Samsung Galaxy Beam (unlocked) review: Samsung Galaxy Beam (unlocked)

Samsung Galaxy Beam
The tomatoes looked even blurrier when blown to full resolution, but the colors are true to life. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I was able to take some pretty good photos on the Galaxy Beam's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. Although the majority of my shots were taken in abundant light (it's summer, after all,) the phone does come with an LED flash. Outdoor photos are usually better than indoor shots, and even with the large amount of natural light seeping in, my indoor shots weren't as in focus as the outdoor pictures.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
These high-flying statues look great through the Beam's lens. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

There's no continuous focus on the Galaxy Beam's camera, but you can tap to focus. The camera software is chock-full of adjustments and settings for things like white balance, ISO, metering, and resolution. Shooting modes include panorama, action shots, and smile shot. You can set the camera to shoot portraits or landscapes, to shoot at night, and to consider an indoor environment or a sports scene with rapid action. Other effects let you turn photos into negatives, grayscale, or sepia. You can turn on blink detection to try to avoid closed eyes in shots, and you can geotag your images.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
The Galaxy Beam's lens loves the sun. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Slide the onscreen control to video mode to shoot in 720p HD video. There aren't quite as many video settings, but you'll see the same choices for effects, resolution, and white balance. You can film shorter videos meant for multimedia messages, and you're also able to turn the camera on yourself for video taken out of the front-facing camera.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
The Galaxy Beam created brownish corners in our standard indoor studio shot. Josh Miller/CNET

Video playback was certainly smooth and colors looked fine; however, the microphone did a poor job capturing my subject's voice. I sounded loud and clear, and I could hear someone sneeze from across the room, but while my ears had no trouble hearing my friend, the Beam's mic only got my half of the conversation. Turn up the volume so you can hear the other person and my steady voice sounds like maniacal shouting.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
Focus on these indoor tulips is a little off. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Photos on the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera looked rather blurry, with a slight gray cast to them. Colors don't appear as warm. Samsung has better quality front-facing lenses, but I've also seen worse. This one fits in the middle of the pack. It has 8GB of internal memory, and room for 32GB of expandable memory through a microSD card slot.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
Shadows are unavoidable on photos taken at noon, but the camera once again lapped up the light. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Call quality
I tested the unlocked Samsung Galaxy Beam in San Francisco using AT&T's 3G network. A quad-band world phone, the Beam supports 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz voice bands and 900/2,100 UMTS. Call quality was on the better side of so-so. Volume sounded high at midlevel, and while voices did sound natural, with no background noise, they were also muffled and fuzzy enough to give my testing partner a lisp. Luckily, voices also sounded natural and warm, not hollow or tinny. On his end, my main testing partner said I sounded loud, though slightly distorted, due to high-frequency cutoff. I sounded slightly buzzy, he said, but intelligible without a trace of background noise.

Samsung Galaxy Beam call quality sample Listen now:

We both noticed an immediate volume drop when I switched over to speakerphone, holding the phone at waist level. I had to crank up the volume to maximum to hear at the same volume as before. I noticed the same voice quality as I had on standard, with muffled speech, but voices didn't seem as echoey or robotic as other phones, and the buzz I sometimes feel in my hand as the microphone does its work also seemed less intense than on recent Samsung phones I've tested.

On the clock speed side, the phone's 1GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor did a good job of quickly navigating between apps and playing back content. I spent far too long watching a movie I sideloaded onto the phone. Let's chalk that up to the immersive experience; the movie played back clearly, without any stuttering or blockiness.

Data speeds on the Galaxy Beam are somewhat limited on a good day. The hardware supports the HSPA 14.4 network as its cap. Using an AT&T SIM card, Ookla's app measured speeds that averaged between 1 and 2Mbps downlink with a spike of 4.53Mbps down. 0.80Mbps was the fastest uplink speed over 3G. In the U.S., a T-Mobile SIM only gets you 2.5G speeds. In the real world, CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in a speedy 6.3 seconds; the graphically rich desktop site finished loading in about 26 seconds.

Battery life
Battery life was pretty impressive on the Galaxy Beam. I tested it heavily, often with the screen on full brightness with a 10-minute time-out. While my tests were more about beaming this time than about heavy Web use, the frequent projection could wear down the battery. However, the Galaxy Beam comes with a 2,000mAh ticker, which helps offset the resource drain. Even with that battery, Samsung calculates a rate of 3 hours of solid beaming.

Samsung Galaxy Beam
A 2,000mAh battery keeps the projector going for 3 hours, and has a rated battery life of 9 hours of talk time. Josh Miller/CNET

The LED bulb in the projector itself has a life span of about 20,000 hours, Samsung says, so you shouldn't have to replace it anytime soon.

During the talk time ratings test, the Beam lasted 13.17 hours. Samsung rates the Galaxy Beam at 9 hours of talk time, but of course your actual battery performance will vary depending on how you use your phone.

The FCC rating on the phone's digital SAR is 0.36W/kg.

Just because you can fit a projector into a phone, does it mean you should? There are certainly instances when it would be convenient to magnify your cell phone screen for all to see, but just how often someone would need or even use the projector on the Samsung Galaxy Beam is up for debate. And if you don't use it, does it make sense to carry it around?

Samsung gets credit for pursuing smartphone designs to fit all niches, whether people think they want them filled or not. Sometimes the gamble pays off, as with the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet." In this case, the actual projector hardware is more than a gimmick. It's bright, rated to last, and works as advertised. The software, however well-intentioned, is on the right track, but needs some work to be made truly useful in the office environment.

Projector aside, the Galaxy Beam works well as a smartphone, without being overly heavy or thick despite the extra load. The camera, processor, and screen behave as expected for a midrange Samsung smartphone, which is to say, perfectly satisfactorily. So if you think you're going to really love using the projector, then the phone stands up as a smartphone all on its own without relying on any extra gadgetry to move it through the door. However, if you're skeptical about how often you'd beam anything anywhere, then you should shop around until you find the exact set of features that gives you what you want most.

The unlocked Samsung Galaxy Beam sells for about 400 pounds SIM-free in the U.K., and for $585 unlocked on It debuted in the U.K. and India in July.

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