What is the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3?

The Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 is part of a new breed of phones. Or is it a new breed of tablet? Anyhow these are phones so big that they bulge out of any pocket. Phones so massive that holding them is a tendon exercise by itself.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega doesn’t have the high-grade specs of the Galaxy S4 either. At £450 or so it's pretty pricy. The Galaxy Mega is likely to please giant _phone_ obsessives only, and even then there may be more attractive options.

Watch the Samsung Galaxy Mega video review:

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Design

Just like the rest of the Galaxy series, the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 it runs the Android OS.

It looks like an Galaxy S4 on growth hormones - just as plasticky but much larger. The Galaxy Mega has a 6.3-inch screen. Samsung also makes a slightly smaller 5.8-inch version of the Mega, which sells for around £100 less.

The display is much larger than the Galaxy Note 2’s screen, and that smaller device already had us discussing whether it was a _phone_ or a tablet. The Galaxy Mega’s size issue is something that will put off a lot of buyers, but it is the entire reason for phone to exist. It’s the Godzilla of phones – although the Sony Xperia Z Ultra with its 6.4-inch screen looks like it might be Mechagodzilla.


The Galaxy Mega is 167mm long and 88mm wide. That’s almost two centimetres wider than a Galaxy S4. For the vast majority of people this is a handful and a half, and it has pretty significant practical knock-on effects.

Using the phone in one hand tends to feel a little clumsy, awkward and precarious. Your thumb has to stretch to reach most of the screen, and much of it is simply too far away to reach at all. This not only makes the phone harder to wield, but also a bit easier to drop.

The large size has negative effects on the feel of the phone too. Like its Galaxy brothers, the rear of the Galaxy Mega is covered by a removable plastic battery plate. It’s a super-slim piece of plastic that helps the phone to stay a super slim 8mm thick. It appears to be about as thick as the cover used in the Galaxy S4, but as it’s even larger, its flex is all the more apparent.
 
Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 18


Looks-wise, the Mega is pure Samsung Galaxy. It’s thin, has a fairly slim screen bezel and a pair of innocuous light-up soft keys that surround the bottom select key.

Thanks to its plastic construction, the Samsung Galaxy Mega is not a phone that feels super high-end. However, there are some practical benefits to its design, and the dotty texture on both the front and rear stop it looking like a basic glossy plastic phone.

Its removable rear gives you access to the chunky battery unit and a memory card slot. As a phone that we can envision many people using as a portable movie player, having expandable storage is an important extra.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega does have a decent chunk of internal memory of its own – 16/32/64GB editions are out there, but in the UK most retailers are stocking the lowest-end 16GB edition.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 19

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Screen

Its screen makes the phone quite difficult to use, but does the quality of the Samsung Galaxy Mega display make up for it?

The Galaxy Mega’s screen makes less of an impact in this respect than the Galaxy S4’s. It’s huge, yes, but in quality terms it’s not quite up there with the very best.

It has a 720p-resolution panel, where smaller phones are starting to use 1080p screens. Its display is not a blocky mess – it’s reasonably sharp - but far removed from the pristine smoothness of an ultra-high pixel density display.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 14

Confirmed: larger than The Shard

The S-LCD panel doesn’t have quite the black depth and contrast of the Galaxy S4’s OLED screen either, and at high brightness settings colours can look slightly washed out.

When not assessed among top-end peers, though, it fares better. The Galaxy Mega screen may be a slight case of quantity over quality, but it is still good.

As with the Galaxy S4, you can change the tone of the screen within settings for a more saturated or cool look – however as the phone uses an LCD screen rather than the OLED type, there’s much less need for this feature.

There’s an ambient light sensor that lets the phone manage both contrast and brightness depending on the light conditions. Thanks to this and the fingerprint-resistant layer of the screen, outdoor visibility is reasonably good – although not on-par with the Galaxy S4.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Software

The Samsung Galaxy Mega runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, with the usual Samsung TouchWiz interface laid on top. Consequently, it looks and feels almost identical to the other high-end Galaxy phones, including the Galaxy S4 and the S4 Zoom.

It can do everything any other Android phone can, with full access to the Google Play app store and home screens you can customise like any other. However, if you’re expecting the Galaxy Mega’s screen to give you access to more things per screen, you’ll be disappointed.


It merely blows up what you’d see on a smaller screen, resulting in jumbo-sized icons that help to mitigate how tricky that huge display can be to navigate across with a thumb.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega feels right when used with two hands – one holding the thing and the other acting as a fleshy prodder.

Held like this, the Galaxy Mega is one of the only phones that can make Air View make some practical sense.

Air View is a feature Samsung introduced to its higher-end phones with the Galaxy S4, and it lets you interact with the screen without touching it. Using Air View you can see quick previews of photo albums, and zoom into parts of web pages.

