The projector lens adds a definite heft particularly compared to Samsung's usual lightweight phones, while the sturdy plastic body is well built with a cheerful yellow trim contributing to its refreshing design. The TFT screen is less of a battery killer than brighter AMOLED displays, but visibility suffers in sunlight
Android Gingerbread is intuitive to use, though it's disappointing not to see the newer, more streamlined Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade on the cards yet. The projector has a dedicated button to turn it on and beam movies and photos at a moment's notice
Along with a 15-lumen projector that in our testing delivered an excellent 32-inch picture in near-darkness, there's a five-megapixel camera and 1.3-megapixel front lens, plus a dual-core 1GHz processor that keeps the phone relatively fast and smooth.
The projector is one of the coolest bit of tech we never knew we wanted, with a surprisingly diverse range of practical applications – mainly relating to having a movie screen where you otherwise wouldn't, such as camping, in bed where a 32-inch HDTV would be too imposing, or travelling.
The 2000mAh battery managed well over a day with Wi-Fi and HSDPA, plus a couple hours on the projector
Really, the Samsung Galaxy Beam doesn’t make much sense. A projector in a mid-range smartphone? When other companies are busy doubling the number of cores in their processors, coming up with gigantic camera lenses or just generally trying to keep costs down?
But Samsung’s so convinced, this is actually its second go at a mini-beamer in a blower. The Galaxy Beam – which already has the best name of any of Samsung’s products – crosses projector with phone in a collaboration that no one asked for, but as it turns out, is exactly what we never knew we wanted.
The projector itself is a rounded Texas Instrument lens built into the top of the phone so that you hold the phone like a TV remote for the projecting bit. It does add a large but not unsightly lump to the build, with the five-megapixel camera and LED flash placed lower than usual as a result.
At 143g, the Galaxy Beam has a much more solid heft than most of Samsung’s super lightweight phones. The back cover is pleasantly textured, while a cheerful yellow trim runs around the sides.
Both the SIM card and microSD card are hot-swappable so you won’t need to remove the battery to change either.
Down the side, a dedicated button launches the projector from any app to immediately beam what’s on-screen to a nearby surface. Under the hood, a dual-core 1GHz processor keeps things running smoothly, along with 768MB of RAM. There’s a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera atop the four-inch WVGA (800x480 pixels) touch-screen, which uses TFT screen tech to help save battery compared to Samsung’s usual hyper-bright AMOLED screens. However, in direct sunlight the screen is very difficult to read.
On the inside, Android Gingerbread and TouchWiz makes for a very familiar Samsung experience. There’s the usual seven-screen setup, customisable with tons of widgets and apps, and lots of media functionality, including support for AVI and DivX video, the common format for high-quality online video.
General swiping and tapping is accurate and responsive, though we occasionally encountered freezes. The keyboard is fast but auto-correct can be hit or miss. You’ll want to turn off the bouncy haptic feedback - it makes the phone feel more fragile than it is.
Surprisingly, the camera is a letdown. The shutter takes at least a second to snap so you need to hold your hand extra-still to avoid blurred photos. However, the shutter will only snap when the focus is clear. You can touch the screen to focus the lens on anything in shot, though this won’t actually take the photo.
In daylight colours are a bit faded, while in low light images are always too dark. The flash is quite harsh when objects are close. Samsung has produced plenty of decent snappers at an equally decent price, so perhaps this was a corner cut to include the projector and still keep the phone at around £385 (comparable handheld projectors with the ability to store files clock in at around £90).
The projector manages 15 lumens of brightness with a 640x360 pixel image. On paper this means it can be projected up to 50 inches across. It’s incredibly easy to use, with a simple interface hiding secondary options such as ‘presenter mode’ or ‘ambience' mode. Press the dedicated button and its light goes on immediately, beaming whatever is on screen to a nearby surface.
Of course, the obvious use will be as your very own portable movie projector. We tested 720p HD as well as standard definition video on the Beam in a room at night with the lights off. In this dark (but not 100% light-free) setting, we comfortably watched the equivalent of a 32-inch screen with decent colours and sharpness at about 3ft distance.
It’s not high definition, but for the price – HD portable projectors cost upwards of £350 – it’s pretty agreeable. We also beamed the video across the room from about 12ft for a monster 50-inch projection on the back wall. The projection was naturally softer, but still offered decent clarity.
Yes, it’s true that high-end phones today can connect over Wi-Fi and DLNA and AirPlay to the HDTV of their choice, but the Galaxy Beam is a low-impact big screen for movies in bed, at a distance where you wouldn’t actually want to hang a 32-inch TV. Or, you know, if you don’t have a TV at all.
It’s a great little travelling gadget as well, giving you the ability to take your HD movie collection and the screen to watch it on. Camping in particular would get a luxury level-up with the Galaxy Beam.
Then there are the extra options – turn on Quick Pad for a pointer if you’re using this in a presentation, or even a pen to mark up photos or website. Turning on visual presenter mode lets you project whatever the rear camera sees. ‘Ambience’ projects a wallpaper if you don’t already have one on your actual walls, and from the projector menu, you can even turn on torch mode to make use of the powerful light.
To add media to the phone, you can either sync it with your computer’s media collection, or manually drag and drop. We found file transfer very slow going at about 30 minutes for two HD movies, and instead had to copy the same files to a separate microSD card, then slot it in. The hot-swappable microSD feature is really handy then, as you don’t need to power down the phone to do it.
After all this, battery life is excellent. The Beam comes with a spare 2000mAh battery, but after two hours using the projector and a full day of Wi-Fi, HSDPA and GPS, the phone didn’t need a charge, and lasted overnight well into day two. We estimate about 35 hours of battery life on moderate use.
A pocket projector probably isn’t at the top of most people’s mobile must-haves, including ours, but once we tried it, we loved using this. It’s a fun way to show off pictures and a great way to watch movies with more than few people if a screen just isn’t handy.
The projector itself is executed with a brilliant simplicity, its media chops supported by a multi-format video player and incredible battery life. In fact, this is one of the most solid designs and builds we’ve ever seen from Samsung.
For £385, it’s about £50 more than the similarly specced Galaxy S Advance, and around the price of the dual-core camera-centric HTC One S. Granted, if you don’t actually want to use a projector, like ever, there are higher-end phones you can get for the same price. And if a good mobile camera is high on your list, the Galaxy Beam isn’t for you. But though this is a niche product, it’s good enough at being a smartphone for the novelty factor not to wear thin.