Lauren Goode

Let’s Call the Samsung Galaxy Mega “Phablet” What It Should Be: A Tablet

The new Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone isn’t just a phone. It also doubles as a Frisbee, a George Foreman grill, a car battery and a flying saucer.

I kid, I kid. But really: The Mega is big. It measures 6.6 inches by 3.5 inches by 0.3 inch, weighs just over seven ounces, and has a 6.3-inch display. For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 5 is 4.87 inches by 2.31 inches by .30-inch, and weighs just under four ounces.

The Mega is currently available in the U.S. for $150 with a two-year contract through AT&T. While Sprint and U.S. Cellular are confirmed carrier partners, they’re not offering the phone just yet. The Mega is also being rolled out in other countries, including Europe and Russia.

I’ve been using the Android-based, LTE-compatible Galaxy Mega for the past week, carrying the mostly plastic phone with me everywhere. I will be somewhat relieved when the flatbed truck arrives next week to pick it up and transport it back to Samsung.

In all seriousness, it’s just too large for a phone. It is nearly the size of my face. It felt awkward in the hand. I couldn’t carry it with me while walking, jogging, or bike riding, without bringing a purse or backpack.

People I interacted with in passing — a woman at a coffee shop, a man at a mattress store — couldn’t help but comment on how big it is. (It can also be used as a mattress pad.) A few colleagues joked that anyone holding it immediately appears as though they’ve lost weight.

It could be said large phones are coming into vogue. They are sleeker and better overall than they were in the days of the Dell Streak, which AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg likened to holding a piece of toast up to the face. Ever since Samsung effectively launched the “phablet” category — a style of phone so large it’s like a small tablet — with the release of its first, 5.8-inch Galaxy Note smartphone in 2011, others have hopped on board.

There are the LG G2, the Huawei Ascend Mate and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, to name a few other giants. Apple has been reported to be working on a larger iPhone.

Samsung has even introduced phablets of varying sizes: The good-looking Note II measures a solid six inches by three inches, and the just-announced Note III will have an even larger display.

So, why the 6.6-inch Mega? Samsung says it is meant to be an “ideal hybrid handset for those who want to experience smartphone portability with the immersive experience of a tablet.”

I liked the Mega when I was using as just that: A tablet. In those instances, it didn’t seem so cumbersome. I read books and watched videos on it before bed, while getting a haircut and while sitting at a cafe. I checked email on it, and browsed through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds. Basically, I liked it when I used it as I would my iPad mini or Kindle Fire tablet, which measure 7.9 inches and 7.0 inches, respectively.

Let’s say the Mega hybrid does appeal to you as a smartphone. It’s still pretty midrange, lacking some of the key features of its Note sibling.

I’ll focus on its good features first.

To start, at $150 with a two-year plan, it is half the price of the Note II through the same carrier. The LG G2 is $200 down with a two-year contract. So the Mega could be considered a bargain phablet.

Its battery life is good. It got me through nearly two full days of use, with the phone’s power saver turned off and the display set to about 75 percent of full brightness.

It offers some of the same software features as its Samsung sibs, such as S Voice voice commands, S Translator and Air View, which lets you hover your finger over emails to read the text without actually opening it.

It also has a TV-controlling app called WatchOn that utilizes the phone’s built-in infrared blaster (the Samsung Galaxy S4 has this, too). I was able to change the channels on the TV in my hotel room using the Mega.

Also, the Mega gives great sound, which was especially useful when I was using it as a portable navigation device in the car. And call quality was good. At least people on the other end of the call can’t see how ridiculous you look with the phone against your face.

The large screen, for me, meant fewer fat-finger incidents when I was writing emails and sending text messages.

Now for the parts that make this a midrange phone: Its 1280 by 720p HD LCD display isn’t quite as brilliant as other premium smartphones out there. For many people this won’t be noticeable, but when you hold it up next to a really nice display you can see the difference.

It has a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, and the phone feels sluggish at times. It’s running on Google Android 4.2.2, which is fine, but it’s not the newest version of the operating system.

While it has some interesting software, it doesn’t have all of Samsung’s bewildering array of add-on apps, and it doesn’t work with a stylus the way the Note smartphones do.

Its camera specs are essentially the same as in earlier Samsung models — an eight-megapixel rear camera and a 1.9-MP front camera — though it does have a variety of shooting modes, geo-tagging and face-tag options in photos, as well as “album view” in the phone’s photo gallery.

Lastly, and most importantly, there’s just the feel of it. It’s difficult to operate with just one hand. It certainly didn’t fit in my pockets, and when I asked two men with regular-fitting jeans to try it out, it stuck out the top of their pockets, too.

It’s hard not to feel, as you’re holding it up to your ear, like you’ve somehow been transported back to the early days of cellular phones, when the phones dwarfed people’s faces.

Samsung is throwing a variety of shapes and sizes out there right now to attempt to satisfy every consumer. The Mega feels like an experiment. As a smartphone, it’s hard to see where it fits — literally and otherwise.

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