There’s certainly something of a trend in terms of producing small versions of top of the range handsets. HTC has recently done this with its One mini, and Samsung has shrunk its flagship handset to produce this Galaxy S4 Mini, having started the trend off with its Galaxy S3 Mini.
Now, this mini-me thing isn’t quite what it seems. Mini handsets don’t tend to be complete replications of their namesakes in a smaller format – features are cut down as well as overall size. So, what does the Galaxy S4 Mini have on offer and does it represent good value for money?
Well, obviously enough this is a rather more huggable phone that its giant namesake. Its measurements of 61.3 x 8.94 x 124.6mm (WxDxH) make it look rather average for a phone these days. It fits really nicely in a pocket and feels very comfortable indeed in my smallish hands. Compare this to the giant Samsung Galaxy S4 at 69.8 x 7.9 x 136.6mm (WxDxH), which is not easy to use one-handed and can be difficult to stow in a pocket.
While it’s probably not nearly as important, it is also worth noting there’s a weight loss to the Galaxy S4 Mini too, with the Galaxy S4’s 130 grams being reduced to 107 grams.
Its size reduction means, of course, that the Galaxy S4 Mini drops one of the key features of the Galaxy S4 in that the screen is smaller – 5in plays 4.3in. As I’ve noted in other recent reviews, 4.3in is pretty much the sweet spot for screen designs at the moment, being the optimum compromise between pocket and hand-friendly size, and the ability to see multimedia and read text. I’m not complaining here.
However, the drop in resolution is disappointing. The Galaxy S4 manages 441 ppi with its resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, while the Galaxy S4 Mini is rather stunted with 960 x 540 pixels delivering just 251ppi. Does that make a difference to usability? Well, of course it does. The Galaxy S4 is a great phone for watching video and catch-up TV, while the screen size and resolution here are not really up to that job. Still, the display is quite crisp and clear, and its Super AMOLED technology makes for vibrant colours. I like it well enough.
If TV catch-up, movies or music are your thing then it is worth noting that sound quality from the internal speaker is a bit poor on the bass front, though volume goes reasonably high. Popping in a good quality headset improves things a bit, but still, bass tones are lacking.
Build-wise this handset is every inch a Samsung phone, and a near flawless Galaxy S4 replica. It comes in black and white (Clove kindly sent me a white version to review) with a shiny backplate, distinctive front button, left side volume rocker, top mounted headset slot, bottom microUSB port, right side power button, and a silver band separating front and back. Inside it’s a bit annoying that the microSIM and microSD card sit under the battery – there’s no option for hot-swapping memory cards here. It’s worth noting that the notification light is missing too.
The camera is another area where Samsung has dropped the quality somewhat. The Galaxy S4’s 13-megapixel main camera has been replaced with an 8-megapixel lens. It’s still good enough for the kinds of snaps you are likely to want from a mobile, though.
As well as lowering the pixel count Samsung has reduced the number of automatic shooting modes to ten (they’re easily selected from a carousel). You still get the auto settings mode which handles exposure settings for you, as well as other settings. These include HDR (which can reduce the effects of shadow and light variance by merging shots taken at different exposure settings), sound and shot (which records some background noise for photos), best face (which lets you pick faces from five quickly taken photos), continuous shot (three photos per second), best photo (take a series of shots in quick succession and pick the best one to keep), beauty face (that odd system that claims to make portraits of people look nicer), panorama, night and sports modes.
Video-wise it can shoot at 1080p and the front camera is a 1.9-megapixel affair which matches the Samsung Galaxy S4.
When we look at the innards we find more differences between the full-sized Samsung Galaxy S4 and the cut down S4 Mini. The processor is dual-core and runs at 1.7GHz, a fair way down from the 1.9GHz quad-core processor in the S4 but I don’t really have much of a problem with that as it is still perfectly serviceable. There’s the unusual quota of 1.5GB of RAM instead of 2GB in the S4 helping things along.
There’s NFC built in and the Galaxy S4 Mini is LTE compliant so if you really need all that ultrafast data that 4G provides, you can have it.
Internal storage runs to 8GB but because of all the odds and ends Samsung puts into the Galaxy S4 Mini there’s just 4.8GB free. When you realise that you can’t put apps on microSD this could be quite constraining if you like to play the latest games.
The operating system is Android 4.2 and Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface is here so that everything looks very “Samsung” – the major Samsung apps are also here including S Planner, S Translator, ChatON, WatchON and Group Play. And most of the gesture and motion based stuff is here as well as Smart stay which keeps the screen on while you are looking at it.
Air gestures have been omitted – these are the ones where your finger hovers just above the screen. For me it’s not big loss as I don’t particularly like the air gestures. S-Health is gone too, as are the Galaxy S4’s barometer, temperature and humidity sensors.
The 1900mAh battery does a good job of keeping this handset alive through a day’s worth of average use. Though of course my “average” might not be the same as yours, and if you are a keen user of processor sapping games, want to use the GPS a fair bit, or like music for a couple of hours a day you might do well to boost the battery during the afternoon.
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 is one of the must-have smartphones of the moment, and it is no surprise that the Galaxy S4 Mini has been launched. It is not, though, a complete mirror of the full-size handset, and while you won’t find another small format phone that can match this one for gesture support, that’s not all that matters.
It’s certainly worth checking out a detailed spec comparison between the Galaxy S4 and S4 Mini to see exactly what you’ll be missing out on with the latter – in fact, we’ve got one right here. And if you have £350-ish to spend on a phone it is worth doing a little price comparison work too, and speccing out the HTC One mini as another option.
Manufacturer and Model
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
GSM 850/900/1800/1900; HSPA 850/900/1900/2100
LTE Cat 3
1.7GHz dual -ore
4.3in, 960 x 540
124.6 x 61.3 x 8.94mm