Naturally, the S3 Mini is much cheaper than its big brother, and you can nab one SIM-free for around £300, while the S3 floats around closer to the £400 mark. You can find the S3 Mini on a two-year contract from £15.50 per month.
The two phones seem to be miles apart in terms of hardware, however, so I was keen to see if the naming scheme was anything more than just a clever bit of marketing on Samsung's part.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini?
The S3 Mini looks very much like a shrunken S3, and sports many of the same design flourishes as its big brother. These can be noticed in the curve of the battery cover, the rounded corners and the silver trim that runs around the outer edge.
Internally, it's a completely different beast though, using a slower, inferior 1GHz dual-core processor. Nevertheless, it still feels pretty slick and speedy, mainly because it's running the new Jelly Bean version of Android, which is the slickest and smoothest iteration of Google's operating system to date. Elsewhere, the Mini's specifications don't help it distinguish itself among mid-range Android phones. Its screen is only average, and the camera is pretty pedestrian too. This isn't an S3 with a smaller screen, which is what many people were asking for.
A bigger issue is its price. At £300 it's significantly more expensive than Google's Nexus 4, which with its zippy quad-core processor and large, high-resolution display has significantly shifted the benchmark for phones of this ilk. Not to mention of course that it blitzed the S3 Mini in the actual benchmark tests. If networks start offering the S3 Mini on good contract deals it might be worth investigating, but otherwise you'll get better value for money from rival handsets.
Looks wise, this model is the spit of the S3. It's got the same delightful rounded battery cover, which makes it feel almost as lovely against the palm of your hand as the fur of a tiny kitten. The face of the phone is very similar too, thanks to its slightly oval shape and the near rectangular home button at the bottom of the screen. As with the original S3 however, the finish feels just a little bit plasticky and the silver effect on the band that curves around the outer edge of the phone is bizarrely cheap looking.
Due to its diminutive dimensions, the S3 Mini is actually more comfortable to hold than its big brother and the small screen means it's easier to use with only one available thumb too. It feels light in the hand, which isn’t surprising when you find out it weighs just under 112g. Despite this, you might be surprised to discover that it's actually slightly thicker than the S3, as it measures 10mm deep, compared to the S3's 9mm. It's still far from chunky, and overall it's wonderful phone both to look at and to use.
While other manufacturers are still launching mobiles that run Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Samsung has sensibly gone with the latest Jelly Bean release on this phone. It's all the better for it, as Jelly Bean doesn't suffer from the stuttering performance that has plagued all Android version right up to ICS. Now with Jelly Bean the interface runs at a consistent 60 frames per second, so everything feels much smoother. It finally puts Android on the same page as iOS and Windows Phone in terms of its responsive feel.
Samsung has naturally added its TouchWiz skin over the top, but it's not significantly different in its overall look and feel to the unskinned Jelly Bean interface. You do get a greater variety of colourful icons, but it's got the same basic layout with multiple homescreens onto which you can drop application shortcuts and resizable. The app drawer is laid out as a series of horizontally swipeable screens too, and there's a separate tab dedicated to widgets. You can launch stuff like Google Search and the camera directly from the lock screen, and a range of different Samsung apps is built in.
These include Samsung's own app store, as well as S-Planner, which is essentially a calendar app with a better layout than the standard Android one. Naturally S-Voice is offered too. This is Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri. You can speak commands into the phone and have it respond. But although it can do basic stuff -- such as look up what the weather's going to be like tomorrow or what the current time is in New York -- it's generally a bit useless at working out more complex questions. It was completely stumped when I asked it the date of the next Formula One race, while asking it what Google Android was elicited the useless response that I should look it up online. Um, thanks for that.
Samsung has added a special power-saving mode to the menu that lets the phone throttle back its CPU and reduce screen brightness to save juice when the battery is running low. A weird omission that I discovered in the display settings menu however, revealed that there's no auto-brightness setting, even though there appears to be a sensor above the screen for this.
Despite brandishing the renowned S3 name, the hardware inside the S3 Mini is substantially different to that of the real thing. The full-fat S3 uses a quad-core 1.4GHz chip and has up to 2GB of RAM (on the new LTE model), which makes it one of the most powerful phones on the planet. The S3 Mini doesn’t have the same kind of processing muscle available to it, but that doesn't exactly mean it's weakling. It packs a perfectly competent dual-core 1GHz processor, and has 1GB of RAM with which to run the Android Jelly Bean and any apps.
