Review: Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, among the world’s biggest smartphones

Enormous. Ridiculous. Gigantic. Plain silly.

Those are some of the words more than two dozen people used to describe the experience talking on the Samsung Galaxy Mega, which AT&T began selling today for $149.99. The phone is essentially identical to the popular Samsung Galaxy S4, with one exception: It is immense. Really immense.

The Mega has a 6.3-inch screen, making it among the largest smartphones in the world -- among because the Sony Xperia Z Ultra has a 6.4-inch screen, winning the bigger-is-better award by a hair. Both are in some ways too big. Hold the Mega to your ear and the other end of the phone will jut comically far into space. Try holding a shoe box to your head and you’ll feel as silly as I do with this thing. And walking around New York City with it yesterday, New Yorkers were quick to point that out (thanks, folks).

Yes, the Mega is a ridiculous smartphone. But it’s smart nonetheless.

Here’s the thing: How often are you really on the phone? Americans are increasingly skipping calls and opting for emails and text messages these days. It’s especially true among people under 21. So forget that it’s kind of silly as a phone and consider the other factors. That's where it gets interesting.

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Many people carry around a dizzying array of gizmos today: a smartphone for chatting and text, a Kindle or other e-reader for digital books, a tablet for, well, still other things. The Mega aims to replace all of those, with a screen big enough to read on that’s somehow still a phone.

The 6.3-inch screen nicely bridges the gap between small tablets and large smartphones. It measures almost as big as the 7-inch Galaxy Nexus 7, which is widely hailed as the reigning mini tablet. But it’s far bigger than even the biggest smartphones out there; your next game of Candy Crush will be far more entertaining when scaled up.

The display isn’t the sharpest or best on the market. That Nexus 7 comes with a 1080p screen that smooshes 323 pixels into each inch. The more pixels per inch, the sharper and crisper the screen display. The Galaxy Mega has a 720p screen with just 233 pixels per inch. Obviously, crisper is better. But in reality, most screens are of a high-enough quality that you’re unlikely to register that distinction.

The device is relatively competitive in other areas, with an 8-megapixel camera, a dual-core 1.7-GHz processor, and Android 4.2.2 software. It felt peppy in my testing, though it's not as fast as the S4 or other top of the line phones.

The Galaxy Mega's interface is essentially identical to that on the S4, save one or two items. The company skipped a feature that lets you control the phone by waving a hand in the air above it, for example. That’s for the best. In my testing, that feature didn’t work so well anyway.

One notable feature: the ability to run two apps side by side, thanks to a fly-out menu on the left hand side that holds icons for common apps. It’s something seen in other Samsung phones, but becomes far more practical with a screen this big.

That said, the phone itself is impractical. The sheer physical bulk of it means it may or may not fit in your pants pocket. It fit the pocket in my Gap khakis, for example, but not my Levis. Indeed, pants manufacturers have struggled in recent years to keep pace with the growing size of ordinary smartphones. The design director at Dockers told me in April that he had to upsize the pockets in his pants to deal with these devices. Really.

That enormity means movies look great on the Mega, an entire webpage will fit on a screen, and those distracting games will be even more distracting. The Mega may seem ridiculous at first. But it fills a clear niche -- a really big niche, anyway.