Samsung pioneered the phablet concept with the original Galaxy Note. It was an unexpected success as most in the tech media scoffed at the ludicrous form-factor, but Samsung knew better and it turned out to be one hell of a home run. Of course, the Note and its successor the Note II were geared at the top end of the market and many local vendors have started emulating Samsung’s product at much lesser price points, so it was obvious Samsung had to respond in kind. Its answer is the Galaxy Grand. It achieves a sort of middle ground between the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II at 5-inches, but hits a price point that’s much more tenable to the average consumer by dropping a few features but still maintaining Samsung’s software features. Things are not easy for Samsung because its lesser-known rivals are becoming nimbler and offering products that are technically superior hardware wise, so the Galaxy Grand is an odd-ball, but is it worth the trouble? Read on to find out more.
The Galaxy Grand is a typical Samsung device, using the same design language that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy S III and has refined it for the 5-inch form factor. This way the device looks like a hybrid between the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II. Of course, the glossy hyperglaze plastic build is still in play and the sides are tapered with a chrome colored plastic finish. Like most Samsung smartphones the Galaxy Grand is very thin at 9.6mm and weighs only 162 grams. There are no surprises here.
Samsung opted to make the Galaxy Note II taller and narrower, which made it more ergonomic when compared to the original Galaxy Note, but the Galaxy Grand is certainly broader and is not as ergonomic for one-handed use as the Galaxy Note II. That said, it certainly is a good deal better than the Galaxy Note, which now feels a little bulky. However, when compared to a device like the Micromax Canvas HD, then again it loses out, however it does come on top by a slight margin in terms of build quality.
The façade of the Grand is dominated by the large 5-inch display, which has a rather underwhelming WVGA resolution. The bottom end of the display has the large Samsung home button, which is flanked by a menu and back key. The top houses the 2-megapixel front-facing camera and the standard suite of sensors. In typical, Samsung style, the power button is placed on the right side, and is flanked by the volume rocker.
On the bottom of the device, we have the micro-USB slot, which also doubles as the charging point and the top houses the 3.5mm jack. The rear of the Galaxy Grand reveals the 8-megapixel camera, which is supplemented with a flash.
Once we managed to peel off the back cover, we found the 2,100-mAh battery, dual-SIM slots and the microSD card slot. Overall, the Galaxy Grand is everything one expects of a Samsung device, glossy plasticky, big, and yet sturdy. Groundbreaking is one thing it is not.
The Galaxy Grand is decidedly a mid-range rocker. In fact, it is actually in a way a refurbished Galaxy S II with a larger display. Why? Because minus the 5-inch WVGA display, it retains the same dual-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz, the same 8-megapixel camera and all this is tied with 1GB of RAM. As far as the memory is concerned it has 8GB of internal memory, which can be expanded via a microSD card slot.
These are not very high-end specs and if one is looking to gloat about specs then we’d wager, the Micromax Canvas HD will be a much better deal as it has a more power efficient quad-core processor and has a 720p display in comparison to a the underwhelming WVGA resolution.
This becomes quite apparent because the text is not as crisp as the Micromax Canvas HD and it looks slightly pixilated. Additionally, there is a weird yellow hue to the Galaxy Grand’s display, which makes it slightly unpleasant.
If hardware is not the greatest strength of the Galaxy Grand then software definitely is its moment in the sun. Actually, the premise behind a device like the Galaxy Grand was to provide the large screen and software experience found in some of the higher-end Samsung phones but at a more affordable price.
While it runs on Android 4.1, Samsung TouchWiz experiences like S-Note, Multi-view, Smart Stay and ChatOn messenger are all present. Additionally, nifty modifications in the contacts UI allow users to swipe left or right to choose either to call or message a contact. Another advantage of TouchWiz is the camera UI, which is simple yet offers the users a number of settings to tweak.
TouchWiz also delivers a superlative stock keyboard and when that is combined with the broad form-factor of the Grand, we have one typing road-runner. Samsung also bundles the Galaxy Grand with 50 GB of DropBox storage and overall, there is definitely extra value in the TouchWiz experience, but this comes at the cost of fast Android updates, loads of irritating blooping sounds that need to be turned off manually and a gaudy looking cartoony user interface. That said, Samsung has a great track record of updating its software and that’s something we cannot say about an OEM like Micromax, which makes the superb Canvas HD.
While the Galaxy Grand may not deliver jaw-dropping performance of say the upcoming Galaxy S 4, but it is no slouch. People who think that the quad-core chip on Canvas HD is superior to the dual-core chip on the Galaxy Grand are very mistaken. The SoC on the Galaxy Grand is based on a higher performance ARM Cortex A9 architecture, while the quad-core chipset on the Canvas HD is based on a more frugal ARM Cortex A7 architecture.
In terms of everyday performance, the Galaxy Grand does tend to show the odd lag, but we are guessing that’s more to do with the heavy duty TouchWiz UI rather than it being a folly of the chipset. In terms of pure benchmark performance, both the Galaxy Grand and the Canvas HD are neck and neck. The Canvas HD, however, does win by a sliver.
While the Canvas HD scores in excess of 4000 on Quadrant, the Galaxy Grand scores around 3,600. In the AnTuTu benchmark the Galaxy Grand scored a decent 7074 and a decent 3047 in the Browsermark test.
The camera disappointed in low-light performance and we think that the Canvas HD has a better camera for low-light situations, but in daylight the performance was much better and was closer to the Galaxy S III.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Galaxy Grand should be its battery life as it coasted through the day without breaking a sweat. Its battery life was much better than the Micromax Canvas HD even though both have similar sized batteries. We ran a loop of Batman Begins at 720p resolution and it lasted about 6 hours. For more basic testing we just used the device as our daily driver and we used the device to text, make calls, browse the web, play games and click pictures and the device handily lasted the day on a single charge. Mind you this was much better than the Galaxy S III and the Micromax Canvas HD.
Samsung continues to use the call forwarding dual-SIM system and not the dual-active system. This means calls are forwarded from the inactive number to the active number, which results in the user incurring carrier charges.
In the end, the Galaxy Grand is meant for a person who aspires for the software features of a Galaxy Note II, but cannot afford it. It may not set the house on fire with its specs but it is a rock solid workhorse. It has many features that make the likes of the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II compelling options, but then again its rivals are better speced and hence are better performers.
That said, Samsung has good after sales, it delivers Android updates faster than most OEMs, it has great battery life and its software features are definitely differentiators. If it’s the hardware one is after then the Galaxy Grand is not meant for you, then you’ll better off buying the Micromax Canvas HD which costs Rs 14,990, which Rs 6,500 more cheaper than the Galaxy Grand which is priced at a not so cheap Rs 21,500.
Photographs: Rohit Sharma