Never mind that the Samsung Galaxy Beam shoots 720p HD video or has a bright yellowjacket design. The one reason you're reading this is because of the quirky smartphone's capability to literally project the contents of your phone onto the nearest available surface. Your curiosity is justified. This is the first we've seen a pico projector in a finished commercial product in a long time, and the most important question on your mind is how well the standout feature works.
As usual, there's a short answer and a long answer. The bottom line is that the projector works well when you're beaming it in a dark environment on a light-colored surface. The quality isn't going to be as strong or last as long as a dedicated standalone projector, but you shouldn't expect it to. That said, when the novelty wears off, there are still controls that could improve the projection process and make it more practical for daily use, if one were really ever to use it that often.
At the end of the day, the phone is still a phone, and it's one that delivers a high software and hardware standard. Overall, Samsung did a nice job with this phone because it successfully integrates a technologically challenging component without compromising the rest of the phone features, the ones that any smartphone owner will ultimately use most.
I'll just go right ahead and tell you what you want to know: the pico projector lens sits on the top of the Galaxy Beam so it can shine the phone's contents straight out, like a flashlight. The beam is bright (which you can control) and although the module is large enough to make the phone look like it got a goose egg from a bad fall, it doesn't swell the phone's silhouette too much.
The handset is on the thicker and heavier side to accomodate the extra hardware and the larger battery (2,000mAh). I'd call it hefty and sturdy, but it's not quite a beast. The Beam measures 4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick (it's wider at the projector). At 5.1 ounces, it feels heavy by today's standards, but it isn't any heavier than an iPhone 4S (4.9 ounces) in a case.
Samsung is going with that sporty, semirugged look and feel in the goldenrod rim that also colors the plastic beneath the back cover. The back cover itself has a grippy, lightly textured surface with a very comfortable soft-touch finish.
The Galaxy Beam features a 4-inch Super AMOLED display with a 800x480-pixel (WVGA) resolution. Super AMOLED screens are known for their pop of color even when the phone is at more conservative brightness levels. On automatic brightness, the colors looked rich and the details looked sharp.
Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread is loaded onto the Beam by default. Samsung's custom TouchWiz interface rides on top of that, giving you access to Samsung's widgets and its seven customizable home screens with thumbnail overview page, and one-touch access to system settings like GPS, Wi-Fi, and airplane mode.
Below the phone's screen is a physical navigation button that does triple duty as the home button, the shortcut to the task manager, and as a way to call up voice commands. I find it overly narrow, but still functional, and I personally enjoy this button, which also makes an appearance on all versions of the Samsung Galaxy S3. Flanking the home button are touch-sensitive controls for the menu and back buttons. They light up when you touch them and fade away after a few seconds.
Samsung has chosen to place all its storage slots above the battery cover, most likely to fit in the larger battery and projector module without further thickening the phone. You'll find the microSD card slot, power button, and projector button on the right spine. The SIM card slot, volume rocker, and 3.5mm headset jack are on the left. On the bottom is the Micro-USB charging port, which I always find an awkward location when I'm trying to use the phone while it's charging.
The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and its LED flash make an appearance below the projection unit on the back cover, and there's a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera in the upper left of the phone's face.
The Galaxy Beam isn't Samsung's first stab at a projector phone; it's the company's third, behind the more mundanely named Haptic Beam and the AMOLED Beam. However, it is the first Android phone with this capability, and the first to leave the Asian continent.
The thought of sticking a projector into a smartphone has captured many an imagination. It's cheaper, lighter, and more convenient than buying and hauling a standalone projector unit, especially for business trips. However, Samsung sees other applications as well, like hosting an impromptu movie night; sharing photos on the device; and projecting images, like the night sky onto the ceiling of a child's room, or beaming branding materials onto walls at a concert or an event.
The Texas Instruments-made DLP (digital light projector) has a brightness of 15 lumens and display images up to 50 inches wide at a 640x360-pixel resolution. Turn on the projector by pressing and holding the button on the right spine. In addition to activating the beam, the action triggers an app that lets you adjust the focus of the image, rotate 90 degrees, or launch the "quick pad" tool bar that lets you annotate with pen or drag around a pointer.
You can get more granular by opening the more in-depth DLP app. You'll have the same access to focus and rotation, and to the quick pad, but you'll also be able to project whatever's in the camera's eye by using the "visual presenter." That tool lets you set up the phone over various documents or other 3D objects and demonstrate them through the projection. Something called ambience mode can be set to play an image and song of your choice for minutes or hours. You can also program a flashlight or blinking colored light, and can set a reminder to begin a presentation. Brightness, screen time-out, and screen orientation are adjustable from the settings. Almost everything I wanted to present looked better in fixed landscape mode, but there's auto and portrait as well.
I tested video playback and slideshow modes on my white bedroom wall (and ceiling), by placing the phone on a dresser while playing back a video in the darkened room. Video playback was good in that scenario, and the Beam's sound was sufficient. However, other situations may call for pairing with more powerful Bluetooth speakers. You're going to get the best image from the darkest environment and beaming onto a light surface. The light required to shoot the photos and videos we took of the Beam interfere with the projection quality, so just keep that in mind as you go through this review.
Projecting photos on the wall worked fairly well, as long as all you're trying to do is tell a story and not bear down into specific details. Since it's summer at the time of this review, showing a movie in the backyard or reviewing the day's hiking photos at night sounds like a good way to wind down and entertain, either at home or on a trip.
I also tested the presentation-giving capabilities on the projection screen of a CNET conference room. This is where the DLP app is meant to shine, but it's where I discovered the app's biggest holes. The projector beamed light just fine, but there wasn't enough software support to give a thorough presentation. I created a presentation with Google Docs, which I opened through Google Drive, and a much more basic presentation with the preloaded Polaris Office app. Both looked better in landscape mode, but the Google Drive presentation never went full screen, and I couldn't seamlessly or directly open or play rich content like an embedded video.
The more graphically limited Polaris Office is much closer to true presentation mode; I'd like to see the app automatically facilitate presentation mode for common presentation formats. In addition, the app more jerkily hops from one task to another. For instance, you can't simply toggle off the annotation quick pad mid-presentation, you have to navigate out with the back button. There's also no shortcut to the presentation app from the navigation tray, so you'll have to reopen the app to do anything else.
So, there are other ways to achieve most things you'd want to do with a projector -- some better than others -- but does the physical projector do what it promises? Yes. Now it would be great to get some software backup to make the hardware even more useful.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread gives the Samsung's Galaxy Beam life as a smartphone, with the standard-issue Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, mapping, search, and communication features for text, e-mail, and multimedia messaging. Google's services like voice Navigation, Places, and YouTube help define it as an Android phone, and there are the basics like a browser, a clock, a calendar, a calculator, and a music player. The Galaxy Beam has Swype as a virtual keyboard option.
Samsung's app contributions include its usual apps for sharing content across DLNA devices (AllShare) and wirelessly between the computer and phone (Kies Air, in the Settings.) There are also the social networking app ChatOn, a photo editor, and Samsung hubs (apps, games, social.) In addition, you'll find a memo app, Mini Diary, and the aforementioned Polaris Office. I'm a big fan of any phone that includes an FM radio, as this one does.
If you prefer to speak instead of tap, you'll have your choice in the phone settings of two different voice command services -- Google's Android voice actions, and Samsung's Vlingo-powered take (this is not marketed as S Voice.) The phone will also work as a portable hot spot, and includes Samsung's most basic motion controls, which do things like mute the phone when you turn it over. Phones like the Galaxy S3 have a deeper bench of motion options.