Since we were the first media to have the Galaxy Mega 6.3 in hand, it’s time to come back for a complete review of this device. As you may know, it is a huge 6.3” device that has been built to provide a “tablet experience”, while still remaining a smartphone. This is not an easy goal, and others like the Huawei Mate have tried before (and kind of flopped). This is a new smartphone category and just like the Note before it, the Galaxy Mega faces many questions, has some staunch critics, but also some die-hard admirers. After using it for one week, I have compiled my experiences with the Mega 6.3 in this review to let you know how it is to use it in a real-world situation. I’ll occasionally compare it to the Galaxy Note, the GS4 and the iPhone 5, not because they are direct competitors, but because chances are that you are familiar with one or all of them. Ready?
Galaxy Mega 6.3 Specification Highlights
|Galaxy Mega 6.3||Galaxy Note 2||LG Optimus G Pro|
|OS||Android 4.2.2||Android 4.1.1||Android 4.1|
|Display Size (“)||6.3||5.5||5.5|
|Display Type||LCD||Super AMOLED||IPS|
|Main chip||Snapdragon 400||Exynos 4412 quad||Snapdragon 600|
|Battery capacity||3200 mAh||3100mAh||3140 mAH|
|Micro SD||Yes (64GB max)||Yes (64GB max)||Yes (64GB Max)|
|Back Camera (MP)||8||8||13|
|Front Camera (MP)||1.9||1.9||2.1|
|Internal Storage (GB)||8||16/32/64||32|
We all use smartphones differently, that’s why it is important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the default email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and I only reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is usually tedious. I go on the web several times a day to check news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much, if at all (maybe 10mn a day).
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I usually don’t play games or use super-intensive apps like video editing. My personal usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know…
The overall idea behind the Galaxy Mega is to produce a fully-featured smartphone that would get as close as possible from a “tablet experience” while still keeping a “phone” feel. Samsung is pitching this as “the best of both world” and users who are not looking at this phone through this prism may have a hard time relating with this unusual form-factor.
The Galaxy Mega is not introduced as a replacement of the Galaxy Note 2. The Note 2 is slightly smaller, and does not have the goal to reproduce a near-“tablet experience”. It is also a higher-end smartphone in terms of specifications and we fully expect the Galaxy Note 3 to be a high-end device equipped with the latest and greatest components available at that moment. Instead, the Mega design aims to be relatively affordable for a device of this size with this level of quality.
When you look at the photos, the size difference is obvious, and it is clear that you will ask whether you can pocket it or not. In my initial preview of the Galaxy Mega, I have already verified that the phone was pocketable in jeans pants (Levis 501 W33L32) despite is impressive size. I can confirm this after using it for about a week, as I had it in my pocket while sitting, driving and working as I normally do. It is clear that you can “feel” the phone at time, and you may even have to turn it slightly, but it isn’t bothersome. You luck may vary depending on your pants – that’s why I gave precise “specs” for mine…
The industrial design is very close to the Galaxy S4’s that we reviewed recently. If you had no frame of reference for its size, you could mistaken it for a Galaxy S4. Among the other differences, note that the button placements have been changed so that they land below one’s fingers. The layout works for both right and left-handed users. While I found the power and volume controls to be adequate, I have hear some people say that they may be a bit too sensitive and prone to accidental presses. It’s a matter of personal preferences probably. It’s hard to know if the phone is sometime turned ON by accident while in my pocket… the battery life graph would suggest that this doesn’t happen.
The back of the Galaxy Mega is nice – in fact, I find it nicer than the dark Galaxy S4. The texture makes the plastic cover look more polishes, and it is less prone to fingerprints, although nothing beats a white phone to hide those. The back cover is removable and so is the battery.
Display (720p but excellent colors)
The enormous (for a smartphone) 6.3” display uses LCD technology instead of AMOLED. I suspect that it may be a bit more expensive, and that the energy requirement for a 6.3” AMOLED display may be more than what Samsung had in mind. The good news is that the display image quality is excellent: the colors look beautiful and the black levels are very good. If you want to get this one for the display — it’s a fine choice.
This LCD display is noticeably brighter than the Galaxy S4’s and can provide excellent readability, even in bright environments. although we ran many battery tests at 50% of the brightness, I’m just about sure that in a plane one could use a 25% brightness setting to watch a movie. This has great repercussions on the battery life.
The bad news is that it is not a 1080p display. It’s true that it won’t look as “sharp” as a Galaxy 4 would, but the display size makes the experience amazing, and with its 233 pixels per inch (ppi), it beats the pixel density of the iPad mini (163 ppi), the Nexus 7 (216 ppi), the Kindle Fire HD (216 ppi) and is just shy of the iPad 3’s (264 ppi). That’s still very good by anyone’s standard.
