The Galaxy Mega 6.3 is big. Really, really big. That is quite literally the entirety of the list of interesting features that distinguish it from other Samsung smartphones. It is a shamelessly single-minded product. In a way, that's a good thing - it's certainly a big part of what even makes it possible to sell the Mega for just $480 off contract ($150 on).

That's because the Mega really doesn't mess around when it comes to smart cost-cutting. Its 6.3" SC-LCD panel - which is only 720p, by the way - has no Gorilla Glass. It uses an economical Snapdragon 400 processor (a descendent of the Snapdragon S4, essentially). Its 8MP rear camera is straight off the Galaxy S III and Note II, phones that were released last year. It has 1.5GB of RAM (yes, really). The battery is a paltry 100mAh larger than the one used in the Note II, at 3200mAh, and of course the Mega lacks the Note's stylus functionality.

However, it's not as though this big phone is straight out of the jumbo-sized bargain bin, either. It has NFC, an IR port, microSD slot, LTE, 16GB of internal storage on the AT&T model (not bad, price considered), runs Android 4.2.2, and feels no worse in terms of quality than the Galaxy S4 (not the highest praise, but you take what you can get). Samsung cut smartly when it made the Mega, and I think I know why - the Mega's target markets are primarily developing regions or markets where most people buy their smartphones outright. It's a clever strategy, I will say that much.

wm_IMG_6511

The question is, in the United States, who is the Mega for, exactly? Smartphone spec geeks will scoff at its middle-of-the-road silicon credentials, and your average consumer is going to look at it like some sort of massive monstrosity (I've showed such people, they do indeed find it quite ridiculous). I think Samsung's just as clueless on the answer here as I am, to be honest - the Mega feels like an experiment. "Hey, what if we took the Galaxy S4, cheapened it up a bit, and made it huge?" It actually is a really interesting question. I'm not sure what part of the market Samsung is looking to grab here, maybe on-the-go business users or the visually impaired, but the Mega's decidedly reasonable price of entry does mean even if its size is intimidating, some adventurous souls may take a chance on it.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3: Specifications
  • Price: $149.99 on contract ($479.99 off contract)
  • Processor: 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400
  • GPU: Adreno 305
  • Network compatibility: 3G (850/1900/2100) LTE (Bands 2, 4, 5, and 17)
  • Operating system: Android 4.2.2 with TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0
  • Display: 6.3" SC-LCD 1280x720 (233 DPI)
  • Memory: 1.5GB RAM / 16GB storage
  • Cameras: 8MP rear, 1.9MP front
  • Battery: 3200mAh, removable
  • NFC: Yes
  • Ports / expandable storage: microUSB / microSD
  • Thickness: 8mm
  • Weight: 199g
The Good
  • There is little denying the utility of a 6.3" screen. Everything involving reading, typing (assume you use two hands), watching, and generally looking at the display is made easier by the fact that this phone is ridiculously huge. This is the Mega's selling point, and it's a compelling one.
  • No worse built than a typical Samsung phone, which isn't necessarily great, but it doesn't feel like Samsung particularly skimped on the Mega or anything.
  • 16GB of internal storage as standard in a below top-tier Samsung device? Color me shocked.
  • It's cheap for what it is, at just $480 off contract - good luck finding a super giant phone (that isn't terrible) with this kind of value.
  • It's relatively fast and doesn't feel like it's been gimped for the sake of gimping it, even the camera is pretty decent.
The Not So Good
  • It's huge. Like, giant. It fits in my jean pockets, but your results may vary. This phone may well need to go in a purse or bag depending on your clothing situation.
  • The battery life is not the amazing holy grail of awesome you might expect. It's pretty average if you're actually using the phone a lot.
  • The screen has pretty visible pixelation if you get up close and personal with it. Retina, this ain't.
  • Typical Samsung creaks and snaps - par for the course at this point.

Hardware

Design and build quality

The Mega looks almost identical to the Galaxy S4, just scaled up around 1.3 inches (which is a lot more than it sounds like). The embossed pattern on the plastic is a grid of squares as opposed to a diamond weave on the S4, but in nearly every other way this phone tries to be exactly like Samsung's flagship. At least the product branding is consistent. There are some differences, though.

For example, the volume rocker and power button on the Mega are plastic, despite looking a great deal like the S4's, which are metal. The opening where the S4's RGB light sensor sits is absent (since the Mega doesn't have one), though the front fascia - down to the triangular cutouts on the corners of the transparent portion of the display glass - is otherwise identical.

wm_IMG_6524

In terms of fit and finish, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that the Mega is supposed to be the cheaper phone merely assessing its build quality. In fact, I'd say the Mega and S4 appear to be made of identical plastic, down to their ridiculously flimsy rear covers. One thing to note is that the Mega does not appear to be equipped with wireless charging compatibility, as there are no contact points for a wireless charging cover visible on the back of the phone.

