Samsung Galaxy Beam
26th Jul 2012 | 12:44
A projecting piece of kit: but will it leave you beaming?
Overview, design and feel
Forget HDMI-ready devices, Samsung has decided to go low-maintenance…got a wall? Got a Samsung Galaxy Beam? Great: project your puppy pictures, downloaded episodes and PowerPoint presentations at will!
As we pointed out in our hands-on test, this isn't the first time Samsung has tried foisting a projector phone on an unsuspecting public: but perhaps this will be the first time it succeeds?
It's not cheap either: £31 a month contract and a £400+ SIM-free price make it hard to recommend to the budget brigade... and with these specs we'd expect to have something a bit more wallet-friendly. But it's got a whopping projector stuffed in there, so let's not be too harsh.
So: down to the nitty gritty. For a handset packing a 15 lumens projector, the Samsung Galaxy Beam does a good job of slimming its hardware into a decently lightweight package.
It's a sporty-looking number, thanks to the yellow and chrome bezel and the soft, rubberized battery panel on the back. It weighs in at 145g; just 5g more than the Apple iPhone 4S and the projector is sleekly moulded into the frame.
At 12.5mm it's a little chunkier than most smart phones, but for obvious hardware-related reasons. If you have smaller digits, the relative girth of the chassis makes it a little precarious and the smooth panelling makes it feel as though it's about to slip away from you when held one-handed.
If it does though, the Samsung Galaxy Beam is a bit of a tough nut – it came away from two or three accidental drops with nary a scratch.
Because of the projector placement, the 5MP camera sits a third of the way down the back of the phone: makes it a little too easy to accidentally cover with a finger, but ho-hum.
The front of the Galaxy Beam bears only an external home button, VGA camera, thin chromed speaker and touch-screen keys.
The sides of the handset pack in all the additional buttons: power and projector buttons, volume rocker, SIM and micro SD slots (up to 32GB additional storage), Micro USB, 3.5mm jack and the projector itself, the crowning glory on the top of the phone.
The back panel eases off nicely and the phone itself comes with a spare battery and standalone battery charger – meaning you never need to be without charge.
Our SIM didn't pop in and out easily, but this is likely down to using a micro SIM in a holder rather than a regular SIM.
Given the placement of the projector, the 3.5mm jack sits on the left-hand side, which is a teeny bit annoying when trying to snugly fit this beast into pockets.
The external body of the Samsung Galaxy Beam seems to stack up so far against its rival high-cost smartphones (coming in at just under £400 SIM free), but what is it packing inside?
Well, that would be Android 2.3 Gingerbread, though an Ice Cream Sandwich update is rumoured. It features a bright 4-inch WVGA touchscreen that indoors is perfectly bright and vivid in its display, but falters somewhat in daylight.
Running Gingerbread 2.3 on a 1GHz dual-core processor, you'd expect the Beam to be a decently smooth ride for those Android users picking up an upgrade.
It's annoying not to see Ice Cream Sandwich on here, as you'd hope to see something more advanced on a phone with this kind of hardware, and there's no definite upgrade on the horizon.
Even if you're hopping from Apple's iOS to FINALLY pick up a projector phone, it's going to be quite intuitive for you too. There's the handy drop-down notifications menu, with easy access to Wi-Fi, silent mode and GPS and seven home screens to be customised as you wish with all the widgets and shortcuts you can cram in there.
For the super-organised, there's also the option of folders.
The Samsung Galaxy Beam generally works smoothly, though there is very occasional lag when all home screens are fully loaded and you pinch to zoom out to the all-screen view or swipe to unlock, which you can't help but feel shouldn't really be happening on a phone with these specs.
Adding a widget is simply a case of long-pressing on the home screen and selecting you favourite, but the overall use of Android 2.3 is such that we really prefer the ease that browsing Android 4.0 affords... right now, the sideways list of icons simply is too confusing.
The apps menu is easy to navigate either in grid or list mode, with newly downloaded apps added to the end of the list.
Holding down the home key will open the most recent app list/task manager, allowing you easy access to exit apps you're no longer using to stop them chewing up power.
Adding a shortcut to a homescreen is simple: just tap and hold the chosen app icon in the menu and it will automatically pull up the home screens for you to drag-and-drop to.
Contacts, calling and messaging
Accessible from both the static menu and home-screen widgets, the contacts provides your call log, contacts list, favourites and the ability to group contacts into friends/family/mortal enemies etc.
There is social network integration with the contacts tab, but, frustratingly, the software doesn't seem capable of joining SIM and social network contacts together, causing a doubling – even tripling – of one person's details in your phone; a separate entry for each facet of your contact's social life. It makes for a messy, annoying contacts list.
You'll need to copy everything over to phone memory and then hide your SIM contacts to achieve the connection... it's a bit of a fuss but once it's done you'll appreciate the improved power.
The experience of displayed SIM contacts is pretty basic: your contact's number, email, whatever miscellaneous information you've entered. There is a shortcut to any text conversations you've had recently but they're not displayed within the contacts themselves.
