For a phone that's all screen, you'd expect the enormous 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega to dazzle. It certainly joins mammoth smartphones like the Galaxy Note 2, LG G2, Huawei Ascend Mate, and Sony Xperia Z Ultra as an option for people who would rather own one large device than a phone and a tablet. However, the Mega's only-720p HD resolution simply doesn't support its vast display.
Absurdly large and not very portable, the Android 4.2 Mega -- for AT&T, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular -- is nevertheless the right size and price for a bridge device; that is, a large smartphone that can also satisfy a tabletlike viewing experience. What's more, the Mega's lower price point ($149.99 with an AT&T contract) makes it a highly affordable option for people who can live with the handset's midgrade specs.
Phablet lovers seeking more productivity features, like a stylus, should hold out for Samsung's more advanced Galaxy Note 3, expected to debut September 4 with double the Mega's price tag.
Design and build
If you've seen Samsung's Galaxy S4, then you've seen the Mega, which simply looks like an overfed version of Samsung's marquee phone, down to the rounded corners, steeper metallic-styled sides, spines, patterned black/gray plastic finish, and rectangular home button. It's big, really big, and confusing the issue are the phone's two global sizes, the 5.8-inch version and the even larger 6.3-inch model I reviewed here.
Luckily, the Mega 6.3's total dimensions -- 6.6 inches tall by 3.5 inches wide by 0.3 inch (167.6mm x 88mm x 8mm) -- are proportional. Its slimness keeps it from being too thick and brutish, but it still looks comically large in my hands...for a phone. The curse of a bridge device like this is that a tablet would have to be inches larger to cross the line into mammoth territory, but by smartphone standards, the Mega is a gigantor that looks and feels ridiculous in the hand, on the ear, and in the pocket.
Like the S4, the Mega's glossy form helps it slide into pockets. Unfortunately, it only fits halfway into mine, awkwardly and uncomfortably protruding from the top. I passed it around to coworkers and friends for their consideration. Men and women both noted the Mega's overgrown size and tight pocket fit, though it really depends on how deep and tight your pockets are.
Screen size is this handset's major trade-off. The Mega's 6.3-inch Super Clear LCD display undeniably makes Web sites easier to read (less squinting and neck craning!), especially in full desktop view, and I found myself reaching for it more often than the competition when I wanted to read longer articles and watch videos like movie trailers.
Sometimes you'll even get the option to view apps' tablet versions, like the Google Maps and Amazon apps. Other times, titles don't scale at all, and you'll see small size programs bordered by a big black frame, which were clearly intended for smaller screens. Ditto some app icons, which appear slightly fuzzy. For reference, the Galaxy S4 flagship has a pixel density of 441 pixel per inch (ppi); the Mega, by contrast surfaces a 233 ppi. It makes a difference.
That lower screen resolution is a noticeable hit -- just 720p HD (1,280x720 pixels) versus the 1080p HD (1,920x1,080) we see on many premium phones with 5-inch screens and above. Most native icons scale to continue looking crisp on the Mega's display, and Web sites look fine, even better than OK since there's a lot of room to read full desktop and mobile Web pages alike. Yet hold the Mega next to a phone with a higher-resolution display (even another LCD like the HTC One or iPhone 5) and you'll see that the same streaming video has much more detail, richer color, and a lot less noise than on the Mega.
Moving on to exterior controls, the Mega has a physical home button sandwiched between capacitive controls for the menu and Back button. Menu and home buttons also control Google Now/Voice actions, recent apps, and S Voice.
Buttons and ports include standard microUSB charging and a headset jack, the power/lock button, a slim volume rocker, and an IR blaster for controlling the TV on the phone's four spines. You'll find the 8-megapixel camera lens on the back, coupled with an LED flash. Below the thin plastic backing is the phone's double decker SIM card/microSD card slot.
OS and features
Like its Galaxy brethren, the Mega runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung's newest custom Touch Wiz layer on top. With this you get Android's multiple home screens, and an expanded quick settings menu when you pull down the notifications tray (pro tip: pull down with two fingers to get directly to the toggles).
Samsung's customized interface also brings with it a raft of additional features integrated into the settings, like S Beam, Samsung's take on NFC sharing, and lots of tools to share data with other devices like your TV, laptop, and tablet.
You can while away some good time personalizing the lock screen and its short cuts, wallpaper, even LED indicator lights. There's a call-blocking mode that can turn off a range of notifications and ignore most contacts for certain stretches of time. You'll also find driving mode, air view (which previews photos, etc., when you hover your finger,) smart screen, voice controls, and a squadron of gestures.
The customizable browser bar contains shortcuts for sharing Web pages through social networks; it comes with the default browser, but can also add to others, say Chrome. I found that it often got in the way, even though you can swipe it closed.
In an effort to keep the Mega from being so unwieldy, certain controls for one-handed operation can shrink the keyboard, dialer, and calculator and shove them to one side to make the phone easier to operate with fewer digits, but people with smaller mitts will still find the Mega hard to handle even with these concessions -- I did, anyhow.
There's Wi-Fi on the Mega, plus Bluetooth, GPS, and essential personal tools like a calendar, a calculator, and all the rest, plus Google apps like Maps, search, and more. You also have unrestricted access to the entire Google Play library of apps and entertainment.
Carrier preloads are plentiful on the Mega; these will vary, but expect partner apps and account management tools. You will, however, see Samsung apps across the board like the Watch On app for controlling your TV, S Voice, S Memo, S Translator, some featured hubs, and Blurb's Story Album.
Cameras and video
The Mega's 8-megapixel camera has continuous autofocus, an LED flash, and Samsung's latest layout for more easily turning on features like voice dictation to take a snap ("Cheese!") and arrows in obvious places to switch camera modes and select filters. Deeper in the settings are resolution choices, white balance presets, the self-timer function, and all the rest.