Thursday, 26 July 2012

Samsung Galaxy Beam review: Home cinema


The first attempts at a projector phone didn't quite work out for Samsung. For many that would be enough to call it a day, but not the Koreans. You don't become the world's number 1 phone manufacturer by giving up easily, so Samsung chose to take a step back, learn from mistakes and give it another go.
The Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam takes a completely different approach to making a projector phone and a smartphone work together. Last time around, with the original Beam, Samsung took a high-end device and slapped a rather advanced projector on its back, effectively ending up with something very thick and expensive, which was nearly impossible to sell. Thicker devices lack the high-end vibe one normally associates with smartphones in that price range, so it never really managed to get going.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
Samsung I8350 Galaxy Beam official photos
The I8530 Galaxy Beam on the other hand aims far lower - it's based on a mid-range phone and throws in a projector that's good enough for casual use. Serious, corporate use is out of the question here, but that was never in the requirements, and you get a more compact and reasonably priced package instead. Now add the NovaThor chipset and its dual-core CPU and you get a deal that's definitely worth a second look.

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM /GPRS/EDGE support
  • 3G with 14.4 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 4" 16M-color capacitive LED-backlit PLS TFT touchscreen of WVGA resolution (480 x 800 pixels), Scratch-resistant glass
  • Built-in DLP nHD projector
  • Android OS v2.3.7 Gingerbread, planned Android 4.0 ICS update
  • Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, 768MB RAM, Mali-400 GPU, NovaThor U8500 chipset
  • 5 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and geotagging, Multi Angle shot
  • 720p video recording @ 30fps
  • VGA front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi b/g/n and DLNA
  • Built-in GPS receiver with A-GPS
  • 8GB built-in storage expandable through the microSD card slot
  • microUSB port (charging) and stereo Bluetooth v3.0
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Rich retail package
  • Voice dialing
  • Adobe Flash 11 support
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor

Main disadvantages

  • No Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box
  • All plastic construction
  • Feeble loudspeaker
  • NovaThor U8500 is the least powerful of the dual-core offerings on the market
  • Thicker and heavier than mid-range competition
So, the Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam is basically a Galaxy S Advance with an extra DLP projector and a different screen. The lack of character in the overcrowded mid-range was the main thing wrong with the Samsung mid-range flagship, and it seems like the Beam made easy work of adding some.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam at ours
However, for all its sensible, down-to-earth approach, the Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam still ends up priced notably higher than smartphones using the same screens and based on the same chipsets. So it will have to try and convince us that it's really offering something extra.
Good build quality would be a nice start - follow us on the next page where the hardware checkup begins.

Rich retail package

The retail package that the Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam comes in had a couple of nice surprises in store. The first thing is a stand that lets you place the Beam on a table or bedside cabinet. Sadly, the angle it's propped up at makes it useless for video watching, unless the ceiling is your screen.
A cool side feature of the said stand though is that it's able to charge the spare battery, which is also supplied in the retail package. With the power-hungry projector at hand, the Galaxy Beam is likely to make good use of the extra juice.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The Galaxy Beam battery charger
The other items in the bundle are a pair of headphones with some spare earbuds, a charger and a microUSB data cable. Those last three items are usually all you get with mid-range and upper mid-range devices, so it's really great treatment you are getting here.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The retail package is one of the richest around

Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam 360-degree spin

The I8530 Samsung Galaxy Beam is genuinely trying to improve on the ergonomics its predecessor. Not that you should expect a phone with a built-in projector to be ultra-compact. At 124 x 64.2 x 12.5 the new Beam is slightly taller but a good 2.4 mm slimmer and more than 10g lighter.
The I8530 Galaxy Beam has a bigger screen than the original, but the resolution stays the same and it's a garden variety LCD and not a Super AMOLED.

Design and build quality

Place the Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam down on a table and you'll hardly be able to tell it apart from a Samsung Galaxy R or an S Advance. A side view exposes its thicker waistline which takes away some of the device's appeal.
The smartphone has an all plastic construction but, considering the weight of 145g, other materials were probably never really an option. The plastic used is of pretty decent quality, so it's not really all bad.
There's a secondary camera above the display, as well as proximity and ambient light sensors. Moving below the display you'll find the usual hardware Home button with two capacitive controls on the sides: Menu and Back.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
Above and below the display
The projector lens is placed at the top, deeply inset under a big piece of protective glass. It stays out of the way most of the time and only slightly protrudes at the back.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The top of the Galaxy Beam
More than once during our test, it felt the lens would've made sense on one of the sides of the smartphone, given the projector's default orientation is landscape but more on that later.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The projector lens
The projector can be used as a flashlight as well, and it's quite suited to the job too, if you don't mind the relatively small lit surface. Its placement certainly feels more natural than a LED on the back.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The projector doubles as a flashlight
On the right side of the handset, closest to the top, is the dedicated projector key. A little further down is the usual power/lock button. We did mix those two up at first, hitting the projector button instead of the unlock button. However, it doesn't take too long to get used to the arrangement. The last thing to note on the right is a hot-swappable microSD card slot hidden under a small lid.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The right-hand side
The volume rocker is on the left, where we were surprised to find an external SIM slot as well. It's quite out of the ordinary for the SIM compartment to be placed on the outside but the phone's inner body is almost entirely sealed. It's actually bolted to the front, making the smartphone more dust-resistant than usual.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The left side of the Galaxy Beam
The bottom of the Galaxy Beam features the mouthpiece and a microUSB port for charging and data connections.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The bottom
The battery cover of the Galaxy Beam is entirely made of plastic but benefits from a nice anti-slip rubbery finish. There's a slight bulge at the top to accommodate the projector. The 5 MP camera lens is centrally placed right below that bulge, with a single LED flash at its side.
In the bottom left corner is the loudspeaker grille.
Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam Samsung Galaxy Beam
The rubberized back panel and under the hood
Removing the back panel reveals the 2,000 mAh Li-Ion battery. It is said to last for up to 760h of stand-by or 9h 40 min of talk time on a 3G network . If you stick to 2G you get the same stand-by endurance but the maximum achievable talk time jumps to up to 20h.


One of the important differences between the two generations of projector phones by Samsung is the screen size and technology. The original Beam had a 3.7" Super AMOLED screen. The one we're reviewing has grown to 4 inches but is a regular LCD unit.
The WVGA (480 x 800) resolution works out to a pixel density of around 233 ppi. It's a pretty good display, even if some way off the best on the market. Contrast is good and colors are OK for an LCD, while the viewing angles are surprisingly good.
Samsung Galaxy Beam
The Galaxy Beam screen
We put the Samsung Galaxy Beam through our usual display tests and we are now giving you its results. You can find more about the testing procedures here.
Display test50% brightness100% brightness
Black, cd/m2White, cd/m2Contrast ratioBlack, cd/m2White, cd/m2Contrast ratio
Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam0.2525810260.485081048
Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I81600.242259210.59500843
HTC Desire C0.231868140.5360723
HTC One X0.1520013750.395501410
Sony Xperia U0.352878310.55515930
Samsung S7500 Galaxy Ace Plus0.272398730.6528888
Samsung Galaxy Pocket0.312387740.62468753

The sunlight legibility is the Galaxy Beam's screen Achilles’ heel. As you can see from our measurements the Galaxy Beam is one of the worse performers we have subjected to this test.

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