Projector phones have been around for years now, but have yet to transcend their appeal to a very niche market. With the power of the Galaxy brand behind it and a price that means it nestles fairly comfortably in the mid-range market, Samsung is hoping the Galaxy Beam can change all that.
So far, projector phones have been a tough sell for Samsung. But the Galaxy Beam is a darn sight better-looking than Sammy’s earlier efforts: the bulky Pico and the Halo, which rocked a candy bar form factor that meant it looked more like a superannuated feature phone.
Boosting the Beam’s appeal is that this time around the projector promises to be more powerful than we’ve seen before. And offers some modes that could transform it from a novelty into a handy tool.
With its yellow trim, rubbery backplate, mostly metal construction and weighty, chunky feel, at first glance the Beam appears to have copped more than a few moves from JCB’s range of ruggedized tough phones. Natch, this approach is surely due partly to the need to protect the projector, which sits flush at the top of the handset.
But while those JCB handsets’ form factors sacrifice style on the altar of shock resistance and solidity, the Beam has also been taking notes from the iPhone 3GS. Most obviously in its single home button, rounded corners and all-black slab-like frontage. As someone who - controversially - thinks that the 3GS and not the iPhone 4 is Apple designer Jonathan Ive’s finest hour, the Beam’s sharp looks come as a pleasant surprise.
Of course, the unique selling point of the Beam is its projector. So how does it shape up?
Well if you’re measuring it against a dedicated projector, not brilliant. But for a neat additional function on a smartphone, it’s not bad either.
For starters, it’s easy to use. Firing it up is just a case of long-pressing the button on the side of the handset or touching the built-in projector app. And we awarded extra points for being able to project everything from a blockbuster to lo-fi YouTube clips.
With the Quick Pad mode, you can scribble or point at the screen – rendering the handset a fairly smart tuition or presentation tool. Or if you’re more of a party type, there’s the ambience option. This lets you put together a montage of images – almost always smiley faces and clips from ’70s Chop Socky movies - that you project in a space to give it that warehouse rave feel.
The downside is that with a brightness rating of 15 lumens and quite muddy sound, you’re not going to be blown away by the quality/production values of any movies that you watch on the Beam. And you’ve got no chance of being able to see anything you’re attempting to project in bright, daytime conditions. But by the same token a night spent with the Beam will be a film-watching experience that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.
The handset is also home to a fairly standard four-inch screen, with screen resolution of 480x800-pixels. Alas, there’s no sign of the Super AMOLED display technology that has become a hallmark of Samsung’s top-end Galaxy smartphones.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a dual-core processor that keeps things ticking over smoothly and a passable five-megapixel camera with flash.
The Beam runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) out the box rather than the up-to-the-minute Jelly Bean iteration of Google’s OS, which adds features such as the revamped notifications bar and the Siri-rivalling Google Now. The good news is that despite the Beam’s relative lack of power, Samsung plans to make Jelly Bean available for it later this year.
Of course, as with all Android phones, you’ll get to choose from tens of thousands of apps and games up for grabs as the Google Play download store. You’ll also get multiple home screens to fill with apps and games and whathaveyou.
Ease of use
While the dual core processor and ICS version of Android aren’t going to combine to set any new chipset benchmark records, they do make for a relatively snappy smartphone experience.
As we’ve mentioned, the projector is very easy to get to grips with. It’s just a shame that the projector doesn’t really come into its own in anything but really dark conditions.
The Galaxy Beam deserves to be applauded for trying something out of ordinary and, with the inclusion of some cool, value-adding bonus modes, represents by some distance the best example of a projector phone so far.
At not far shy of £400, though, whether that’s enough to sway you away from cheaper phones running the software and similar spec sheets but with no projector is something you’ll just have to decide for yourself.
- 5 MP camera
- 4.0″ TFT capacitive touchscreen
- 8 GB internal storage
- microSD card support up to 32GB
- Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 processor
- Android OS, version 2.3.6 (Gingerbread)
- 1.3MP secondary camera