It is kind of like Sammy’s Grandmaster said to the minions “Grasshopper build us the largest smart phone (5.5”), use the latest Android (4.1.1 Jelly Bean), put a whacking big quad core (1.6GHz and 2GB system ram) under the bonnet, oh and throw in a stylus and 4G as well so it can be used as a tablet, or a phone or an e-reader or a IPTV... This device has an identity crisis.
Looks wise it is just a big plain grey slab with rounded corners. The faux titanium textured plastic back (that feels a bit flimsy as you gingerly lever it off) hides the 3100 mAh battery, micro SIM and micro SD memory slots (although it comes with 16GB) and 8MP camera all wrapped around a 1280 x 720 (720p) Gorilla Glass screen.
I think I get it – it is all about the screen so let’s focus on that. 5.5” AMOLED is large enough to do things that I can’t on a 3.5” and can just achieve on a 4.5 or 4.8” screen – web surfing and reading documents are all easy even if you need glasses. You would have no problems reading this article in the Chrome Browser which nicely reformats it into one column. You would have no issues watching a wide screen 16:9 movie (and with a 64GB micro sim you could do that several times over). Everything is bigger from the buttons on the on-screen keyboard to the ability to adjust font size for the vision impaired.
Summary: Great screen – not as crisp as the i-Retina but makes up in real estate.
“Bigger is better”. I have to admit that I feel dorky using the Sammy as a phone in public - it is too big and obvious but then there are big and obvious people (imagine Joe Hockey before the amazing and to be congratulated weight loss). Big also means big battery and standby is a very respectable 520 hours (we got two days of heavy use between charges). Weight is 182.5g (similar to Nokia 920)
Summary: If you don’t mind talking into something about the end size of house brick its yours.
“Make it fast” – The quad core handles any task with aplomb. I really don’t know what could need more power but now we have it some App developer will try to choke it.
Summary: good for multi-tasking especially if you forget to shut down the dozen or so tasks you have just used.
“Give it a stylus” When you remove the S Pen from its hidey-hole a screen comes up requesting you to “Discover your inner creativity”. In a week of use I did not use the stylus for navigation yet on O2 XDA smart phone (long deceased) I desperately needed to use it. The large screen coupled with Android’s touch friendly interface does remove the need for precision tapping. I used the stylus to jot handwritten notes and conversion to text feature was pretty good.
Summary: Da Vinci however I am not. Handy gimmick.
4G (Telstra network) reception in the city was particularly good with Tethering and portable hotspot capabilities giving me Wi-Fi N speed access up to 10 metres away. I could not test the download speed but other reports suggest 20-40Mbps downloads in metro areas were achieved.
Summary: 4G is the way (why would you buy 3G any more) and this can be used to hotspot connect notebooks or tablets without 4G capability.
“Use Android Jellybean” I use Windows Phone 7.8X and my use of Android has been limited to earlier iterations or on less capable phones and tablets. Hmmm… Android is good, able to do most if not all of the things I want from a tablet sized phone. It is relatively intuitive with a lot of similarities to iOS (icon driven upper levels and drop down menus at the lower levels) so Joe Average will not miss iOS per se. It comes with Navigon (Garmin) Navigation software. I did find some rough edges and inconsistencies but the single “Home” button was always reassuring.
Summary: Very competent smart phone and tablet OS with a wealth of Apps (more than iOS and Windows 8 Phone) that should not be too hard to get used to. But still no real MS Office read and edit capabilities – lots of pretenders that came close.
“Give it a camera” – This is an average 8MP camera and flash taking average pictures but the burst Shot did surprise me when I held down the button too long and took several hundred photos of the same thing (able to be turned off).
Summary: Could be improved but adequate.
And make sure it does not lack any feature other devices do - and it doesn't.
Too big for an everyday phone but so feature packed that those with deep pockets (pun intended) will ignore that. Packed full of Samsung inspired features that make Jelly Bean even sweeter. I am going to say that as a mini-tablet it makes a pretty good phone.
Telstra loaned the phone for review. It is available on a $67 per month plan with 1GB data (higher limit plans as well). Estimated street price for outright purchase under $700