The advantage of a large screen is that you may not need to remove your glasses in order to take a peek at what’s going on in there. This is a non-negligible advantage that can be compounded by the fact that you can use a bigger font as well. As of late a growing population of older users have switched to large-displays smartphones for this reason and that’s why Samsung has added an “easy” mode where only the essential smartphone functions are visible.
Software (4.2.2 and nearly all the latest from Samsung)
In terms of software, the Galaxy Mega gets Android 4.2.2 and most of the same apps. Maybe a few features are missing when compared to the Galaxy S4, but nothing caught my attention for now. If you want, feel free to ask me to check something for you in the comments. Since the Galaxy Mega also has an infrared emitter, it can be used as a universal remote with Watch On, just like the S4.
Virtual keyboard: despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still say that text-based communication as being the “critical” application for their particular use. That’s why you must *not underestimate* the importance of a good virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely it may get in the way.
The default Samsung keyboard looks pretty standard, with the exception that there are no visible special characters on the keys. It’s a bit unexpected since the S4 and the Note 2 have them, but since we got a Korean handset, it may also be a simple geo-customization, so if this detail is important to you, wait for the official model in your region.
What makes the keyboard particularly interesting on the Mega is its sheer size. Since it is so big, typing on it yields much less typos than it would on a smaller screen/keyboard (at least for me, but it makes sense, right?). If you tried using a typing speed benchmark on a smartphone, you may have noticed that if you concentrate, you can do very well on a small display (3.5”+), but it often require more effort and it’s not always sustainable or desirable. Larger keys allow for a much more relaxed typing experience, so heavy typers tend to like that.
Email (see more data): The galaxy Mega email client is very similar to the one found in the Galaxy S4 (which itself isn’t so different from the Note 2’s..). The biggest “improvement” is that you can see two extra lines of emails from the unified inbox. Two doesn’t sound like much , but out of 7 lines, that’s still 30% more email information and a little bit less scrolling.
I tried to use the “tiny” font size to see if I could get even more text to appear, but it unfortunately didn’t help. On the opposite range, you can use the “huge” font if you would otherwise need glasses to read your emails. With that particular setting, you end up looking at 7 rows of emails (like the GS4) but the titles are extremely legible.
Calendar : The calendar benefits equally from the extra size and out of the box there is more information visible (and legible!) from that particular app. By the way, I recommend using the “Samsung Sans” font, which is a little more compact than the default font. In the end, the extra information is most obvious in the “Week” and “Month” sections of the calendar where things need to be quite compact. Since the S4 has more pixels, Samsung could -in theory- display the exact same view, but since the display is smaller, things may just get too small to be comfortable to read.
Facebook: The Facebook app does not get any particular benefit other than just “being bigger”. The amount of visible data is almost the same and there is nothing particular about it. Overall, I found it to “feel” like the FB app on the Galaxy S4, despite the slower hardware of the Galaxy Mega. I guess that it just doesn’t matter how fast the processor is since Facebook Mobile is mainly network-limited.
Maps (awesome): It is clear that the mapping experience is much better on the Galaxy Mega than on smaller devices. The larger screen always wins: the map is more readable, more street names can appear and overall, it’s just a pleasure to use. Anyone who tried mapping on a tablet can confirm that and this is the same principle at work here.
S Translator is a Samsung app that helps you converse in another language with another person by speaking on a turn by turn basis, or by passing the phone around. I’ve tried it in French, English, some Japanese and a few Korean words, and it does a pretty good job with very simple sentences. After all, this is a machine-translation, so you should setup your expectations properly. That said, at the end of the day it is infinitely better than nothing if you are in country where you don’t speak (or read!) the language (like me in China).
The Easy Mode is for folks who are jumping on the smartphone boat for the first time, or maybe folks who don’t really care about all the “advanced” features of their particular handset. I find this mode particularly suitable for this phone because there is a growing portion of the senior population that buy big smartphone because they can “see” better. And because they may not care about all the bells and whistles that the latest Android can offer, this simplified user interface may do wonders for them.
Obviously, the Samsung Galaxy Mega is a killer device when it comes to multimedia. Just like the Note 2 outclasses most other handsets in this particular domain because of its awesome display, the Galaxy Mega will steal its thunder when it comes to movie playback and photo galleries.
Video (beautiful): the usual .MP4 videos we tried all worked without any problem. Since they are 1080p files, they were easily detailed enough for the 720p display of the Galaxy Mega 6.8. The hardware is fast enough to handle 1080p videos, so the only thing that critics would complain about is the 720p resolution.
