movies and playing video games, with such content thriving on that 6.3-inch display.

However, its gargantuan proportions make a mockery of the term mobile phone, and this lack of pocketability is a major drawback. If your needs are limited to making calls, social networking and listening to music, this is not the handset for you.

Everything from the device's camera to its basic performance is laudable, but the Galaxy Mega is a product with an identity crisis that isn't quite up to the task of replacing both your tablet and smartphone.

Thanks to three for loaning us the phone for review purposes.


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