With one-hand operation, we found Air View only got in the way, but it’s marginally better with the Galaxy Mega.


However don’t go thinking that this means the Mega’s screen is super-clever. It doesn’t have a digitiser layer like the Galaxy Note 2, as Air View works using uses the super-high sensitivity capacitive screen of the phone, rather than anything more technologically impressive.

Aside from the still-gimmicky attractions of Air View, the Samsung Galaxy Mega does have us wondering exactly what the phone’s immense screen size is particularly useful for.

As already detailed, the TouchWiz software in the Mega doesn’t fundamentally alter the interface to make better use of those screen inches throughout. Apps aren’t more involved, they don’t have any additional UI elements. They’re just bigger.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Browsing

We came to the conclusion that there are three main benefits to the screen’s giant size.

While browsing, fonts will generally be easier to read than on a Galaxy S4, despite the much higher resolution of the smaller phone. Videos are more pleasurable to watch on-the-go, as long as you can handle the person next to you on the train spying on your episode of Mad Men. Best of all, though, TouchWiz lets you run two apps at once - more on that later.  

Of course, the browsing benefits only become apparent when you hand the luxury of using both hands to operate the phone. With one hand, navigating around websites can be a real chore.

Rendering of web pages is reasonably fast, with a 1121ms Sunspider benchmark score consistent with a decent mid-range phone.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Video and Multimedia

Is the Galaxy Mega a good video player? It has a dedicated video player app that offers reasonable video codec support, although not the best we’ve seen in a Samsung phone.

It refused to play our 1080p MKV video sample and failed to play the sound in another MKV sample, but HD DivX and Xvids had no problems playing. And, like the Galaxy S4, videos can be overlaid on homescreens as widgets.

The extra screen space again makes this extra feature somewhat more useful than in Samsung’s smaller phones, but we found few situations in which we used it.  

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Apps and Games

The Samsung-specific software feature to make best use of the Mega's screen is Multi Window. This lets you split up the 6.3-inch screen into two windows (see above), each running a separate app. It was good in the Galaxy S4, but it’s even better here.
 
However, the apps you can run in Multi Window are, predictably, limited. You can’t play Real Racing 3 while checking out your emails, but you can browse the web while doing so, watch a video or run a large number of other apps.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega has access to the Google Play app store and its vast array of apps good and bad, but Samsung has packed a bunch of apps into the phone from the off.

All of these are found in Samsung’s other phones, but they are reasonably diverse. S Memo is a comprehensive note-taking app, ChatON an online chat interface, S Translate a translation app and S Planner Samsung’s own calendar.

The Mega misses out on S Health, a Samsung-made fitness tracker. However, as there are plenty of alternatives available from Google Play, including much better free-to-download running and cycling trackers, it’s not a huge loss.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Performance

To go with its mid-grade screen, the Galaxy Mega has a mid-range processor. It’s a dual-core processor CPU on the Krait architecture – a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset.

Although dual-core, this is an otherwise up-to-date chipset that offers good day-to-day performance, in part thanks to the 1.5GB of RAM. There’s some minor, very occasional stuttering but no consistent lag.

Benchmarks show that the Samsung Galaxy Mega is significantly slower than a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 – for example the Mega scores around 13,000 points in the AnTutu benchmark, where the S4 scores around 24,000. However, there’s little to show the phone up too badly at present.

There appeared to be more texture pop-in and slight frame rate inconsistency in impressive 3D racer Real Racing 3, but it’s more a case that the Mega will age more quickly than a top-end phone, rather than that there are things it currently cannot do well. Although dual-core, it's fairly powerful.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Internal Speaker

Speaker placement in the Galaxy Mega is typical of Samsung’s Android phones. There’s just one speaker output, which sits to the bottom-left of the phone’s rear.

In a phone this size, you might hope to see stereo speakers, so that when watching a film the sound isn’t completely mono. However, its performance is pretty good regardless. The Samsung Galaxy Mega goes much louder than most, and has beefier bass than the vast majority of phones too.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Mega has a camera that’s roughly a year behind the competition. Its core specs are identical to those of the Samsung Galaxy S3 – an 8-megapixel main sensor and f/2.6 aperture lens.

Its image style is typical of a Samsung phone – they are processed to give a punchy, high-contrast look that is high on impact, if not quite as great at producing an entirely natural look when examined more critically.



Macro performance is reasonable, although you can’t get super up-close to the subject. Around 15cm distance is required to get a solid lock-in in most conditions.  



This 1:1 pixel crop gives you a decent idea of the amount of close-up detail you can get with the Samsung Galaxy Mega.