Does it matter in the real world? It does, but I would say that pixel density matters much more for photos or text than it does for movies. When you look at static images, it is clear that a higher pixel density is better — there is no question about that. However, the difference is terribly hard to perceive during a movie sequence, especially when you don’t have your nose up the screen. I worked in computer graphics for 12 years, so I consider myself pretty picky. In the end, the bigger screen wins.
In this particular case, I found the image quality to be limited by the Google Play store. I’ve purchased Transformers 3, and I have to report that it does not look as good as our 1080 MP4 test files. I’ve tried both streaming and download (offline).
Gaming (very good+, updated 6/6/2013):
In the first revision of the review, I did mention that high-performance games “may be more difficult” to run for this smartphone since it is using a chip which is at the lower-end of what Qualcomm is offering today. Since there is some real interest in the “gaming” aspect of this smartphone, I have downloaded a good selection of games and I would like to update this section with more real-world data:
Good news, games are FAST > I’ve run Epic Citadel (58FPS), Dead Trigger (mostly 60FPS), Riptide GP (30 to 60FPS) and Real Racing 3 (30FPS solid). As I’ll explain in the paragraph below, the very good framerates are coming from the fact that the game renders in 720p rfesolution (vs 1080p for other smartphones that you may be looking at). My original paragraph:
The question is: does it have a visual quality impact on those games? Well, there is an impact obviously, but the perception depends largely on the game and its graphics. For example, in Real Racing 3 you can see the polygon edges’ pixels pretty clearly at times, while in Dead Trigger this is not noticeable. This will depend on the game’s graphics and general atmosphere, and the level of anti-aliasing used.
There’s a case to be made that the Snapdragon 400 could have a hard time handling games that use a lot of CPU for physics, AI or things like that, when compared to Snapdragon 600 or the Exynos Octa 5 – That’s in theory. However, I have not found a game that won’t run at below 30FPS on the Galaxy Mega 6.3, and the ones listed above are already pretty demanding.
To sum up the gaming experience:
- The CPU power of the Mega 6.3 is less than the S4’s for example, so physics, AI etc *may* run slower. So far, I have not found a game that uses enough CPU to trigger this scenario
- The graphics core (GPU) of the Mega 6.3 isn’t as fast as the S4’s, but since the Mega 6.3 has less pixels to render, the games framerate (in FPS) end up being comparable or better
- The image on the Mega 6.3 will not be as sharp since 1080p smartphones have higher pixel density (in pixels-per-inch or PPI). However, I don’t think that this is a real problem for gamers. Your average game console’s PPI is MUCH lower anyway, so if you’re OK with PC gaming, I can’t imagine that you will complain about the sharpness of the Mega 6.3’s display
Speaker-quality: The loudspeaker produces a high-quality and powerful sound. This is to be expected I guess since there are two challenges to getting great sound from a mobile: 1/get good (and potentially expensive) speakers 2/ have a design that allows enough “air” to circulate to produce a powerful sound. This is extremely hard for small devices like the iPhone 5, but since the Galaxy Mega 6.3 is so big, it has an inherent advantage in this particular area.
Imaging (very good)
In terms of digital imaging quality, the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 finds itself slightly behind the top group that includes the Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5 or the HTC One. During our in-lab tests, we noticed that in bright lighting conditions both Samsung phones did render the scene darker than it really was. It’s not because they cannot “sense” the light, but instead, the white-balance controls have been setup a bit aggressively. The iPhone on the other hand did capture the scene in all its brightness but tends to be slightly over-exposed.
In dim lighting conditions, those phones performed within the same parameters and in most cases, the hardest part is to get them to actually focus on the subject. Again the GS4 and iPhone 5 pull slightly ahead, but in the grand scheme of things the different are a bit subtle on the screen and in web usage (FB, Instagram…). Upon close inspection with a full crop, things get more obvious. Note that in dim lighting the Lumia 9xx series will perform much better than any of the phones previous mentioned – that is, if Windows Phone is an option for you.
The video quality will reflect most of the same properties revealed by our still photography tests. As it stands, the Galaxy Mega 6.3 is very good, but not quite “excellent”. That said, taking pictures with this huge smartphone is a pleasure, but showing them feels even better.
Performance (last-gen performance)
As I said earlier, given that the Galaxy Mega is powered by a Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon 400 chip, there is no question that this smartphone is bound to stay within the mid-range when it comes to synthetic benchmarks. There is no secret, Snapdragon 600 and Samsung’s own Exynos Octa 5 are much faster. Here’s a performance snapshot from this phone:
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance
This synthetic benchmark shows that from a pure horsepower standpoint, the Galaxy Mega 6.3 is closer to a previous-generation smartphone (the Note 2 came out only 7 months ago…). Its dual-core architecture prevents it from scoring high in Antutu, which scales very well with more cores. The interesting point is that it places the Mega 6.3 next to the Galaxy Note 2, which is not a bad thing at all.
