The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a power-packed beast of a phone with specs to make even the most hardened tech nerds quiver at the knees. At 5 inches across, it's pretty huge though, so what if you want something a little more comfortable to hold?
At 4.3 inches, the Galaxy S4 Mini is much more manageable. But with its smaller size comes a lesser lineup of specs, including a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, a 960x540-pixel display and an 8-megapixel camera -- all far inferior to the real deal. It does still have 4G for super-fast mobile data speeds though.
With a price tag of £380 SIM-free, and free on contracts from £27 per month, does it do enough to make it a worthy purchase?
Our S4 Mini review sample was supplied by Clove.co.uk.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini?
A word of warning: if you're expecting the blistering performance and boast-worthy specs of the real S4, but in a smaller body, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. It's not just the size that's been shrunk, all of its key features have too. The screen falls far short of the Full HD resolution of its sibling, it has an 8- rather than 13-megapixel camera and it has a dual-core, not quad-core, processor.
Its specs are much closer to the middle of the road, closer to last year's Galaxy S3 than the latest flagship. It's annoying, then, that Samsung has matched it with a price that puts it well above most mid-range phones. The Google Nexus 4 offers a better set of specs and costs considerably less. For the money, that's still the phone to go for.
If pocketability is a crucial factor and you can stomach the cost, it's not a bad phone. It's very comfortable to hold in one hand, it has a bright and bold screen, a decent camera and enough power for most tasks you're likely to need to do. If Samsung could just see fit to knock a hundred quid off the price, it would be an excellent phone for those of you who don't have hands -- or wallets -- big enough for the full-size S4.
Design and build quality
There's no question the S4 Mini has been cut from the same cloth as its big brother. The phone is surrounded in the same metal banding, while the white plastic back panel has the same subtle criss-cross pattern. The metallic-edged home button and speaker grille have both been lifted straight from the regular S4.
Where it really differs, of course, is its size. With a screen size of 4.3 inches, it's significantly smaller than the 5 inches of the standard S4. It measures 61mm across and is 124mm long, making it far more comfortable to hold in one hand, and much easier to stretch your thumb across the screen when typing. If you want a shiny new Android phone but you prefer your iPhone 4's 3.5-inch display, the Mini should definitely be among your options.
It weighs 107g -- light enough to remain unnoticed in your pocket. Build quality seems about the same as the S4. The plastic back panel feels undeniably cheap and flimsy when removed, but when it's all securely fastened it doesn't feel too bad. It's certainly less luxurious than the metal HTC One.
Around the edges you'll find the power button, volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port for charging and data transfer.
The phone comes as standard with either 8 or 16GB of internal storage. Samsung got into hot water with the S4 when it transpired that half of the advertised space was taken up by Samsung software. On the 16GB model, only 8GB was actually available to use. Samsung has promised to update the phone to allow for more memory and, crucially, add the ability to store apps on an external SD card.
That update is already in place on the Mini. On the 8GB model, a little over 5GB was available to use and I was able to move downloaded apps to an external card. It's a simple process of hitting 'Move to SD card' in the applications menu, but not all apps can be moved. The developers themselves have to build this ability in.
I was able to move apps such as Riptide GP and Snapseed to the card, but bigger games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City couldn't be moved. Hopefully more apps will bring this feature in to let you make full use of the expandable storage. You can of course save all your photos, videos and music to the SD card too, keeping the built-in storage just for those apps that can't be stored externally.
The 4.3-inch display has a resolution of 960x540 pixels, which is a considerable step down from the Full HD display of the standard S4. With a smaller screen size though, the Mini doesn't need to pack in quite as many pixels to remain sharp. It has a pixel density of 256 -- a far cry from the 441ppi of the S4 and not up to the standard of the retina display on the iPhone 5 either.
Put it side by side against the full-size S4 and you'll definitely notice the difference in clarity. The Mini doesn't have the same sharpness around icons, and small text isn't as well defined. In everyday use though, it's perfectly good for most tasks. It's bright too and very bold, making videos on Netflix or YouTube look cracking.