The one missing element that may make a difference down the road, though, is one that can't really be seen: the Galaxy Mega does not have Gorilla Glass. This means it will get scratched substantially easier than phones which are equipped with Corning's proprietary panes. Considering its display is so large, and it will often be going in and out of your pocket / bag, a protective flip cover might not be a terrible idea for once.

wm_IMG_6521

Otherwise, the Mega 6.3 is typical current-gen Samsung. It does feel kind of cheap, but it's not like it's carelessly assembled. Since the days of the Galaxy S and S II, I'd say Samsung's build quality has gone from "below average" to "average." It's good enough. It's just not great, and that largely appears to be down to the choice of materials at this point.

Holding the Mega is an interesting balancing act. I have long-ish fingers and can pretty easily accomplish most tasks with one hand on the Note II, apart from long text entry. I can use the Mega with one hand for simple things like scrolling through a web page or a feed, but anything more involved and my other hand instinctually comes in to provide support. I am constantly afraid of dropping it while using one hand, too - the Mega may be of plastic origins, but it still weighs in at a very substantial 199 grams (though that's only 16 more than the much smaller Note II).

wm_IMG_6547

I would say, though, that the Mega makes as efficient use of space as it can. The bezels, vertical and horizontal, are very narrow. You're not going to probably ever see a significantly smaller 6.3" phone, and some of the Mega's competitors are substantially larger. The 6.4" Xperia Z Ultra is a full .45" (12mm) taller than the Mega and .16" (4mm) wider.

The Mega does fit in my front jean pockets, but I'm a big guy with big jean pockets. I can imagine many people would simply not be comfortable transporting it in this manner, if they even could. The pocket of a coat or jacket, a purse, or a messenger bag will probably be the Mega's preferred mode of storage for most buyers.

Display

So it's big. Duh. That's kind of the first thing that hits you when you turn on the Mega, and in a surprising "whoah" sort of way. Like the Note II, looking at the Mega while the display is off makes it appear significantly smaller than it actually is, particularly if you're not holding it. Apart from those people I have asked to actually place the phone in their hand, no one has so much as glanced at it, at least that I'm aware of. It looks deceptively small without a sense of scale provided by a hand, another phone, or the side of someone's face as they make a call.

Pick it up and tap the home button, and after a brief delay as the backlight warms up, the pixels come to life. It's then that you become distinctly aware that the Mega is, in fact, really quite huge. When I first removed it from the box and powered it on, I think my jaw actually went just a little bit agape as I swiped around the OS. You know that feeling you get when you try something brand-new and it's amazing and ridiculous and hard to believe all at the same time? Yeah, it was kind of like that. I chuckled to myself in mild disbelief that this was a phone.

wm_IMG_6503

But it grew on me, a lot. I can go through emails without scrolling, I can type out responses (just not using Samsung's awful stock keyboard) and other longer text entries much more easily, pictures are big and beautiful, and webpages infinitely more readable. This is the Mega's advantage. You'll malign it for its dismal DPI of 233, but anyone who ends up buying the Mega 6.3 probably won't care about how many pixels their eyes can see. They'll just be pleased at that 6.3 inches of screen space. It's only 1.3 inches more than a Galaxy S4, though, you'll say. You wouldn't say that if you actually bothered to do some math.

The Galaxy Mega has a visible screen area of 16.96 square inches. The Galaxy S4, with its 5" display, has 10.68 square inches. That is a difference of (roughly) 6.3 square inches, which means the Mega is nearly an entire iPhone 5 display larger than the Galaxy S4. The Mega 6.3 even has a full 33% more display area than the already quite large Galaxy Note II. Is the size issue sinking in yet? I hope so, though it won't stop someone from trying to say that a 5" smartphone is "basically" not that much smaller than a 7" tablet. That's true, if you either A.) have hands that can palm a basketball like it's a grapefruit, or B.) have little to no understanding of the concept of surface area and / or are just being difficult and annoying.

wm_IMG_6550

The display itself is pretty good, though not amazing. The resolution does mean if you get up close and personal, pixelation is evident. The LCD panel gets very bright, though, and works a hell of a lot better in sunlight than the Note II's dim AMOLED setup. Colors are reasonably accurate and Samsung's screen mode software is still in tow. Viewing angles are great.

