BARCELONA—Will the Samsung Galaxy Beam be the projector-phone to finally crack the U.S. market? I got a little time with it today, and the company hopes the new smartphone's thinness and brightness will have us all projecting our videos onto the ceiling.
The Samsung Galaxy Beam is a good-looking, midrange Android smartphone with one special thing: a Cyclopean eye up top that beams a 15-lumen image out the front onto whatever surface you can find. It isn't thick, at 12.5mm, and its soft-touch gray back is accented with a bright yellow band around the edge. The lens doesn't get in the way of slipping the phone into your pocket.
The phone's LED projector, which promises two years of nonstop playback and three hours of video on a charge, shot small but bright images around the conference room where the demo was held. Videos were sharp, and while the 15-lumen brightness didn't stun, it was more than viewable in a dark room. The projector has 640-by-360 resolution, which is a 720p video reduced by half.
To help people get started projecting, the phone will come with mood-maker animations including jumping sheep and constellations, Samsung Product Manager, Will Bin said.
Keeping the phone steady is a real problem, though, and the built-in speaker is far too weak to play a movie to a crowd. Samsung will offer dock and speaker accessories which will stabilize and amplify the phone, Bin said.
The Beam uses some low-cost parts to shave a few dollars off the price and get the projector in. It runs ST Ericsson's dual-core 1GHz U8500 chipset, for instance, which we haven't seen in a U.S. phone before. It also has a 4-inch WVGA LCD screen, HSPA+ 14.4 and Wi-Fi networking, 8GB of storage with a memory card slot, and a relatively large 2000 mAh battery.
There's one odd spec out, though: the Beam runs the swiftly aging Android 2.3 when everyone's talking about 4.0. Bin said the Beam will receive a 4.0 upgrade, although he wouldn't say when.
A Spotty History for Projector Phones
This isn't Samsung's first projector-phone; the company brought out the Show in 2009. Later that year, the LG Expo hit the U.S. market with a stunning thud. Saddled with the dying Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system and sold primarily to business customers, it never stood a chance. U.S. carriers haven't taken a flyer on a projector phone since, turning down Samsung's second-generation Beam among others.
Bin says that's because previous projector phones weren't good enough, not because of any inherent problems with the projector-phone concept.
"Projector phones used to be 20mm thick," he said. "We handle the size factor. The brightness used to be below 10 lumens, and this one is 15 lumens."
And while the Expo was sold (or not, as the case was) to businesspeople to project their PowerPoint presentations, the Beam is being marketed as a fun gadget.
"You can't take your TV and put it on the ceiling to see it when you're lying in bed. You can take this phone outside, go to a camping site, and share your favorite YouTube clips," he said.
Since the projector just mirrors whatever is on the phone's screen, it looks like it'll even handle streaming video services like Netflix.
If the Galaxy Beam comes to the U.S., it'll likely land on AT&T or T-Mobile; Bin said there were no plans for a CDMA version.