With new technologies constantly emerging, the evolution of the smartphone is moving forward at an ever-increasing rate. Features that were once considered exotic such as voice recognition and HD video capture are becoming ever more commonplace, and levels of functionality are reaching new heights with every handset release.
Samsung have generally been at the forefront of innovation and development and has really pushed the envelope with its new Galaxy Beam, a handset that includes a built-in 15 lumens projector. The device grabbed headlines following its unveiling at this year’s Mobile World Congress, but questions were quickly raised regarding its real world performance and whether the projector is a worthwhile addition or just a tacky gimmick.
After months of waiting we finally got hold of the device in order to really check out its potential and test its performance as a usable smartphone.
- Built in 15 lumens projector
- 4-inch WVGA display
- 1GHz dual-core processor
- Large capacity 2000mAh battery
- 720p video recording
- 5 megapixel autofocus camera
- 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera
- Android Gingerbread OS
- 8GB internal storage (expandable to 32GB via MicroSD)
- 12.5mm thickness
- 145g weight
- Integrated Social Hub
- FM Radio
Design and Build
The Galaxy Beam is a bold prospect in every way and firmly states its case straight out of the box. The combination of a substantial 12.5mm thick frame, striking yellow bezel and of course, that large projector lens sitting atop the device, make for a design that is imposing and is sure to split opinion.
That said, the Beam does feel undeniably well built. The 145g weight, dark chrome screen surround and textured battery cover give the feeling of a reassuringly premium smartphone. Overall, the Beam’s design is likely to appeal to those who prefer rugged, robust aesthetics.
Although the focus is clearly on the projector’s performance, the Galaxy Beam’s display is surprisingly impressive. The WVGA resolution and 4-inch screen size appear underwhelming on paper, but upon investigation the display offers decent levels of sharpness and depth of colour. While there is nothing to trouble flagship screens such as that which features on the Galaxy S III, it is more than acceptable for a mid-range device.
Under the Hood
Elsewhere, the Beam’s hardware specification is adequate if a little uninspiring. The 1GHz dual-core processor and 768MB of RAM are by no means bargain basement, however, they do come across as slightly pedestrian. That said, menu navigation and software performance is swift enough and lag appears to be at a minimum throughout.
Internal storage stands at a less than impressive 8GB, however, external storage of up to 32GB is available via the MicroSD slot. With expandable storage becoming an increasingly rare feature within new handsets largely due to the rise of cloud computing, it is a refreshing addition here.
The inclusion of a built-in projector is inevitably going to be a huge drain on the battery and as such Samsung has packed a massive 2000mAh battery into the Galaxy Beam. In our tests we rather unsurprisingly found excellent power performance across the board, with almost 4 hours projector playback possible. General everyday usage faired equally as well with the handset giving around 48 hours use between charges.
Operating System and User Interface
Android Gingerbread is the operating system of choice and as such, the user experience unfortunately feels largely outdated on the Beam. It is slightly disappointing that the device does not come preloaded with the latest version of Android but we stay hopeful that an ICS upgrade will be forthcoming.
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI does make the most of Gingerbread though and despite its limitations the OS still provides a highly customisable experience.
The 15 lumen projector is obviously the major highlight of the Galaxy Beam and we could not help but be impressed with its capabilities. The ability to project images, documents and movies up to a width of 50-inches onto any surface is certainly novel and gives the handset a major wow factor. Operation is incredibly simple thanks to the hardware button on the side of the device and easy to follow focus and orientation adjustment options.
Video and image performance offered by the projector is of a surprisingly high quality, offering faithful colour reproduction and, once focused properly, respectable sharpness. It is worth pointing out though that a darkened room really is a necessity in order to get the best from the projector. Similarly, a sturdy surface on which to place the device is required for prolonged viewing, particularly when watching video content
Alongside the aforementioned functionality, the Beam also includes a number additional projection features. Ambience mode allows the user to create a short video using stock footage, such as a flickering candle, and combining it with what sounds like the kind of piped muzak you’d hear in a hotel lobby, in order to create a mood video for projection. Its inclusion is somewhat baffling as it’s unlikely that anyone other than those charged with placating agitated babies would actually use it.
A similarly strange addition is the Briefing app, which is essentially a glorified alarm clock that projects an image onto whichever surface the device is pointing at and then plays a selected alarm noise. Again, this feature seems like little more than a gimmick and we preferred to use the standard alarm clock.
Camera and Video
The onboard 5 megapixel autofocus camera is a decent unit and the quality of the images produced is on par with those from handsets such as the HTC One V. Colour saturation and sharpness are excellent and several shooting modes are available in order to capture images successfully, whatever the conditions.
The 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera is unsurprisingly of a much lower quality, but performs adequately for self portraits and video calling.
Image editing is available via the functional but slightly limited Photo Editor, which facilitates basic post image processing including colour adjustment and effects such as lens blur. Although entirely usable, we found that beyond subtle contrast adjustments, the software offers little to the aspiring photographer.
Video capture is available at 720p and as such results are sharp and detailed, even when relayed to the projector. The camera copes well with various light conditions and is able to compete comfortably with other devices at this price point.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Connectivity options are as expected from a midrange Android smartphone and include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi tethering and microUSB options. Email and messaging functionality is efficient and operates without hitch, with the Social Hub available as a central access point for SMS messaging, email and social feeds.
Music and gaming content is grouped within the respective hubs with both providing portals in order to facilitate purchase of games, albums or individual tracks. Although video content is easily accessible via the video player, we were disappointed to not see a dedicated hub, particularly considering the Beam’s movie projecting credentials.
Performance and Verdict
The Galaxy Beam could easily be seen as nothing more than gimmick-laden mid-range Android device. However, after spending some time with the Beam we were suitably impressed. The build quality of the handset is of an exceptionally high standard and the superb camera alone makes it a worthwhile proposition.
The projector does add a certain novelty to the Beam and will undoubtedly be a key part in any purchasing decision. However, its appeal does admittedly begin to wear off eventually and over time the ability to project onto surfaces feels more like an added extra of the phone rather than its real raison d’etre.
Overall the Samsung Galaxy Beam is a usable, solid Android handset that includes an added functionality that is almost totally unique. In a mobile world where manufacturers are quick to copy the innovations of competitors Samsung really should be applauded for stepping outside of the box and creating a device which pushes the boundaries of what a mobile phone is capable of.