I've seen some weird phones in my time. There is the small square handset whose top section slides around a pivot to reveal a tiny keyboard (e.g. the Motorola Flipout); the lozenge shaped phone with a round screen (e.g. the Motorola Aura); the handset with the flip and swivel screen (several models of Sidekick from Danger); and of course various watches with mobile phone capability built in. I could go on.
But perhaps one of the weirdest ideas I've come across is a phone with a built in projector. The appropriately named Samsung Galaxy Beam is just that. An Android-based handset with a projector that can deliver whatever is on the screen to a wall or other flat surface.
Why? You might ask.
Well, imagine taking a photo and immediately displaying it to your friends in a much larger size than can be done on the screen. Or viewing a YouTube clip on the living room wall instead of watching it on the screen. Or doing the same with your catch-up TV. Or even running a presentation for work purposes without having to need a laptop. Or just projecting whatever the screen is showing onto a larger surface.
And then there are all the things you can't think of. Samsung has thought of a few of them for you and provides a couple of utilities. One of them is called Quick Pad that lets you draw or write to the screen so you can project visual ideas. There's also Visual Presenter, which shows what the back-mounted camera can see, enabling you to use the Beam as an overhead projector. There's a mega bright torch facility, too, and there's Ambience Mode, which lets you choose animations or video and photographic slideshows to project for a set duration, complete with accompanying music.
It has to be said that I was a bit sceptical of the idea until I tried it. Then I was pretty much blown away by it. Then reality sunk in and I thought about all the reasons it was a nice idea but not a particularly practical one, or one that would sway me to this phone over any other.
During the daytime, the projector is as useful as a chocolate teapot. To get the most from the projector you need a darkened environment. And I do mean dark. If you're thinking it might be OK to use the Samsung Galaxy Beam in a work environment where people are taking notes of your pearls of wisdom, well, it won't. There's likely to be too much ambient light in that kind of situation.
The projector adds a bit of bulk and weight to the phone – though actually not that much. There's the protrusion of the lens on the top of the handset to consider, and that makes the phone about 15mm thick at the top, though it is a slightly less porky 12.5mm elsewhere. And weight-wise you are talking about 145g, which is more than other handsets of a comparable size, but not so heavy as to cause a sharp intake of breath.
The resolution isn't great at 640 x 360 pixels. Move away from the projecting surface and the image you're viewing grows in size. I found the top limit was about three metres away though Samsung says it is two. Beyond that point, the projection loses focus and quality degrades. At the maximum, images are about 110 x 60cm, but the larger you want the image to be, the darker the surroundings need to be.
There are battery implications too, but Samsung does what it can here. The Beam has a generous 2,000mAh battery that keeps the handset going very well when the projector is not in use. You aren't likely to get more than three hours of projecting though, and wary of that Samsung thoughtfully provides two batteries.
Projector aside, this is an Android handset, but it runs only Android 2.3. This is a great shame, with Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) now firmly established and its successor version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) not just knocking on the door but at least half way through it. There's a dual-core 1GHz processor, which wasn't troubled by what I asked it to do, and 8GB of internal storage with a side-mounted microSD card slot for adding more.
The 5-megapixel camera won't win any awards but it is adequate. The screen lets the side down a bit. Its 4in size is OK, but I'd have liked more than the 800 x 480 pixels that are on offer. The headset slot is on the left edge, displaced from a top edge position by the projector. I found that awkward when listening to music as the connector jarred in my pocket. You may also not like the fact that your SIM fits into a side slot.
Projector aside, the specifications are towards the higher end of mid-range, and with that in mind we need to consider the cost of the Samsung Galaxy Beam. Clove Technology, provider of my review sample, is selling the Beam for £412 inc VAT. That puts it in territory shared by the likes of the HTC One X, Motorola Razr MAXX. Nokia Lumia 900 and Samsung Galaxy Note. It's your call whether you prefer a projector phone with Android 2.3 over the specs offered by these alternatives and others in the price range. I'm not sold.
In the end, the decision on whether or not to purchase the Samsung Galaxy Beam will come down to how much you want its projector feature and how much you are prepared to compromise on the rest and pay the price to get it. I'd want the projector to be better and brighter so I could use it more often if I were to take the plunge.
Manufacturer and model
Samsung Galaxy Beam
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
4in, 800 x 480 pixels
124 x 64.2 x 12.5 (max 15) mm