If you've synced your Facebook and Twitter accounts with the Social Hub, the additional contacts displaying their network account details is a bit more interesting, showing their info, history, activities and uploading media.
The swipe shortcuts are nice though: find the contact you want, sweep your thumb left across their icon to instantly call or sweep to the right to text. Nice.
While it's great that your entire contact list can be added to a home screen via a folder, or singularly as favourites using the Buddy widget, somehow Android handsets never seem to be able to get the contact homescreen widgets to stop pixelating profile images.
In a screen full of sharp pixels and shortcuts, it degrades the experience a little.
The phone supports smart dialling and new contacts are added by simply tapping into an unknown number in the Call Log or pressing the touch-menu button when inside a text from an unsaved number.
In-call volume and quality is good on the Galaxy Beam, though there were several spots where we would usually get signal that it seemed to be much weaker than usual.
But overall the call quality was clear and it was easy to hear the other person. There's easy access to the smart dialler through the static calling icon at the bottom of the screen.
Email and social networking are well integrated on the Galaxy Beam, with several pre-installed and downloadable apps including Social Hub, which pulls all your feeds into a universal inbox.
All are easy to set up, with automatic walk-throughs. And it's possible to add more than one account to the email app.
The email composition area is pretty small, despite the 4-inch screen, with the keyboard taking up half the screen in portrait mode, and three quarters of the screen in landscape mode.
It's quick to get your typing speed back up on the qwerty keyboard, but switch predictive text off for the better experience: not only do the auto-correct words flash up and down on the screen while you type (quite headache inducing), but it often chooses the wrong word...then makes you delete through several other possibilities before you can try to type the one you want.
The inbuilt HTML browser is perfectly good: quick to load, especially when connected to a good Wi-Fi signal, and images are sharply rendered. Plus it has Adobe Flash capability. Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Wi-Fi hotspot are available for firing up your browsing power when 3G just isn't enough.
Text remains sharp when zoomed in, though images pixelate a little.
Text reflow is supported, as is multi-window browsing. Bookmarks and history are reached via the bookmarks tab next to the URL.
It's nicely laid out in typical Android style, with thumbnail bookmarks and a history list. New bookmarks are easily added by tapping the auto-populated thumbnail at the beginning of the list to bookmark the page you're on.
Pinch to zoom out to scroll between open windows, or tap the touchscreen-menu button to bring up the option.
If you prefer a browsing experience more reminiscent of a desktop device, there's always the option to download Opera or Dolphin, but the essentials are all covered by the inbuilt browser.
Both Dolphin and the Samsung browser took approximately the same amount of time (about six seconds) to load pages when not connected to Wi-Fi and both were capable of playing video content within the browser.
More megapixels doesn't necessarily guarantee better images, but while the camera is perfectly adequate, there is a noticeable difference in image quality between the Galaxy Beam and the iPhone 4S.
Scenic modes for shooting still images include: portrait, landscape, night, sports, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dawn, fall colour, firework, candlelight, backlight and 'text'.
Additionally there are plenty of settings for the enthusiastic amateur to get their teeth into: when shooting without a chosen scenic mode the exposure, white balance, ISO and focus are all available to alter manually, and easily reached inside shooting mode via the little cog menu icon.
You can tap to autofocus, though sometimes it loses the focus of the image before you have a chance to take the picture, and the macro mode does a good job of creating a nice bit of depth in the image anyway.
Forget Facebook: satisfy the urge to share every detail of your life and film collection with the Galaxy Beam's projector.
Or perhaps you'll go the more conservative route and beam up those end-of-year sales figures into the internal staff meeting.
Then again, maybe you just want to wave the Galaxy Beam around like a lightsaber (we won't judge). Whatever your proclivity, does the second iteration of the Samsung Galaxy Beam projector actually cut the mustard?
Well, the output quality of the 15 lumens-emitting projector is pretty good. Sure, it takes a decent amount of darkness to be able to see to see the projected image properly, but once it's up and running it provides a cool, different experience.
Turn on the projector once you've found the file you want to view, or swoop through your phone's features while projecting them onto your blank canvas.
The projected display can also be sized up to 50mm. The speaker is excellent when it comes to volume, which helps if you have to rest the phone on a surface a little distance away to get the full effect.
Other than that – and while it is the main draw of the Galaxy Beam – there isn't much to say about the projector itself. Once you've beamed your photos/videos/films onto a wall, that is about all you can do, with little in the way of things to play with and adjust.
Should you prefer the standard video player, it supports all the major codecs, and is comfortable to hold thanks to the soft back cover and ergonomic design.
Playback was occasionally a little jerky and the sound doesn't quite get loud enough in-ear (despite the excellent external speaker volume), though the supplied in-earphones are surprisingly comfortable.
You can play around with the brightness level, should you have a low-lit video, but there's little else you can fiddle with besides sharing the video in question.
