You've got to hand it to Samsung, it's not afraid to run with unconventional ideas. Last year the company offered up the enormous Galaxy Note, a mobile that swerved dangerously into tablet territory, and this year we're treated to the Galaxy Beam -- a smart phone that contains a projector.
That's right, this mobile combines the excitement of mid-range Android action with a DIY lightshow you can project onto your bedroom wall. But before you get beside yourself with excitement at the prospect of Justin Bieber crooning you to sleep, be warned the Galaxy Beam ain't cheap.
You can bag the phone free on contract but you'll need to sign up for two years, paying a bare minimum of £26 a month. Or you'll have to shell out a frankly wallet-battering £410 to own it SIM-free. Not exactly mid-range prices then.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Beam?
There's no doubt the Beam's projector is something of a gimmick but it's the sort that's going to seem insanely cool for kids of a certain age. If you're a teenager who can beg, borrow or earn enough cash from washing your parents' car every weekend -- for, like, ever -- to fund owning this phone, don't let me stop you.
It's not the best smart phone you can buy for this much money -- not even close. You're pocketing a middling Android experience while paying a premium for the pico projector stuck inside it. But who cares when you can have a booty-shaking Beyoncé projected half a metre high on your bedroom wall?
If, on the other hand, you're not whipped into a frenzy of excitement at the prospect of ripping down your bedroom posters and replacing them with YouTube clips, then the Galaxy Beam isn't the phone for you.
There are more slick and powerful 'droids up for grabs for this sort of cash -- such as Samsung's perennially popular Galaxy S Advance, without having to give up two years' worth of pocket money.. Or you can trouser a perfectly capable mid-range 'droid sans projector, such as the
One more thing: this phone hasn't been designed with business folk in mind, so don't expect super-slick presentation software to let you beam your company's financials in front of the board. This is a phone firmly aimed at kids, not suits.
The Beam's projector is snuggled into the top of the device and it's triggered by a little button on the side of the phone. The first bit of good news is you can use the projector to beam anything the phone's display is showing -- it isn't app-specific. So YouTube videos, TV shows you've rented, clips of your cat doing cute stuff and your favourite games can all be projected onto light, clutter-free surfaces. Yay!
The other good news is that unlike serious projectors, the Beam doesn't use a big, breakable lamp, so there's no faffing around unscrewing and replacing bulbs. It's just a button press and off you go. To fire up the projector you can either long-press the physical button on the right-hand edge of the phone, or tap the Projector app that comes pre-loaded.
To focus the picture or control brightness, there's a simple slider interface. This menu automatically appears every time you summon the projector via the physical button, or can be accessed via the Focus and Rotation menu in the app. Here, you can also change the orientation of the picture by tapping a button to toggle between landscape and portrait view -- useful if you want to project a game in landscape orientation, say, while standing the phone up in portrait mode.
If you're hoping to beam YouTube videos on your wall, you'll have to contend with the phone's gyroscope, which means the app won't want to display a video in full-screen mode when the handset's standing on its short edge. Though there are, of course, ways around this such as using a screen locker or just placing the phone flat, rather than propping it up.
The projector app offers various projection modes, including a Quick Pad mode, which lets you beam whatever's on screen and overlay a pointer or scribble directly onto it. That could come in handy if you have to present your biology project in front of the class. The Visual Presenter mode might also be useful if you want to show off a specimen on the desk in front of you, as this mode throws up an image of whatever the phone's camera is pointing at.
Other options include an Ambience mode that lets you create a party atmosphere in your bedroom by projecting images, animations or video along with music of your choice (add headphones and you can have your own private silent disco). There's a neat Briefing mode that allows you to set a projection to accompany your alarm so it can beam stuff like your appointments for the day and the weather forecast onto the wall when you wake up. Meanwhile, a Torch mode will beam out a block of white, green, red or blue-coloured light -- to either see your way up the garden path or terrify your kid brother. Fun times.
The Beam's projector is not HD resolution. It's nHD -- meaning it throws out 640x360 pixels, with a brightness rating of 15 Lumens. To put this in context, it's possible to buy high-end home theatre HD projectors with a brightness rating of 2,000 Lumens. So the emphasis with Samsung's gizmo is very much on the 'pico' aspect of projecting. In short, don't expect amazing quality from the Beam's bulb.
It will happily project an image of sizeable proportions if you have a bare wall big enough to host it, plus a few clear metres of space so you can sit the projector far enough away to scale the picture up. Obviously, the bigger the image, the less clarity it'll have. Samsung reckons you can project an image with good clarity up to 1.27m wide with the projector sited 2m away from the wall.
