Samsung's new 'Mega' phone huge, but with limited appeal

LOS ANGELES — Please turn off all electronic devices, the flight crew instructs as we approach Los Angeles. With a small phone, I might have gotten away with ignoring safety regulations. Samsung's new Galaxy Mega phone was too conspicuous for that.

The Mega shouldn't even be called a phone, if it weren't for the fact that it makes phone calls. With a screen measuring 6.3 inches diagonally, the Mega is more like a small Android tablet computer. It shares the tablet's advantages in showing more detail in photos and video. Text is larger and easier to read, too.

That doesn't make the Mega practical, though, for many people. As a phone, it's huge. It doesn't fully fit in the pocket of my jeans, and it sometimes pokes at my stomach when sitting. It doesn't feel comfortable in my hands. I'm unable to grip it tightly because it's so wide, so I feel as if it's going to slip out of my hands. Without that grip, I also feel that it'll be easy for a thief to snatch it away.

A friend jokingly said that it was bigger than her head as she held it up to her ear. A cousin called it ridiculous. A co-worker pointed out that cellphones used to be big, too — in the 1970s.

It could have been worse, though.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet has an 8-inch screen, its diagonal length just a quarter larger than the Mega's. But the tablet is about twice the size of the Mega, in part because it has a thick frame. With the Mega, the screen stretches close to the edge, keeping the overall device relatively slim. Held on its side like a movie screen, the Mega is about as wide as a dollar bill, but slightly taller.

AT&T Inc. is selling the Mega for $150 with a two-year service contract, or $480 without one. By contrast, smaller phones such as Apple's 4-inch iPhone 5 and Samsung's 5-inch Galaxy S4 typically go for $200 with a contract and more than $600 without.

The Mega also costs just half of AT&T's contract price for Samsung's 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2. It's like getting a bigger screen for less. The Mega is only a tad heavier — at 7 ounces, compared with 6.4 ounces for the Note 2. (On Wednesday, Samsung announced a bigger, yet lighter Note 3 phone, at 5.7 inches and 5.9 ounces, though prices weren't announced. It will be available in the U.S. sometime after a global launch on Sept. 25.)

The Mega also is coming to Sprint and U.S. Cellular. Dates and prices haven't been announced.

It's a shame that the display isn't sharper. The resolution is 233 pixels per inch, compared with 441 for the S4 and 326 for the iPhone 5. Video looks dull on the Mega by comparison. And fans of the Note might be disappointed with the Mega. Although the Mega has a larger screen, it doesn't come with a stylus, something the Note is known for.

The Mega may appeal to people who primarily want a tablet and make few calls, especially those needing the larger type. For everyone else, small is the way to go.

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