Both the music and video players can be added to one of the seven homescreens for easy access and the Samsung Music Hub is also available for downloading music straight to the handset.
Sound quality of the music player app is well balanced, with just a little tinny-ness the louder the volume is pushed.
The 5.1Ch option merely removes heavy bass from the song, but that's not always welcome and removes some of the fullness of the sounds.
There's no iFlow-esque scroll screen for this though, preferring a static album art image and simple controls.
Playlists are easily created by ticking off a checklist of your music.
The player can also be controlled in the lock screen, which is handy.
There's also an FM radio, which works much as any other, though a couple of scans are needed to pick up every popular station and it has a bit of trouble staying with the station at times, resulting in static in the ear.
The Samsung Galaxy Beam comes DLNA ready with client AllShare, meaning you can stream from another server (such as a PC or other smart device) or chuck your content up to a smart TV.
Battery life and connectivity
Samsung handily supplies buyers with a spare 2000mAh battery plus a stand-alone battery charger, meaning you never technically have to plug in the handset itself.
Holding the home soft key will bring up recent apps and the task manager, so you can keep on top of battery-draining apps that might be running away in the background.
As for quoted talk time, Samsung reckon up to eight hours on 3G. We'd say it's about right: we found it to have better battery life than most smartphones, when using heavily and keeping Wi-Fi on a good three or four hours a day. A nightly charge would do the trick without any topping up in between.
Battery life was obviously heavily impacted by using the projector - we're talking a few hours of use if you're watching movies or chucking out presentations. This is to be expected and keeping the spare topped up was an easy way to keep you smartphoned up on the go - although if you're bringing this to keep you entertained while camping you might need a few more power packs.
The micro USB serves as the main mode of connectivity and the charge port for the Samsung Galaxy Beam. Using drag-and-drop methods on the PC you can simultaneously charge and update your files.
We couldn't get the Beam to connect to a mac for some reason, even after downloading Android file transfer software for Mac. For whatever reason, the computer entirely refused to acknowledge it. Connecting to a PC was easy though: plug in and you're away.
There's a DLNA for wireless sharing and the Beam is easily turned into a Wi-Fi hotspot by digging into the Wireless and Network settings. Connecting is easy, but there won't be any awards won for speed by connecting this way.
Maps and Apps
Google Maps comes as standard, which is a pretty high standard to beat of course. Without Wi-Fi the GPS lock isn't lightning fast but it only takes a few extra seconds to accurately find your location.
Of course, if you have Google Maps you have an in-built satnav with voice guidance, which is very helpful indeed.
Also, if you're not into apps like Foursquare but do want to know what's around you that you can explore, Google Maps' inbuilt Places tool can help you find a new restaurant, pub or 'attraction' in your immediate vicinity.
Choose from Google's Play store or the Samsung Apps store for loading new bits of fun onto the Galaxy Beam. Ignore the Samsung Apps store and stick with Play; it's the better-stocked store.
Pre-installed apps on the Galaxy Beam revolve around the 'hub' theme (e.g. Social Hub, Music Hub, Game Hub) and Polaris Office for Microsoft Office support. Any games you click on in the Game Hub will take you to Play to download, so that is indeed the main app 'hub' itself.
Other than that there's nothing really to write home about: the Galaxy Beam is a blank canvas waiting for your particular personality, pushing neither a social nor work nor gaming aspect.
Apps are all downloaded directly to the handset, slipping quietly into place in the grid-menu display.
Some apps will generate their own widget, others will need to be added to the home screen as a shortcut.
Projector aside, the Samsung Galaxy Beam is a decent phone. Decent, but not excellent. It runs a fairly dated version of the Android OS, which slows it down on occasion when the home screens are fully loaded with apps and a couple of them are running in the background.
The Samsung Galaxy Beam has great battery life and can run all the major networking apps and games with ease. The additional battery provided is also a plus.
There's 8GB internal storage with the MicroSD option of adding 32GB on top of that. The camera produces some good snaps, though it is only 5MP.
And despite the projector, the Galaxy Beam is a sturdy piece of kit and surprisingly light too.
Admittedly it sounds potentially cool – a projector! On your phone! – but the novelty soon wears off when you have to wait for complete darkness and even then, the quality of the projection isn't high-def enough to particularly blow you away.
It runs fairly well but if you're looking for an Android upgrade for around the same money, surely you'd be sniffing around the Samsung Galaxy S3 with its quad-core processor, Ice Cream Sandwich OS and other enviable specs.
All-in-all, we're a little pushed to find more than a couple of random things you might need a projector for. You could go old-school and make people sit through a literal slide show of your holiday snaps.
Or you could possibly be out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a sheep to project a film onto the side of.
Or, of course, maybe you really do want to use it in-situ at a meeting. But other than that, what are you going to do with it? It needs a quiet, incredibly dark place to make the viewing possible…so, props to Samsung for running with this, but we don't see the hordes needing a middling smartphone with projector addendum just yet.
Big thanks toExpansysfor sending us our review unit.