In a darkened room, it's possible to have landscape images of more than 1m high dancing around on your wall but you wouldn't really want to watch a film blown up this big as it'll be pretty fuzzy. Indeed, even when considerably reducing the projection size, you'll have trouble making out moodily-lit scenes -- but hey, you're creating an atmosphere here, not trying to recreate the cinema. Cartoons and other brightly contrasting content works best, so think Toy Story not The Road.
Regardless of what you're beaming, the projector doesn't come into its own until after dark -- or until you shut yourself inside a windowless room. There's zero chance of seeing projections outdoors on a sunny day. Even if you want to use the projector indoors during the day you'll need to be able to create plenty of darkness. Flimsy floral curtains just won't cut it. For the best experience, clear out a space in the cupboard under the stairs and shut yourself in with the spiders.
When you've located a dark hidey hole, the best picture clarity is still achieved with a relatively short throw distance. I found that aligning the phone with around a metre between it and the wall gave a decent contrasty picture of around 60cm wide. The IMAX, this is not.
One aspect of the projector experience that's a particular let down is the phone's audio, which isn't amazing. You can, of course, plug in a decent set of headphones to enhance your movie night for one. Or, if you're hoping to get a bunch of mates around to watch a film on your bedroom wall, you'll definitely want to use decent speakers as the phone's tinny noise will soon grate and/or be drowned out.
If you're prone to motion sickness, you won't want to try holding the phone for the duration of a film. Resting or propping the Beam on a hard surface is the obvious way to avoid picture wobble and Samsung has included a plastic stand for this purpose.
If you're using the stand, the Beam's micro-USB port becomes inaccessible so you can't charge the handset. The stand does double as a battery charger though, so you can charge your spare inside it while you watch. If your phone runs out of juice, you can then just swap the batteries around and on you go.
Generating light, as your science teacher will tell you, requires energy so it follows that projecting a block of light onto your bedroom wall takes a sizeable toll on the Beam's battery. This explains why Samsung has put not one, but two batteries in the box -- and they're capacious 2,000mAh cells, no less.
The company says you should expect more than 3 hours of projection time per fully-charged battery. I tested battery longevity by switching the phone's Visual Presenter mode on in the morning to see how long a fully-charged battery could beam away for. The answer was a few minutes shy of 4 hours -- although the phone automatically switches the projector function off when the battery dips to around 10 per cent. The brightness level was set to max for this test.
If you're streaming a film over Wi-Fi -- so using audio too -- the Beam will probably gobble through a full tank of petrol even more quickly. So I'd budget for around 3 hours of projection-based fun per battery. If you keep charging the spare while you use the other, you'll be able to keep beaming away for hours and hours though.
If, on the other hand, you don't plan on using the projector very much, you should easily get a day's use out of the phone on a single charge -- possibly as much as a few days if you're not poking and prodding it too much, since 2,000mAh is a pretty big cell for a smart phone of this size and power. Factor in the second battery and, assuming you keep it with you at all times, you really shouldn't have to worry about running out of juice.
My colleague Luke gave the battery life on the Beam a more thorough test when he challenged it to project the entirety of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight without faltering. Hit play on the video below to see how it fared.
The built-in projector is obviously the Beam's headline feature, but what else does this blower have to offer? Well, the display is of the 4-inch variety, with a middling 480x800-pixel resolution -- giving you a pixel-per-inch count of 233. This means that if you're browsing a website such as CNET UK, you'll need to zoom in to read smaller text.
There's no sign of the AMOLED display technology Samsung's so fond of but the screen is still clear and colourful -- even if it's not super-vibrant. The touchscreen is responsive, as are the menu and back touch-keys at the base of the pane. Annoyingly though, these are invisible until you tap them, at which point they light up.
Push down really hard and the screen will flex and discolour but since the touchscreen is sensitive, you shouldn't need to apply much pressure.
Power and performance
The Beam has a 1GHz dual-core processor lodged at its core, which isn't exactly a weedy engine. But remember, you're shelling out a serious chunk of cash for this phone, so it's less power than you could pocket with higher-end mobiles.
For example, you could try and cram Samsung's whopping Galaxy Note in your trousers for the same SIM-free price -- and that packs a 5.3-inch screen and a dual-core 1.4GHz processor. Look beyond Androids and you could take home an -- a device that doesn't have a dual-core chip or a projector, but which does offer a slick experience.