Given how small a proportion of the full photo's scene this represents, it's a pretty good performance. However, other Samsung phones we've tested have managed to get closer to the subject while maintaining focus.

Low-light performance won’t get close to matching something like the HTC One or Lumia 925, either. With a fairly slow lens, no optical stabilisation and a ‘standard’, tiny 8-megapixel sensor, it can’t do much with a low-light situation without resorting to a using the flash.

To the human eye, this scene was a lot less dark than it appears in the photo. A Photoshop edit of the photo shows that there is some more 'hidden' detail to be exposed, but the resulting image is horribly noisy.


The same scene with LED flash in action


The Mega offers a solid array of additional photo modes.  The most useful for everyday shooting are HDR ("rich tone"), which melds to exposures to increase dynamic range – the level of detail resolved in very bright and very dark areas – and panorama.

Other photographic standards include the continuous shot burst mode and a couple of more specific burst modes that pick out shots with the best picture of the subject (where that’s a person, that is.)

More frivolous extras include Sound & Shot, which records an audio clip along with the snap, and the standard array of basic filters such as Solarise and Vintage.

For a company renowned for packing-in as many phone features it can, the Samsung Galaxy Mega camera app is actually pretty classy. And dead easy to use.

There is some more fun to be had post-shoot, though. You can edit photos, and beyond the usual cropping and fiddling with brightness you can also mess around with people’s facial features when they’ve been papped straight-on.
 
Luke

News editor Luke Johnson, post-fiddle

Its video skills are pretty good too. The phone shoots at 1080p and has software stabilisation to stop handheld video from looking too juddery. It’s not a perfect replacement for hardware stabilisation, but OIS is still a rarity in mobile phones.

The Mega's video focusing is solid. There’s both mid-capture touch focusing and autofocus, making it a versatile mobile video camera. Sadly there are none of the active face-distorting video effects included in an up-to-date vanilla Android phone.

There are also a few bits missing that you’ll find in other new Samsung phones too, such as simultaneous rear and front camera photo capture (a feature we didn’t miss) and HDR video (which we did miss).

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Connectivity

Like most mid-range and up Galaxy phones, the Galaxy Mega offers comprehensive connectivity. The most important of the lot is 4G, which is set to become very important once carriers in the UK other than EE offer their own 4G connections.

Other connections beyond the standards of GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi include NFC, Wi-Fi Direct and MHL compliance for the microUSB connection on the bottom edge. This lets you output what’s on the phone’s screen to a TV, when used with the right connector. Official Samsung MHL adapters cost between £15-30, depending on how hard you shop.

The Samsung Galaxy Mega is also fully equipped software-wise to let you do most things wirelessly. It has AllShare, a Samsung-specific application of DLNA protocols that lets you fairly easily stream audio and video between Samsung phones, tablets and TVs. It also has S-Beam, a Samsung interface for sharing files using NFC.

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Call Quality

There’s nothing amiss with the Galaxy Mega’s call quality. It uses noise cancellation to improve the overall experience (this affects the called, not the caller, though) and clarity is decent. Not using a metal body also helps to avoid the antenna issues that have affected other phones in the past – most famously the iPhone 4.

However, putting a phone as large as the Galaxy Mega against your head looks and feels odd. You may get used to it, but passers-by won’t any time soon. 

Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – Battery Life



To go with its huge screen, the Galaxy Mega has a big battery. It’s a 3,200mAh, 12.16Wh unit that’s just a little higher-capacity than the Galaxy Note 2’s 3,100mAh battery.

While we found the Note 2’s stamina impressive, the Galaxy Mega’s performance was a little more ordinary. With slightly above average scree use (and if you’re not going to indulge in that, why buy such a large screen phone?) you can drain the phone’s battery in a day.

To give a more empirical view of its entertainment stamina, we tested how long it can play video without conking out. It’ll play an SD quality video for 9.5 hours, which is comparable with tablet stamina – not bad at all. 

Should I Buy the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3?

The Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 is destined to become a niche phone. In our opinion, it’s simply too large to use without feeling like you’re having to ‘deal’ with its size. Samsung’s software tweaks make better use of the screen inches than most phones this size, notably the recent Huawei Ascend Mate, but without the digitiser of something like the Note 2, it seems a case of overkill.

Its price doesn’t help, either. The Galaxy Mega is only slightly cheaper than the Galaxy S4, while having a less advanced screen, a much less powerful processor, less RAM, a worse camera and – worst of all – diminished usability.

In other words, it falls some way short of making our top 10 of best mobile phones 2013.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 is essentially a giant version of the Samsung Galaxy S3. It doesn’t quite have the up-to-date specs of the Galaxy S4, making this phone all about screen inches. And you need to be all about screen inches too, as the sheer size of the otherwise-accomplished phone makes it tricky to use one-handed.