The best Samsung smartphones don’t come cheap. This isn’t a Samsung thing, of course, as all manufacturers like to maximize profit on their flagship smartphones. It’s also why most of them recognize the need to produce more affordable smartphones. Samsung, as a company, release more smartphones than anybody else. Their range is vast, with everything from feature phones for a few dollars, to the hi-tech and hi-spec Galaxy S and Galaxy Note ranges heading their catalog.
What they haven’t done much of is produce smaller devices, of the type Apple persevered with for so long. The S4 Mini is one of only 4 Mini versions of the Galaxy S range produced by Samsung. For whatever reason, Samsung killed the line even when the S6 Mini was seemingly only weeks from a scheduled release. It’s possible that the tide had already turned, and that Samsung thought they might be spread too thinly at the top end of the market. Who knows?
Either way, the S4 Mini proved very popular with consumers thanks to its easy handling and high performance.
The Galaxy S range of smartphones from the kings of the industry, Samsung, is an undoubted success. The problem is that not everybody can afford them. As top end smartphone prices lurch towards a thousand dollars, and sometimes over, it’s clear that there has to be other alternatives.
For Samsung, as well as introducing the J series and other devices, they also released a mini version of the S series flagship phones. Despite the name, the S4 Mini is not simply the S4 but smaller. Instead, Samsung wanted to create a fully scaled down version. The case, and the components were all taken down a notch to produce a smartphone which, although not as high spec as the full S4, would offer a similar level of performance.
In reality, aside from the very similar looking – but smaller – case, nothing has made it across from the S4 to the Mini. But does the performance promise from Samsung stack up? Let’s see.
Our panel of reviewers gave the galaxy S4 Mini a final score of 4.2/5, made up from category scores as below:
None of our testers held out much hope for the S4 Mini, based on the specs. But, after a few hours, we couldn’t tell much difference between much higher-specced – and much higher priced – smartphones. It seems Samsung did their homework in figuring out the power:performance ratio perfectly. The components may not be top line, but Samsung still manage to bring a top line smartphone experience.
|4.91 x 2.41 x 0.35 in|
540 x 960 px
|8MP / 1.9MP|
MicroSD Card Slot
|Yes – Up to 64GB|
|12 hours Talk time / 300 hours Standby|
If you like the Samsung approach to smartphone design, you will like the S4 Mini. Apart from being a bit smaller all round, it is almost a carbon copy of the full S4. Clean lines, and a quality all round feel make it a surefire winner in the design stakes. Everything, down to the satin strip Samsung put around the S series case is here, and it looks great.
Although plastic, it never really occurs to anybody that the S4 Mini isn’t a quality piece of build technology. It is compact enough to suit all hands, and all purses or pockets. In fact, it’s diminutive dimensions make it an ideal first smartphone for younger users or older people. There’s no weight to the S4 Mini, to speak of, and it’s just about perfectly put together.
With a smaller phone, naturally, comes a smaller display. At 4.3″, the display on the S4 Mini is noticeably smaller than most smartphones today. But, for all that, if the point of a smartphone is to be smaller, then you have to expect a smaller display. As a result, Samsung have limited the display to 540 x 960 px. This, on paper does sound disappointing, and we would have preferred if Samsung could have seen their way to maybe a 720 x 1280 px display.
However, at 4.3″, the slightly lower resolution isn’t such a big deal. On a 5″ display or bigger, then it would have been a problem. At 4.3″, though, not so much at all. This brings us back to Samsung having clear thoughts about what the S4 Mini needed to be competitive. The display is Samsung’s legendary Super AMOLED type, so every pixel performs amazingly, with colors that leap off the screen and a sharpness way beyond what might ordinarily be expected from the resolution.
There’s a basic rule of thumb with camera sensors, the smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels. And the higher the pixel count on a small sensor, the smaller again, the pixels will be. Smartphones have very, very small sensors. In all honesty, sensor makers have worked technological miracles to get the quality they do for sensors in use in smartphones today. Which makes it a worry that, in a small smartphone like the S4 Mini, the sensor might just be overwhelmed trying to produce decent pictures.
We wouldn’t have been surprised if Samsung had limited the camera to 5MP, to compensate for the space reduction inside the case. They didn’t, though, they went with the 8MP they’d been using to that point. And we’re glad the did. The rear camera is just an amazing bit of hardware. It packs so much quality into each image that we’d be happy to see such pictures being produced from the full S4. They’ve also added panorama and HDR options, to make the camera as flexible as possible. You can also record 1080p Full HD video.
The front camera is a little more basic, at 1.9MP, but it does give very good pictures if reasonable light is available. In low light, they do get a little grainy, but for selfies, they are perfectly acceptable.
To continue the surprises of delivering mid-range performance from almost-budget components, the processor in the S4 Mini is a dual core, 1.7Ghz affair. It is, though, all relative. With a smaller resolution display to drive, a high end CPU would just be a waste of funds. As it is, the S4 Mini is a nippy little smartphone and we had to push it way beyond normal usage limits before we saw even a minor hiccup in performance levels.
You get 8GB of internal storage, with a MicroSD Card slot for up to another 64GB. We did wonder if limited space would push Samsung to drop the card slot for the S4 Mini, and we’re glad to have been wrong.
The battery gives good longevity, at 12 hours talk time and up to 300 hours standby. There’s also the nice bonus of dual band WiFi, together with Bluetooth, GPS and NFC, as well as an FM radio.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, the bang per buck of the components left us very pleased.
By using Android in the S4 Mini, Samsung provide access to the most popular mobile OS in use today. It’s also a surprisingly unbloated Android install too. Samsung do, on occasion have the tendency to go a little far with the apps they bundle with their smartphones. This time, though, they have kept things to the minimum.
There’s also the Samsung TouchWiz overlay on the stock Android home screen. It’s a good addition, and increases the intuition level of using Android significantly.
If you have been frustrated by trying to deal with phones that are just too big for you, then the S4 Mini is ideal.
Specs are good, and performance is excellent. That Samsung managed to pack so much into such a small case is remarkable. The S4 Mini will never disappoint.