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posted: 9/7/2013 7:00 AM

Review: Samsung's Galaxy Mega is a lumbering giant

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  • The Samsung Corp. Galaxy Mega phone is displayed for a photograph in San Francisco. The idea behind the Mega is that you can replace two devices, phone and tablet, with one.

    The Samsung Corp. Galaxy Mega phone is displayed for a photograph in San Francisco. The idea behind the Mega is that you can replace two devices, phone and tablet, with one.

By Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg

The most common reaction to Samsung's new Galaxy Mega smartphone may be: You've got to be kidding.

The Mega is a phone in only the loosest sense of the word. True, it runs Google's Android operating system, has a built-in microphone and speaker and connects to AT&T's voice network as well as its high-speed LTE data service.

But it's huge. Enormous. It's impossible to operate comfortably with one hand, and trying to use it the way most people use a smartphone is akin to holding a picture frame up to your ear.

Samsung has been expanding -- in a literal sense -- the definition of a smartphone. Its flagship Galaxy S4 has a five- inch screen, while the original Galaxy Note helped invent the "phablet" category with its even larger 5.3-inch display, plus a stylus for scrawling quick notes. The newest version, the just-announced Galaxy Note 3, measures 5.7 inches.

The Mega dwarfs them all. It has a 6.3-inch display, measures 6.6 inches tall by 3.46 inches wide, and weighs 7.02 ounces. That's not bad for a tablet, but it's a lot for a phone. By way of comparison, the S4 is 4.6 ounces, while Apple's iPhone 5 is 3.95 ounces.

The idea behind the Mega is that you can replace two devices -- phone and tablet -- with one. But let's face it: You look ridiculous holding it up to your ear. The Mega should only be used with a headset, yet it comes without so much as a pair of cheap earbuds.

More Drawbacks

There are other drawbacks as well. You might think Samsung would want to match the phone's mega-size with mega-performance. Instead, it's gone in the other direction.

While the company is capable of making stunning displays, the Mega's isn't among them. Its resolution is 1280 by 720 pixels, or 233 pixels per inch, compared to the S4's 1920 by 1280, or 441 per inch.

Movies looked OK on the Mega except for a faint bluish tinge in "Marvel's The Avengers" and a couple of other flicks. E-books looked fine on it, but I found the text on some websites to be less crisp than I prefer.

Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 microprocessor, a less powerful version of the one used in the S4. It makes the Mega feel a bit sluggish when you're doing things like scrolling between home screens or launching apps.

The phone, which AT&T is selling for $150 on a two-year contract, comes with 16 gigabytes of onboard storage, but the removable plastic back does include a slot for a microSD card if you want to expand its capacity. Sprint and US Cellular have also said they'll offer the Mega.

Big Battery

One of the main advantages of a phone this large is its enormous battery. It easily got through a full day of normal to heavy use, and with a little smart management I bet I could get through close to two.

There's a decent if uninspiring 8-megapixel camera. It's accompanied by the same camera app Samsung uses on the Galaxy S4, minus a few functions. Other features and apps have also come over from the S4, such as Air View, which allows you to preview a message or calendar item by hovering your finger above the screen.

As on its smaller sibling, several of these are neat in theory but don't always work well. The same is true for S Voice, Samsung's less-effective version of Apple's Siri.

The Mega also comes with software for playing Samsung- purchased videos and music that compete with Android's built-in players and Google Play store, and a half-dozen proprietary apps larded on by AT&T.

The move toward ever-larger smartphones isn't exclusive to Samsung. Sony, for instance, recently announced a 6.4-inch model called the Xperia Z Ultra. But at least its leviathan boasts a high-end screen, powerful processor and waterproofing.

The Galaxy Mega, though, is a clumsy, lumbering giant.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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