The bigger, the better, right? If you follow this maxim, you may have noticed that the smartphone world is moving along the same path. It may come as a surprise, but Dell was really one of the pioneers in the large-screened smartphone category, or phablets as some like to call them, with its 5-inch Streak. However, due to various reasons, the Streak didn’t find favor with too many people and eventually withered away into the annals of phone history. When Samsung came out with its 5-inch Galaxy Note, S Pen in tow, it faced many naysayers who believed it wasn’t a mainstream product. Defying logic and all that criticism, the Note went on to become a bestseller — with users clearly besotted with the idea of a single device that could take on the responsibilities of a smartphone and a tablet, handling communications and serving up media and content on demand. Samsung followed that up with the 5.5-inch Note II, and now people saw this upgraded version with respect. The Note II is also a huge success, and the company has since been sitting pretty in the large-screen handset segment. All this brouhaha naturally led to quite a few me-to’s… with everyone and their dog launching a new phablet with alarming frequency.
How do we definite a phablet though? Can we call something like the Asus FonePad a phablet? We’d like to think that devices sporting 7-inch screens or larger are tablets first, and if they do offer voice calling features, then those should be considered a bonus. That’s not to say that these can’t be used as daily drivers — many people do, but then, there are always exceptions. Devices with 5-inch or lower screens can easily be slotted into the pure smartphone category, so really, it’s the 2-inch window between the 5-inch and 7-inch screen sizes where phablets get to play.
Which brings us to the device we have with us today — the Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8 (or the GT-I9152 to be specific). One half of the Mega duo introduced recently, this is the smaller of the two and comes with a 5.8-inch screen, while its sibling has been bestowed with a 6.3-inch display along with better specs and features to justify its higher price, and obviously, also to make sure they don’t eat into each others’ sales.
Design and Hardware
The Mega 5.8 boasts a design you may have never laid your eyes upon, provided you’ve been living in a cave all this while. The fact is, it’s the same staid design we’ve seen in countless Galaxy handsets — a plasticy chassis with rounded corners and a metal-finished strip running across the sides. Clearly, it comes from the same mold as the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy Grand and many more before it. Hardly exciting to say the least. That said, it feels reasonably well put together, but we wouldn’t go so far as to try any drop tests with it.
That gargantuan 5.8-inch display dominates the fascia, under which is an oval-shaped home key flanked by backlit cap active keys for menu and back functions. The earpiece, sensors and front camera are placed on top along with some branding and a Duos logo to indicate dual-SIM support. The microUSB port sits at the bottom, volume rocker on the left, power/ sleep key on the right and the 3.5mm headset socket on the top. The rear is home to the main snapper flanked by a speaker and the LED flash, along with some more branding. The rear panel opens up to reveal the removable battery, a pair of micro-SIM slots and a microSD card slot. That just about sums it up — it’s about time the good folks at Samsung break that mold and come up with some drastically different designs, we think.
It’s big. With that highly detailed description, let’s move on to the camera…
Wait, that’s it? Truthfully, and unfortunately, we’d have to say yes. The fact is, the huge size of Mega 5.8’s screen is possibly one of its only headlining factors. The quality isn’t bad — far from it. However, qHD resolution (540 x 960 pixels) on a screen this size really doesn’t cut it these days. We’re looking at an underwhelming pixel density of 196 ppi — and something that becomes apparent from the get-go especially if you’ve ever laid your eyes on a full HD or even a 720p display. The result is that the text doesn’t appears razor-sharp, and images and icons don’t really pop out. However, for most others, it’s still a usable display… with decent colors and viewing angles. If you haven’t experienced a higher resolution display on a smartphone, you’ll probably be okay with it.
The Mega 5.8 comes armed with a 1.9-megapixel front snapper and an 8-megapixel main camera — pretty much the norm in most handsets these days. We’ve seen the UI and features before in its other Galaxy siblings and basically, the feature set is a subset of what the Galaxy S4 offers.
The UI is straightforward and intuitive, while the available features include real-time filters and control over various parameters including ISO, white balance, metering and exposure. The range of modes include panorama, burst, Beauty Shot, Best Photo, Best Face and Sound & Shot — akin to what we saw on the S4. HDR mode is inexplicably missing though.
Quality-wise, we don’t have too many gripes. It’s a fairly decent shooter and captures usable shots as long as the lighting is good. Capable of shooting videos in full HD, the video quality is quite nice too. Things start going downhill as the sun sets, of course, but that’s the case with a majority of smartphone cameras out there. Images in low light are a tad noisy, so we wouldn’t count on it to capture special moments in low light.