GLBenchmark 2.5, offscreen 1080p: this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…). This test seems particularly sensitive to the number of triangles that can be processed per second.
BaseMark X graphics benchmark: this is another game-oriented benchmark that we think is more balanced between triangles and pixel shading, and is probably closer to what games with advanced shaders will do.
In terms of graphics performance, both GLBenchmark 2.5 and BaseMark X show a little more than 50% performance difference (lower) when compared to Samsung’s best: the Galaxy S4. This is exactly what I was expecting, and this is probably one of the reason why the Galaxy Mega comes with a 720p display. Since it has 50% less pixels to manage, the Mega 6.3 is nearly as fast as the S4 if you measure by “frames per second” (FPS).
GeekBench 2: Geekbench tends to focus on synthetic floating point calculation performance rather than multi-core scalability. This is a good measure for general computing and generating accurate physics in games.
In terms of “math” performance, the Mega 6.3 can compete with phones like the XPERIA Z that were announced just at CES 2013. However, it is clear that everything that was announced since Mobile World Congress 2013 uses a Snapdragon 600 and above and will have it outclassed. It can be important if you run apps that require more computations like photo editing, games and things like that. Otherwise, you still have a fairly fast phone which can outrank the iPhone 5 in this benchmark. Not an olympic record, but still a very decent frame of reference.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
Overall, I find the Galaxy Mega 6.3 to perform better than expected. After analysis, it makes sense that it does well, since most phones equipped with similar hardware were already showing solid signs of fluid user interface etc. The latest evolution of H1 2013 has been mainly geared towards higher peak performance numbers that many users will need in computationally expensive apps. Clearly, the Galaxy Mega is not designed to address that market.
Battery life (Excellent)
With an overnight battery depletion (8h) of about 3%, the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 should have ample standby time. This is very important because most of the time, your phone does nothing but sitting in the background and synchronizing with various types of data. This depends on what apps you have installed, but email and social media notifications are the main items for me.
In term of video playback, the Galaxy Mega can play a streaming video (from Google Play, 50% brightness, over WIFI) during 60mn while using about 13% of the battery capacity. This is excellent, and would mean that a theoretical 7.5 hours of streaming video playback is possible. With local video playback, we’re talking about 12% of battery per 60mns of video, so it’s just about the same.
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.
At the moment, the only real unknown is the cellular network power usage. Since we have a Korean unit, we can’t really test the local U.S networks in real-world conditions. So far, we managed to connect to AT&T with HSPA+ and we suspect that the Mega 6.3 will perform just as well as other Samsung smartphones. I just wanted to point out that we’ll need to double-check when we get our hands on a branded unit from a US carrier.
Why not use a 7″ tablet?
This is a question that we are getting often, and since the excellent Nexus 7 2013 tablet has been released, this is more relevant than ever. First of all, I have to point out that the user experience between a 7″ tablet and the Galaxy Mega 6.3 is radically different. I know that 6.3″ and 7″ seem close on paper, but trust me: the Mega 6.3 has a “phone experience”, while the Nexus 7 has a “tablet experience”. This is fundamentally different no matter how you look at it. Here is a photo of both devices next to each other:
Depending on your own needs, you may want to pick one or the other, but thinking that they are basically interchangeable would lead you to act based on the wrong information. Here’s how I see it: if you want a single device that does the job of both, the Mega 6.3 gets the job done nicely but it is a bit smaller and 2X more expensive. If you want something cheaper are are ready to carry (and buy!) a second device, then the Nexus 7 is a great option.
Conclusion (Very good+, unique)
As we took a deep look inside the usage model of the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, we have been able to clarify nearly most important questions raised after our initial hands-on experience a couple of months ago. First of all, the decision of getting the Galaxy Mega should be driven by the form-factor which is the single most important differentiator for this handset. If you don’t like BIG phones, this is most definitely not for you.
Next, I suppose that folks will ask how it compares to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy S4. The Mega 6.3 is actually very comparable to the Galaxy Note 2 when it comes to synthetic performance. Despite using a dual-core SoC, the Mega 6.3 gets near identical scores across benchmarks. The question then becomes: do you want something bigger than the Note 2? If you were ready for a Note 2, but feel like the extra 0.8” of display would make your experience better, go for it. You’re not leaving anything on the table. Galaxy S4 prospect users should choose between a sharper screen and faster theoretical performance and the comfort of a huge display. If you ask about the Galaxy Note 3, I don’t expect it to be 6.3” big.
The bottom-line: if you want to carry a single device that provides “tablet-level” comfort and smartphone-level utility and reliability, the Galaxy Mega 6.3 ($530, street price) is the best such device today. Right now, the Galaxy Mega 6.3 is simply unchallenged in this new category of smartphones.