Battery life

Surprisingly, it's not that amazing - if you're actually using the phone. The Mega 6.3's battery is only 100mAh larger than the Note II's, but its display is much bigger (and brighter), so that means it actually gets substantially worse battery life under moderate / heavy use. I'd say for longevity it's noticeably better than the Galaxy S4, in that it'll get you through a day and overnight without too much struggle. if you turn down the brightness, it's probably significantly better. But since Samsung's auto-brightness is far too aggressive (read: way too dim), I was often forced to set it manually. Annoying.

wm_IMG_6551

Because it's so large, the Mega's display plays much more of a role in battery drain than it does on other, smaller phones. The more you use it (or crank up the brightness), the more noticeable the battery drain. To put it another way, the Mega's battery is a little under 30% larger than the Galaxy S4's, but its display is 60% larger. That's something to think about. The standby life is fantastic, though, as you'd expect from a dual-core chip and a 3200mAh battery.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

You have 16GB of space on the AT&T version of the Mega 6.3 (the 8GB version is not coming to the US, thankfully), of which about 10.5GB is usable. Is that all you could ever possibly want? No. Is the Mega a super high-end phone that should have 32GB as standard? No. There are tradeoffs here, and this is one of them. There's a microSD slot, of course, for your media storage needs.

wm_IMG_6532

Wireless performance on the Mega has been pretty good. I do find the signal a little weak compared to my other AT&T devices at times, though, and the Mega seems a little more eager to flip over to HSPA+ when I know I'm in an LTE coverage zone. It wasn't a major issue. I also had a few instances where data just kind of stopped working, which is probably some kind of radio firmware glitch. Going into airplane mode or rebooting resolved it, and the problem wasn't particularly common. The Mega's Snapdragon 400 series chipset does not support 5GHz Wi-Fi, which probably makes sense, as it's based on an older dual-core Snapdragon S4 setup. Wi-Fi performance was otherwise admirable. Bluetooth worked OK, though I did have some difficulty detecting devices before I was actually paired to them - it took abnormally long for them to show up as available on the Mega. The Mega also has an IR blaster, if you were wondering.

What's been really weird is the disparity in LTE data speeds on AT&T. Using an AT&T HTC One mini, which is powered by the same Qualcomm chipset as the Mega, I achieved 3x the downlink speed on average, though upload speeds were roughly similar between the two. Something weird is going on there.

Call quality on the Mega has been strong, and its size means the microphone is closer to your mouth when making a phone call, so that probably helps on the other end, too.

Audio and speaker

Audio from the headphone jack has been perfectly good. That's more Qualcomm than Samsung, as the pieces responsible for digital to analog audio conversion and amplification are part of the Snapdragon chip. It hasn't given me any problems.

Samsung has upgraded, in a sense, the external speaker on the Mega, as it's much louder than the one on the Galaxy S4. It's not any better-sounding (it might actually be a little worse), but the added loudness means watching videos is something you can do in noisier environments, and notifications rarely go unheard.

Camera

Samsung could have shoved a cheapo 5MP camera from one of the Tabs into it and called it a day. Luckily, they didn't.

From what I can tell, the Mega 6.3 has the same 8MP module that was used in the Galaxy S III and Note II, and that's a good thing. While no longer on the cutting edge of mobile photography, the Mega's camera definitely gets the job done in most situations. It's not very good in the dark, it's not very good at exposure correction, but it's also far from being bad, which was definitely something I feared about the Mega initially. Take a look at the sample photos and see for yourself.

20130825_123657

20130825_125409 20130825_130224

20130825_132936 20130825_124048 20130825_123935

Software

Performance and stability

The Galaxy Mega is reasonably quick, but it does feel substantially slower than the Galaxy S4 or HTC One. This is to be expected, as the processor in the MSM8930AB chipset is based on the old MSM8960, albeit with a refreshed Adreno 305 GPU. 1.5GB of RAM gives the Mega a substantial edge on mid-range devices with only 1GB of RAM, and seems to more easily avoid the memory traffic jams that plagued devices like the 2012 Nexus 7 and much of HTC's lineup last year. I don't know what it is, but Android really isn't handled optimally with less than 2GB of RAM. 1.5GB seems like a livable compromise, and I haven't had any of the rage-inducing slowdowns launching apps or switching tasks on the Mega that I have on the HTC One mini, which while it has the same chipset, only has 1GB of RAM.

wm_IMG_6514

App compatibility has been pretty good, as has general stability. I found a couple of apps the Mega simply didn't work with, though they weren't particularly widely-used ones. I haven't had any random reboots or other strange problems with the Mega, either. It's been quite reliable.

UI and features

This is mostly going to be a "I tell you what's different from the Galaxy S4's software" section. If you want to learn about the newest version of TouchWiz (TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 or NUX 2.0), go read my Galaxy S4 review. It's probably the closest look you'll find at Samsung's software layer from a UI / feature standpoint.

