I once argued that the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, with its 5.5-inch screen, was pushing the boundaries of what can really be called a phone. It was difficult to hold in one hand and it was always noticeable when you were carrying it round in a jacket pocket. It split opinion in the tech world, with some enjoying the extra space for videos, while the 4-inch iPhone-packing masses simply laughed at the ridiculousness of it.
Prepare for that argument to become even more fierce, as the Galaxy Mega comes in at a stonking 6.3 inches. It not only dwarfs the iPhone, it's considerably bigger than Samsung's own 5-inch flagship Galaxy S4.
It boasts a 1,280x720-pixel screen, a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera and 4G connectivity for super-fast data speeds.
The Mega's available now SIM-free for £440 and on contracts from £27 per month. My review unit was kindly supplied by Phones 4U, which offers the phone for free on Vodafone contracts from £33 per month.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Mega?
If you're after a simple phone for calls, texts and the odd bit of Facebook, the Mega is definitely not the phone for you. Its sheer size makes sending a quick text with one hand almost impossible and you'll look pretty silly holding it to your face to make calls.
It's aimed at those of you who value screen size above all else. If you mainly want a huge phone so you can enjoy videos and full-screen Web pages, the Mega is worth checking out. Its screen is far from Full HD, but it's very bold, its dual-core processor gives enough juice for the essentials and the battery won't conk out on you at lunchtime. It's not cheap though, considering its middling specs.
Alternatively, check out the Galaxy Note 2. Its performance was very similar and the screen is marginally sharper. Crucially though, it packs a stylus, letting you use its huge 5.5-inch screen as a notebook or sketchpad. It's a handy tool for work and you can pick it up for not much more money. (Wait a few months though and a Galaxy Note 3 might well be out.)
Sony's Xperia Z Ultra is another option. It has a 6.4-inch screen, a more potent quad-core chip, a Full HD screen and it's waterproof. We haven't given it the full review treatment yet so I can't recommend it right now, but if you're after a high-performance giant, it's worth holding out until we know more about Sony's beast. In the meantime, our comparison video will tell you more about these two huge phones.
Design and build quality
I'll get to the point straight away: the Galaxy Mega is an absolute giant of a phone. At 6.3 inches it blurs the line between phone and tablet almost completely. When you put them side by side, it makes the Galaxy S4 look small -- and at 5 inches, the S4 is far from small.
The Mega is really not designed to be used as a phone. Holding it in one hand is doable, but trying to stretch your thumb across the screen to type an email is awkward and uncomfortable. To use it properly you need both hands, as you would use a tablet.
Sitting on the bus watching Netflix, the Mega probably won't look out of place -- people will assume you're just using a tablet. Slap it against your head to make a call though and you'll quickly find your face turning puce with embarrassment and shame -- at least, you should feel those things. A quick poll of my colleagues in CNET UK towers concluded that it really does look ludicrous as a phone.
It measures 168mm long and 88mm wide, easily dwarfing the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2. At 8mm thick, the Mega is quite slender though, but its 199g weight means you probably won't want to carry it all day inside the breast pocket of a jacket. In its defence, it isn't the biggest phone around. The Asus FonePad comes in at 7 inches, but I maintain that it's more of a tablet than a phone.
The Mega borrows numerous design cues from the Galaxy S4, including the metallic edging, the silver-edged home button and shiny speaker grille. The back panel shares the same black and silver crosshatch pattern. If you're keen on the S4's design, you'll be right at home here.
Build quality seems comparable to the S4 too. The back plastic panel still feels very flimsy when removed, but there's little flex from it when it's securely locked into position. The buttons all have a satisfying click to them and there are no unsightly gaps or rattling panelling to worry about. The sheer size of the screen does make it quite susceptible to scratches though, so you'll want to keep in mind which pocket your keys are in.
The Mega comes with 8GB of storage as standard, of which a little under 5GB is available for your own use -- the rest is taken up by Samsung's software.
It does have a slot for a microSD card, allowing you to expand the storage up to 64GB. You're currently only able to store music, photos and videos to the card, however, not apps. If you're a keen gamer, this might be a problem. N.O.V.A 3, for example, takes up almost 2GB of space by itself -- just a few glossy titles like that and the internal storage will quickly run out.
The new Galaxy S4 Mini and S4 Active both allow some apps to be moved to an external card though, and an update to allow the same will soon be arriving on the Mega, Samsung confirmed, but it wasn't able to tell me when to expect it.
The gigantic 6.3-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. While that would be fine on a more modest mobile, with the pixels spread so thinly over that vast screen, it doesn't have the same clarity of smaller phones with the same resolution. It has a pixel density of 233ppi -- slightly less than the Note 2's 267ppi, but pretty unimpressive compared to the S4's 441ppi.