The phone is available with either 8 or 16GB of storage for media and files. The model I had in for review was the 8GB version and once the Jelly Bean and all the system file gubbins had filled their share of space, there was only around 4.5GB free for storing your own files. Fortunately the phone does have a microSD card slot, allowing you to expand storage by up to 32GB.
The S3 Mini may not have the raw grunt of its more muscular sibling, but it's still pretty rapid for a mid-range phone. It scored 613 in Browsermark 2.0 and in Sunspider it posted a result of 1942.0ms. In the standard benchmarks its performance also shone through as it racked up 4561 in CF-Bench; 904 in Geekbench 2; and 46fps in the GL Benchmark Egyptian Classic test.
The most important thing, of course, is that the S3 Mini actually feels quick and slick to use. While it's not as lightning fast at loading apps or opening webpages as the S3, it does still feel very nippy. There's almost no evidence of the delays you used to experience on Ice Cream Sandwich phones, as Jelly Bean keeps everything shifting along at a fluid pace.
In terms of call quality the phone performs quite well. The ear piece is relatively loud and produces quite clean and distinct speech, while callers also reported that the microphone produced crisp results.
When it comes to battery life, the S3 Mini is no different to the majority of the Android phones we get in for review. You'll get around a day out of it for medium to heavy usage. You can eke some extra life from it if you turn the screen brightness down and make sparse use of mobile data, but you're still not looking at much over a day.
The S3's massive 4.8-inch screen has a 720p HD resolution and uses AMOLED technology. It's a fantastic display, but admittedly many people find it makes the phone feel just a tad too big and makes the phone unwieldy to use. The 4-inch display on the S3 is much more manageable. Nevertheless, even though it uses the same AMOLED technology, its resolution is much lower at 480x800 pixels.
This is pretty much a run-of-the-mill resolution now for mid-range Android phones, so it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. In fact, it falls behind some models, including the Orange San Diego, which has a 4-inch display with a resolution of 600x1024. Side by side, the S3 Mini definitely lacked the clarity of the Orange phone -- something that was especially noticeable on zoomed out text on webpages. Whereas the main text of news stories was easily readable on San Diego, it wasn't on the S3 Mini.
The Mini's display is very bright though, and can produce extremely deep black levels. As with a lot of AMOLED screens however, its whites have a blue-ish tinge to them and colours on the whole look a little bit over-saturated. Some people will actually prefer this, but others will feel it lacks the natural look of the best TFT screens.
I'm not saying that the S3 Mini's screen is bad -- far from it -- it's just that it's not class leading in the way the screen on the S3 is. The fact of the matter is, many other phones at the same price level as the Mini have better quality displays.
If you transfer the photos you've taken with the S3 Mini's camera to a PC for inspection, it quickly becomes obvious that the 5-megapixel snapper isn’t a patch on the 8-megapixel one on the full blown S3. Its pictures lack that extra sharpness you get from the S3's camera. That said, it does a good job of capturing natural and realistic colours, and edges are still nicely defined.
It's a tad slower at focusing than the S3 and there's more shutter lag too, but it's on a par with many other mid-range Android handsets in this regard. It works reasonably well in low light too, although picture noise does increase by a large degree. To fight this off, you'll have to call the LED flash into play.
Video recording is limited to 720p HD resolution, but the quality is fairly decent, if not outstanding. You still get a lot of tearing in the image if you move the camera around a lot while you're shooting.
The camera app gives you plenty of control over the images you're trying to take as there are lots of different shooting modes, ranging from single-shot to a pretty nifty sweep-panorama mode. There are a good few different scene modes to choose from too, which automatically adjust the camera's setting for different scenarios such as shooting sports or taking pictures indoors at a party.
The phone also has a front facing camera, so you can use it to make video calls in apps like Google Talk and Skype. Samsung has added its face-tracking detection feature, which uses the front camera to detect whether you're actually looking at the screen and keep the backlight on if you are. It's a great idea and on the whole works well, although it can sometimes get a bit confused. If you're not looking directly at the display -- say if you're watching a movie and have it propped up on a desk -- it can struggle. The blinking eye icon which appears in the notification bar when it's active can also be annoying.
Overall, the S3 Mini is a very likable handset. It looks stylish, is slick and smooth to use and runs the latest version of Android. Unlike the S3 however, it doesn’t crush all the similarly priced competition that went before it with its sheer weight of features.
More worryingly for Samsung, with an asking price of around £300 SIM free, it looks ridiculously overpriced compared to the vastly superior Google Nexus 4. It trounces the Mini with a much faster processor and larger, higher resolution screen, yet only costs £239. That said, if it pops up on a good contract deal it might be worth investigating.