So, what's Samsung up to on the Mega that differs? This is going to be nitpicky - you've been warned. Let's start with some random Samsung features and apps, which basically entails listing what Samsung has removed as compared to the Galaxy S4.

  • The notification bar power toggles no longer scroll through the entire list of toggles, only the first 10. You have to hit the pane flip button in the top right for the full list.
  • There's no mobile data toggle in the notification bar switches, which is weird.
  • The Mega does not do Smart Scroll, which is OK because it really sucks on the S4 anyway.
  • The Mega does not do Smart Pause, which also sucked.
  • The Mega does not do Air Gestures, which I thought were pretty useless.
  • No dual-camera photo or video.
  • No eraser mode, animated photo mode, or drama shot mode in the camera app.
  • No night shot, burst shot, or video stabilization options.
  • The Gallery app does not support DLNA photo sharing / device scanning or text detection on photos.
  • "Internet" has been renamed "Browser" (uh, ok).
  • The Messaging app appears to have a slightly newer look and a different icon.
  • The Optical Reader app is gone.
  • There is no S Health app.
  • The lock screen animation can't be changed (it's stuck on the "Light effect" one).
  • The "Professional photo" display mode option is gone.
  • No RGB color sensor for "Auto adjust screen tone" option and no "High touch sensitivity" option for wearing gloves.
  • There's a hearing aid mode in call settings, which isn't on the S4.
  • Driving mode doesn't support reading out new emails, voicemails, or the lock screen notification / time summary.
  • Power saving mode can now be toggled to come on automatically at 20% battery remaining.
  • One-handed operation mode is back from the Note II and appears unchanged.
  • Voice control call accept / reject on ChatON is gone.
  • The annoying "Help" option has been banished from most overflow menus and pushed.

Aren't you psyched you know all that now? That's pretty much the extent of the software changes I could find, which is to say aside from some stripped-out features and tiny tweaks here and there, this is near identical to the software running on the Galaxy S4. Once again, if you really want to know a lot about the Mega's software, then I would implore you to read my S4 review. It's not worth rewriting here.

I will comment on how well I think TouchWiz scales up to the screen size, though. I personally still don't use Samsung's multi-window feature. It's neat in concept, but I've found it's too cumbersome and tedious for me to even want to try to use it on anything resembling a regular basis. Advanced multitasking is a noble aspiration, but the implementation must be functional, fluid, and fast. Samsung's got an interesting idea functionally, but the user experience is anything but enjoyable. That said, if you already use multi window on a Note or S4, the Mega probably is better for it than either.

wm_IMG_6512

Is having the notification bar at the top of a 6.3" display kind of a pain in the butt? I guess. Once again, I have long fingers, and so it's not as much of a problem for me. For some others, pulling down the notification bar single-handedly might be a serious frustration / precursor to screen breakage.

I really, really like browsing the web on the Mega 6.3. I have always hated navigating around even well-designed mobile web pages on a smartphone, and even my Note II feels a bit cramped at times. The Mega 6.3 is just right for viewing mobile web content, in my opinion. You can see a lot of information and content without scrolling or zooming, and it's great for reading longer articles or restaurant menus. This is easily my favorite part of using the Mega - I have what is essentially a small tablet in my pocket.

Otherwise, it's TouchWiz with Android 4.2.2. I'm not going to waste your time regurgitating what hundreds of people have already said over and over about Samsung's UI layer. If you like (read: don't mind) TouchWiz, great. If you don't, it's still TouchWiz!

Conclusion

The Mega 6.3 is obviously a device with very niche appeal. Galaxy Note fans may be apprehensive about giving up their beloved stylus (though I've personally never found much use for it), and everyday smartphone buyers will undoubtedly be wary of such a large handset. Meanwhile, spec geeks will lambast the display resolution, processor, and RAM. That said, I think for the price ($480 off contract, $150 on), the Mega provides a ton of value if you take it for what it is: a really huge phone that sheds some of the high-end bells and whistles you may not really need.

Could the screen be better? Yes. Could it be a little faster? Sure. But taken on its own terms, the Mega is probably the best balance of value, performance, and ergonomics (you can't deny there's very little wasted space) when it comes to the Super Giant Phone category. If you want a Super Giant Phone (maybe we can call them SGPs), I'd argue steadfastly that the Mega is the one to get. Not the Z Ultra, not the Fonepad, not even HTC's upcoming One Max (which will have a .4" smaller display and be ludicrously expensive). How many people are in the "I want an SGP" category? Hard to say. But the Mega 6.3 will probably please them.

wm_IMG_6540