As far as software is concerned, Android 4.2.2 forms the skeleton and Samsung’s TouchWiz is the skin — covering up all aspects of the OS. As usual, the device is crammed with a slew of software tricks that characterize Samsung’s UI — from Smart Stay to Multi Window. The motion- and gesture-driven goodies include the likes of Direct Call, Smart Alert, zooming and panning for viewing images, moving icons, and flip to mute. There’s a Blocking mode to mute notification and a Driving mode as well. We won’t go into the details of each feature, considering we’ve seen them all earlier in the Galaxy S III, the Note II and the S4, but suffice it to say that features like Multi Window and Popup video are significantly more useful on devices with large screens such as the Mega 5.8. There’s also a one-handed mode that docks the phone keypad to one side of the screen to make one-handed input more convenient.
Since this is a dual-SIM device, a SIM manager is present that allows you to specify which of the two SIMs to use as default for calls and cellular data. Both the phone keypad and the SMS compose windows have also been tweaked suitably to allow you to set either of the SIMs while calling or sending messages. Handily, a couple of shortcut buttons placed right in the notification bar allow you to change the default SIM with a single tap, with the status indicator displaying ‘1’ or ‘2’ right next to the signal indicators to convey the current choice. Another handy feature is the way the dual-SIM capabilities are implemented. Thanks to a feature dubbed Smart dual SIM, the device enables call waiting and call forwarding such that you can still receive a call on one SIM even when a call is active on the other. Not only that, the SIM card manager also allows you assign names and icons to different SIM cards for easy identification.
Pre-loaded stuff includes the Samsung suite of apps, consisting of S Voice, S Memo, S Planner, ChatON and Story Album. Flipboard and TripAdvisor have also been thrown in. Text input responsibilities are handled by the Samsung Keyboard that comes with all the usual features like word prediction, word correction, auto punctuate and auto capitalization. Swipe-based text input is supported as well, and convenient, it has a dedicated row for numbers above the main keyboard so entering numerics is easier. Of course, as usual, if you don’t like it, you can always replace it with one of the alternatives available on the Play Store, such as Adaptxt or SwiftKey.
Performance and Battery life
The Mega 5.8 makes use of a dual-core chip clocked at 1.4GHz. Other core specs include 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in storage. Connectivity options include dual-band Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct, but the most noticeable option missing is support for USB On-The-Go. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of this feature, since it’s a highly convenient way to access data and media files stored on USB flash drives without needing a PC in between — especially handy when you’re out on the road. The specs are middling at best, and reflect in its performance. Don’t expect it to break any speed records, but in day-to-day usage, the performance is reasonably smooth. There’s a slight hint of lag while switching between heavy apps and playing graphics intensive games, but this isn’t a deal-breaker provided you know what you’re getting into.
In terms of usability, that size could be an issue for some. There’s no getting way from the fact that it’s really a large device, so one-handed use is definitely a problem. And unless you use a case, it isn’t easy to get a firm grip on its smooth body when held in the most natural position. Reaching the power key and interacting with the touchscreen involves quite a few hand stretching exercises — there’s only so much the webbing on your hand can take. Two-handed usage and carrying it in a bag are fine, of course, but the device doesn’t exactly disappear into your pocket.
On the other hand, battery life is quite good. With its 2,600 mAh battery pack, the Mega 5.8 is happy staying away from a power socket for a full day comfortably, even if your usage is on the heavier side. With more frugal usage and judicious use of the power saving mode, you could even stretch it into the second day. A couple of times we experienced a sharp dip in battery life when the levels went below 20 percent, but this could be an isolated issue and we won’t hold it against the device.
Looked upon in isolation, the Galaxy Mega 5.8 is a capable device, thanks mainly to its large screen and dual-SIM capabilities. Priced at Rs 25,100 (~ $422), it isn’t too pricey either. Sure, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, and doesn’t really have any headlining feature to shout about. However, the camera is pretty decent, while the battery life is good too — all critical traits for a smartphone.
However, the Mega 5.8’s competitive landscape is such that it fails to appear as a compelling proposition, thanks to some of its own brethren such as the Mega 6.3 and even the Note II. The latter is being sold at Rs 27,500 (~ $462) under an exchange offer, and with its better specs and that useful S Pen, is definitely a better bet. Even considering the said offer due to expire very soon, the Mega 5.8 is trounced, at least on paper, by the Huawei Ascend Mate. While we’ll reserve judgment till we actually review it, the Ascent Mate offers much better specs — including a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a 6.1-inch 720p display. However, it’s stuck on Android 4.1 and is only a single-SIM device, so the Mega 5.8 does have a bit of of an upper edge if these things are important for you.
Big screen, dual-SIM, a decent camera and good battery life are the factors that definite the Mega 5.8 in a nutshell… and if these sound exactly what you’re looking for, this mammoth is for you.
Overall Rating: 7/10