Samsung is on something of a roll, scoring well at the high end of the phone sector with its delightful Galaxy S3, pushing the competition hard in the tablet area, and having considerable success with its Note line too. Certainly the Galaxy Note 2 knocks the LG Optimus Vu ‘phablet’ into a cocked hat.
One of the recurring themes in reviews of the Galaxy S3 went along the lines of ‘it’s great but it’s big’. Samsung has given itself an opportunity to do something about that with the Galaxy S3 mini. The clue is in the name – it’s a smaller S3 doppelganger. (See how these handsets stack up against each other in our Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE vs Samsung Galaxy S3 mini spec comparison).
On the looks front the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini does nothing but please. The white plastic chassis with its silver trim looks great, and I’m a real sucker for the physical Home button and backlit pair of touch-sensitive back and menu buttons that only light up when you need them. The clean lines this arrangement delivers really appeal to me.
Samsung has done the right thing with connector placement, so that the micro-USB port sits on the bottom edge of the casing and the 3.5mm headset jack on the top. There are just two buttons, the on/off switch on the right edge and the volume rocker on the left. It is a tried and tested formula that is neat, tidy and ergonomic.
There’s absolutely no denying that this is a very comfortable handset to hold and to use. While the S3 mini is just over a millimetre thicker than the original S3, which is odd, its dimensions shouldn’t cause any problems for average to small sized hands like mine.
There’s a final plus in that the chassis feels very solid. I couldn’t bend or bow it in my hands, and that makes me feel confident that it will survive the inevitable knocks, drops and clashes that it is bound to suffer.
There’s money to be saved by choosing the smaller handset. So, while online store Expansys is selling the Galaxy S3 for around £400, the S3 mini is £299.99.
So far, you could infer that the S3 mini is simply a squished and more hand-friendly all-star handset. If that were true it could be a late entrant to be the bargain handset of 2012. So, is that really the case?
The short answer is no. While the Galaxy S3 pushes at the very high end of the specs tree, the Galaxy S3 mini has much more modest aspirations. A glance at the core specifications makes this totally clear.
There’s a dual-core processor keeping things going and it’s supported by 1GB of RAM. But it runs at just 1GHz – that’s nothing special these days. Remember, too, that the original S3 has a quad-core 1.4GHz processor.
Now, the handset performs well enough in speed terms – it certainly doesn’t suffer from feeling slow or laggy in everyday use. But it is clearly not leading from the front.
The same can be said for the screen. What we have here is a crisp, clear, sharp and perfectly acceptable 4in super AMOLED screen that delivers with enough punch to keep me happy. But it is miles away from the stunning 1,280 x 720 4.8in offering on the original Galaxy S3 which I found good enough for reading many web pages without zooming and is just, well, superb.
Those interested in photography might find themselves irritated that the main camera here is a 5-megapixel shooter in comparison to the Galaxy S3’s 8-megapixel offering, but the camera is OK and there is a good range of effects and options to choose from.
As I often say, if you are really interested in photography then buy a proper camera, but for quick snaps the Galaxy S3 mini does as well as other mid-range handsets and is better than some. It shoots 720p video, and there’s a VGA (640 x 480) camera on the front.
The Android version is 4.1. That’s going to be something of a draw to anyone who likes their Android OS to be at the front of the pack. Well, nearly anyway. If you really want to be at the cutting edge then you need Android 4.2 of course. If you like Samsung’s TouchWiz interface then you’re in luck, and I do particularly like the TouchWiz lock screen with its ability to unlock direct to messages.
There’s 8GB of internal storage and you can expand on this with a microSD card. Very annoyingly the slot is under the battery. I don’t know why any handset manufacturer puts the expansion slot there these days and it is a real irritation. Samsung also provides you with 50GB of Dropbox storage for two years. For many people that will be read as ‘for the lifetime of the phone’.
The Galaxy S3 mini includes some features Samsung fans will be familiar with. Smart Stay uses the front camera to help it know when you are looking at the phone and keep the screen turned on. It’s clever and it works. Direct Call lets you phone someone whose recent SMS you are reading just by lifting the handset to your ear – it’s a great idea and one I think is really useful.
Other features include S Voice, which lets you tell the phone what to do, for example answering or rejecting calls. And Smart Alert, which is a vibrating alert for missed calls and messages.
Samsung also includes a range of apps over and above the Android staples and for some it might feel like overload to have a second app store – but these apps are easily ignored if you don’t want to use them.
A final nod has to go to the battery which performed pretty well for me. I managed to get through most days without needing to rush around for mains power, though as is very often the case I wouldn’t want to have to rely on having no mains access for two consecutive days.
By emulating the fabulous Galaxy S3 in design terms, Samsung may have shot itself in the foot. The handset looks like it should be a smaller version of a great phone, but in fact it is cut down not just in size and that’s bound to disappoint many people. If you take that and then put the phone against something like the less expensive and better featured Google Nexus 4 then there’s really no contest. Unless you are a dedicated Samsung fan or absolutely can’t handle its larger screen, the Nexus 4 is a better choice.
Manufacturer and model
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini
1GHz dual-core ST-Ericsson NovaThor U8420
Internal Storage / Storage expansion
8GB or 16GB market-dependent / microSD (up to 32GB)
4in, 800 x 480 pixels Super AMOLED
640 x 480 pixels (VGA)
121.6 x 63 x 9.9mm
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean