A couple of years ago, before Android hit the big leagues, there was a sudden craze of projector phones which had taken the fancy of many, all thanks to clever advertising. These were feature phones from companies like Spice that had a DLP projector and weren’t too expensive either, which explained the popularity. This didn’t last too long, of course, since the feature set was rather limited and the projection system wasn’t really up to the mark but more importantly, the phones were bulky and rather hideous-looking.
Samsung saw an opportunity here to try its hand at something different and thus we have the Galaxy Beam, its second attempt since the GT-I8520. The Beam, or GT-I8530, packs in a 15 lumen DLP projector that can be used at any time with just a press of a button. The Beam is not going to attract huge crowds since it’s targetted at a very niche audience and Samsung is aware of that. So, does it make real practical sense or are you better off with a dedicated portable projector like 3M’s MP180 for the same price? Let’s find out.
Video Review of the Samsung Galaxy Beam
Design and Build
There’s no way you’re going to get a slim phone if you have to fit a projector in it. The Beam still manages to be comfortably chunky and not too obtrusive. It measures about 12.5mm in depth and weighs around 145g. Even though it’s a bit on the thicker side, it feels very comfortable in your hand. The choice of plastic gives it a nice feel, especially the rear cover, which has a matte finish to it. The Beam is available in two colours, black and yellow; the latter shade being targetted at a younger crowd. The 4-inch (800 x 480) TFT screen is accompanied by a bunch of sensors above it along with the 1.3MP camera and Samsung’s usual arrangement of buttons at the bottom.
The SIM and microSD card slots are placed on the side, which means you don't have to remove the battery cover for anything. The power button and volume rocker take their usual spot along with a new shortcut button for toggling the projector. It’s a 15 lumen DLP projector with a native resolution of 640 x 360. We’ll get into the different projector modes in a bit. Around the back, we have the 5MP shooter, LED flash and the speaker grill down at the bottom. Overall, we are really impressed with the design and build of the Galaxy Beam. The phone is extremely well-built with no sign of cheap flexing plastic and feels rugged and durable. Most importantly, it still looks like a phone rather than a projector with calling capabilities.
No surprise here, but the Galaxy Beam still runs Android 2.3.6 with a promised ICS update somewhere down the line. You also get TouchWiz 4.0, which is surprisingly smooth thanks to the ample 768MB of RAM. Instead of an Exynos CPU, Samsung has gone with ST Ericsson’s NovaThor U8500 SoC, the same one used in phones like the Sony Xperia U, P and Sola. The CPU runs at 1GHz and is dual-core. If you’ve used any Samsung Android phones, then the UI will be very familiar to you. We have toggle switches in the notification bar, custom icons and a bright, colourful theme that you’ll either love or hate.
Similar TouchWiz 4.0 UI
The only new addition here is the projector app. This lets you adjust the settings like brightness levels and other features. The first section lets you adjust the focus and rotation, which can also be accessed by tapping the shortcut button once. The projector works best up to 2m away from a screen and you can project up to a 50-inch screen. Now, even with the lamp set to the brightest, you’ll still need very little to no ambient light to get a clear picture. Given the right setting and company, you can have some real fun with this, especially on a lazy weekend. While the projected image is bright in a dark room, the colours are quite muted and sadly, there’s nothing one can do to improve this. Compared to the image or video on the screen, the one being projected is just about average. Now for a phone, this is not bad at all and given the size of the Beam, we’ve yet to see something beat this.
Various projector settings
Other features that can be used with the projector include ‘Quick Pad’, which lets you highlight and scribble over any anything being projected, which is handy during presentations. Visual Presenter turns the Beam into an OHP projector that uses the primary camera to show objects placed under it on the projected screen. It's quite clever of Samsung to incorporate this feature. Ambient mode lets you play a set of videos or images along with music to set the mood.
Samsung does not disappoint on the media front and the Galaxy Beam delivers good audio quality with a good pair of earphones. The music player supports various audio enhancements and equaliser presets as well as support for lyrics and folder view. You get 8GB of internal storage, which can be expanded further via the microSD card slot.
Good media capabilities
The video player supports MP4 and DivX HD formats, so MKV files will play back just fine. Unfortunately, video playback is restricted to 720p only as none of our 1080p test files would play, even through a third party player. We had a similar issue with the Sony Xperia U as well, which despite having a dual-core CPU, refused to play 1080p files.
The Galaxy Beam is a quad-band GSM handset with quad-band 3G support. It also has Wi-Fi with hotspot capabilities and Wi-Fi Direct, GPS with A-GPS support, DLNA, external storage upto 32GB, Bluetooth v3.0. What’s missing is TV-out and NFC. Call reception has been handled pretty well and in our test call, the recipient could easily hear us even in a noisy area. The speaker is loud enough to help you out, if you’ve got a lot of background noise. The stock keyboard is good enough to get the job done, although SwiftKey will give you a better experience in my personal opinion.
Other than the muted colours, it's not too shabby for a phone
Samsung bundles a bunch of apps of its own like Social Hub, Music Hub, ChatOn, etc. There’s also a power saving mode that automatically switches off Wi-Fi and packet data transmission once the battery level reaches a certain point. Motion-based gestures like tilt zooming, panning, etc. that we first saw in the Galaxy S II are also present.
Other bundled apps include Google+, Polaris Office, Memo, Game Hub, Task Manager, Mini Diary, Photo Editor, Task and AllShare DLNA app.
Samsung has fitted the Galaxy Beam with a 5MP shooter and an LED flash. The image quality is actually pretty good, even for indoor shooting under ambient light. Tap-to-focus makes it very easy to get some good macro shots and the sensor is able to capture good levels of detail. The LED flash is quite powerful for objects within a couple of feet and will easily illuminate a small area.
The flash does a good job in total darkness
Video recording is limited to 720p but the captured video is relatively lag and stutter free. The best results are during the day time.
Samsung had to fit a meaty battery into the Beam for the phone to last through at least one full length movie with the projector on. We are happy to report that the 2000mAh battery will easily last for 4-hours and 50-minutes with the Beam projecting a movie under normal brightness. This is more than Samsung’s claimed 3-hours of continuous playback time, which is really good. We used an SD quality movie for the test, so HD quality video would drain the battery a little faster; however, it should still be around the 3-hour mark. For regular phone usage, the Galaxy Beam will easily last you for a day or even more.
A little chunky but still comfortable to hold
Verdict and Price in India
The Galaxy Beam is certainly a unique Android phone and will probably be the only one of its kind for a while since there's no news on anyone else working on something similar. Due to the lack of competition, Samsung has priced the Galaxy Beam at a slight premium of Rs. 28,900. The only reason one would pick this over other cheaper and equally powerful phones is if they really had a use for the projector, else it just seems like nothing more than a gimmick for the vast majority, just like 3D phones. The two major issues that many will face is the muted colours of the projected video or image and the fact that the phone cannot record or play video in 1080p, which is a big bummer, especially at an asking price of nearly Rs. 30,000. In the end, the Beam falls short on the phone as well as the projector front, making it a jack of all trades but the master of none. In this case, you're better off with 3M's MP180 handheld projector, if that's what you're really after and just get a cheaper and more capable phone like the Galaxy Nexus that's currently going for as little as Rs. 21,800.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Beam is a great concept that could work in the real world if the pricing was a bit more sensible and if they improved the quality of projection.
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Oct 20, 2016
Oct 20, 2016