Side by side against the S4, it's definitely noticeable that the resolution isn't as sharp, but you do have to get quite close to the screen to tell. For just sending a few tweets and checking your email, you're unlikely to notice much difference -- the Mega's resolution is more than adequate. For reading lots of small texts in ebooks or on Web pages though, the S4's higher definition display is definitely better.
It is, however, very bright and bold. It doesn't use the same Super AMOLED display as the S4, but it still manages to produce extremely rich colours. It's well suited for watching movies on Netflix or brilliant snowboarding scenes on YouTube, and you probably won't notice the resolution drop.
Android Jelly Bean software
The Mega uses Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system currently available, although 4.3 has been announced, with few changes. It's fundamentally the same interface you might have seen on other recent Samsung phones and isn't wildly different to any other Jelly Bean phone.
Samsung has given it quite a few tweaks though. Mostly notably, the interface acts in places more like a tablet. The homescreen, for example, will rotate to be displayed in landscape view -- a feature available on Android tablets, but not phones. Samsung has also lumped in its dual apps tool, which lets you see two apps on screen at once, side by side. It's very handy for quickly copying information from the browser to the notes app.
Many of Samsung's additions from the S4, such as Smart Stay, S Health and Air View aren't on the Mega. I didn't get on well with these gimmicky features on the S4 though, so I really don't think you're missing anything.
Even with less Samsung clutter, the phone can still be confusing. There are duplicate app stores, Web browsers and email clients installed as standard, making it difficult for new users to figure just how they go about setting up their new phone. Like the new raft of S4s, there are so many different options in the settings menu that it's had to be split into four distinct tabs.
Processor and performance
Inside the Mega is a 1.7GHz dual-core processor. The tech fanatics among you will notice that's a major step down from the quad-core chips inside the Galaxy S4 and S4 Zoom. It's a fairly nippy clock speed though, so I didn't expect it to be sluggish.
In fact, I found it pretty swift. Page transitions were slick and mostly stutter-free -- although I found the odd sluggish moment when returning to the homescreen from apps. High-resolution image processing in Snapseed wasn't hindered by the lengthy rendering times common with underpowered phones.
On the Geekbench test, it scored 1,802 -- a far cry from the dominating 3,230 achieved by the S4 Active. The score is more in line with the S4 Mini, or indeed last year's Google Nexus 4. Similarly, on the Quadrant benchmark test, it scored 7,165, putting it far below the S4 (11,381) and the HTC One (12,194). While the Galaxy Note 2 achieved a higher score on the Geekbench test, it performed better on Quadrant.
Most everyday tasks don't offer much trouble to the Mega, but it didn't cope quite so well with gaming. The glossy 3D game N.O.V.A 3 was very stuttery, verging on being unplayable, given the fast-paced nature of the game. Less demanding titles such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Riptide GP played more smoothly, although these too had moments when frame rates dropped.
With such a huge body, there's plenty of room to stuff in a whopping great battery. Inside the Mega is a 3,200mAh battery -- a healthy step up from the 2,600mAh cell in the S4. With a less demanding processor too, battery life was unsurprisingly good.
I found I was easily able to eke a whole day of use from the phone without needing to be too careful about what I was doing. Even with push email activated, playing some games, and streaming video, the phone had plenty of juice left when I returned home from the office in the evening.
As with all phones, actual battery life varies wildly on your own use. If you keep the screen brightness ramped to the max and spend the day streaming Netflix over 4G, you should expect to be charging it every night. If you're careful about what you're doing, you could probably squeeze two days of use from it -- something that can't be said of the vast majority of smart phones around.
On the back of the Mega is an 8-megapixel camera, a far cry from the 13 megapixels of the S4. Megapixels certainly aren't everything though -- it's important then to see how the photos stack up.
My test shots didn't reveal a great deal of difference in practice. The Mega struggled slightly more bringing the bright window under control, resulting in some distortion around the pillar in front of it. Both cameras, however, achieved a generally decent overall exposure, with accurate, rich colours and comparable levels of image noise in the shadowy areas.
When viewing at full resolution, it's easy to see the benefit of the extra pixels in the S4's camera, but the Mega's isn't at all bad. It's certainly good enough to keep your Facebook and Twitter feeds full of snaps of your pets.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega's enormous size immediately makes it a poor choice if you just want a decent all-round mobile to slide into your pocket. Its good camera, bold screen and admirable battery life all stand in its favour, but only consider it if you crave a giant screen for videos -- and don't mind looking ridiculous when you're on the phone.