By Michael Fisher | March 27, 2012 1:10 PM
I read an interesting axiom in the comments section of a tech article recently: “Success as an innovator in the technology business is about bringing to market things your customers don’t know they want.”
If that’s true, then Samsung is doing at least one thing right with its new Galaxy Beam, which launches in Asian markets next month. The device, introduced at this year’s MWC in Barcelona, isn’t Samsung’s first crack at a projector-phone, but it’s the first one that’s made people sit up and take notice. No doubt the increased cachet of the Galaxy brand has helped, and the bump in projector brightness and processor cycles, all in a slimmer package, can’t hurt either. Taken together, this is the first time a major manufacturer has accomplished the feat of squeezing a projector into a smartphone average folks might actually consider buying.
When thinking about this piece, my initial skepticism at the usefulness of this product was consistently challenged. Is it something I, as a customer, “don’t know I want?” Yes. Actually, it’s still something I know I don’t want. But more and more, I can see the use cases for a product like this.
When the first pico-projector came to a U.S. phone in 2009′s LG eXpo, it was in the form of a bolt-on package slapped onto the back of a Windows Mobile phone. In other words, it was destined from the start to take a few feeble steps into the consumer space before being bludgeoned to death by ridicule and re-labeled an “enterprise product,” where similarly uninterested businessmen could buy it for twice the price if they wanted to.
And who wouldn’t want this beauty?
That’s too cruel; the eXpo wasn’t a total failure, but it was, along with Samsung’s quickly-discontinued initial Beam, an inauspicious beginning for the projector-phone market. The fact that Samsung is trying again with their revised Galaxy Beam says two things to me: they’re still striving for differentiation, and they haven’t lost all of the passion for innovation that I talked about in a previous article. Let’s take a spin around the device.
A 4-inch, 480×800 display. 5MP rear- and 1.3MP-front cameras. 1GHz dual-core processor. Quad-band GSM with HSPA. Android 2.3 Gingerbread. A funky mustard/orange stripe around its midsection.
Asleep yet? As with many niche products, compromises have been made in a few areas with the Galaxy Beam, features and specs trimmed and tweaked to accommodate the halo feature: the 15-lumen projector peeking out from the port on top.
It’s like a phaser. Or a remote control. Or a hungry hungry hippo.
The press photos may give emphasis to the projector port (for good reason), but don’t let them fool you: the Galaxy Beam is a relatively slim 13mm. That would be bordering on unacceptable in a standard smartphone, of course, but it’s nothing short of incredible on a device capable of throwing a 50″ projection on any flat surface you come across. The thickness is made still more acceptable by the inclusion of a 2000-mAh battery, no doubt to combat the power-sucking effects of that projector (though the existence of the 9mm-thin RAZR MAXX makes me wonder if Samsung could have tried harder here).
So that’s the gimmick: buy the Galaxy Beam, suffer through life with Gingerbread and no firm promise of an official ICS upgrade, and explain that yellow trim is “in” this season. For these sacrifices, you get the ability to put your phone’s screen on the wall, ceiling, or nearly any other flat surface.
It’s a remarkably low-tech innovation, if you think about it. In the technology space, we’re often talking about things like AirPlay mirroring and DLNA sharing, using wireless networks and interoperable standards to ensure that we can transfer content from our handheld devices to larger TV screens for shared viewing. In the face of all this comes Samsung with a new application of an old-school technology: just use bright lights and lenses to project what’s in your hand onto the wall. It’s Thanksgiving and your grandmother’s house doesn’t have a big flatscreen to share the pictures from the family reunion last summer? Just turn down the lights and “Galaxy Beam it” onto the wall! Or maybe you’re on a camping trip with friends, and for some reason you want to use that moment to propose to your girlfriend in the cheesiest manner possible? Galaxy Beam can help you with that too.
Samsung: redefining saccharine for a new generation of tech-savvy lame-os.
When laying in bed reading some hands-on reviews of the Beam last night, I had to admit that yes, it would be pretty handy to project the browser on my ceiling and read it there, instead of holding my iPad up in front of me (where I manage to drop it onto my face at least one night a month). I’ve considered installing a TV in my bedroom for years, but projecting movies from my phone right onto the wall would be much easier.
Of course, everyone always makes the case for business users as well: share Power Point presentations! Project sales figures. Talk about pie charts together. All this is great; I just find potential consumer applications more interesting, and so do potential consumers.
As with any technology launched before it’s fully baked, though, there are shortcomings with the current implementation. A 15-lumen projector requires a very dark room to operate effectively; one need only look at some of the hands-on videos from MWC to see how washed-out the Galaxy Beam’s projection appears in even dim lighting conditions. Also, stability is a real problem with a handheld device if you don’t have a steady surface to balance the device on, and there’s no way any modern smartphone’s speaker is going to be able to overcome ambient noise if you’re trying to share a YouTube video with more than a few tipsy houseguests. Of course, if the Galaxy Beam does well enough, there will be accessories to help with this sort of thing, but being forced to carry accessories defeats the purpose of an integrated solution like this. We might as well go back to a slimmer phone with an add-on projector pack in that case.
So, as a consumer, should you care about the Galaxy Beam? As a concept, yes. It may herald a new age in smartphone evolution marked by easy, instant sharing in unconventional settings. As a product of its own, though, it’s tough to see buying this if you’re not constantly in boardrooms. Even though it’s the best product of its kind, it still got taken out of the oven a little too early. If Samsung, or another OEM, shows up next year with a device running a more modern build of Android (or WP7), packing a brighter -or laser- projector and a speaker that can rival the output of Motorola’s old iDEN lineup we’ll have a really compelling product on our hands. Until then, it’s another niche product. An interesting one, to be sure, but nothing that’s going to start a revolution.
Unless you really, really like yellow bezels.
Comment quote source: PCMag