It's a decent all-round screen and will suit most people. For the high price though, you'd be right to expect more. The Nexus 4, for example, has a higher-res 720p screen -- resulting in 330ppi -- and can still be bought SIM-free for only £240.
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
The S4 Mini runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the most recent version of Google's mobile operating system currently available. As with the S4, Samsung has crammed in a significant number of tweaks.
The core interface stays pretty much the same. You'll find five homescreens to fill up with apps and widgets, with other apps stored in a grid of icons. Samsung has bundled its Story Album software, which lets you create photobooks of your pictures, as well as its S Translate tool, Group Play and S Memo.
Features from the S4 like S Health aren't on board though. The dual-screen apps feature has been removed too, probably as the screen isn't really big enough to make proper use of it. There are some motion controls such as the ability to turn the phone over to mute a call. Eye-tracking is present too, so a video can pause when you look away. Gesture navigation -- like waving over the screen to browse images -- is still only found on the full S4.
The S4 Mini, like Samsung's other phones, continues to tread the line between being feature-packed and being downright confusing. There are multiple app stores to browse through as well as multiple Web browsers and multiple email clients.
There are so many different settings to play with that the settings menu has to be split into four different categories. It doesn't seem to have made things easier to navigate though. The 'About Device' option, for example, is found not under 'My Device' but 'More'. Which makes less than no sense.
If you're a veteran Android user, it probably won't take you too long to get to grips with things. If you're new to the system, it might take you a little while longer. If you're taking your first steps into the smart phone world, grab a coffee and some Aspirin -- you're in for a long night of learning.
Processor and performance
The processor is another disappointment for those of you simply wanting a smaller S4. It's a 1.7GHz dual-core affair, rather than the rapacious 1.9GHz quad-core beast found inside the larger version. Nevertheless, its fast clock speed had me hoping for a swift performance.
On the Geekbench benchmark test, the Mini achieved a score of 1,875. That's not a bad score at all for the mid-range hardware it's packing. Given the price though, we should be seeing better. The standard S4 achieved a blistering 3,087 on the same test. The Mini sits between last year's Galaxy S3 (around 1,400 on Geekbench) and the Nexus 4 (almost 2,000).
Both the S3 and Nexus 4 are superbly powerful and have plenty of juice for most tasks you're likely to throw at them, but crucially, the Nexus 4 asks for much less money.
General operation of the phone was enjoyably swift. There was no unpleasant juddering of lag when swiping between the various homescreens and the notification panel and multi-tasking carousel opened without any delay. Essential social-networking tasks were handled without any hiccups, as were more demanding jobs such as photo editing in Snapseed and high-definition video streaming with Netflix.
Gamers will be pleased to know how well it handles some of Android's biggest games, too. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City played with high frame rates, resulting in gameplay smoother than a baby's bum, as did water-racer Riptide GP. The Mini might not have the same quad-core engine as its big brother, but it's got enough guts to tackle the vast majority of things you're likely to throw at it.
Inside the Mini is a 1,900mAh battery -- a little smaller than some of the cells in top-end phones, but understandable given its physically smaller size. Samsung reckons you can get about 9 hours of Internet browsing time over 3G from a single charge. From my own testing I'd say that's a little ambitious, but as always, Samsung is giving a best-case scenario.
If you browsed non-stop, with the screen brightness ramped to the max with Bluetooth and anything else you can find turned on, you shouldn't expect to get near to 9 hours. If you're more careful about how you use your phone throughout the day, you shouldn't struggle to take it off charge in the morning and still have power when you get home at night.
As with most smart phones though, you should expect to charge it every night.
Around the back of the Mini is an 8-megapixel camera. By this point, it shouldn't shock you to know that isn't as impressive a number as the 13 megapixels found on the proper S4. Still, megapixels really aren't everything, so I took it for a spin to see how it stacks up against its stablemate.
On my first shot of Buckingham Palace, it's clear to see the benefit of the extra pixels. Fine detail on the brickwork of the building is clearer on the S4's shot, and the gold tips on the gate are more easily defined against the background. The Mini's camera also erred more on the dark side, resulting in a more dim building, but it maintained some of the clouds in the bright sky.
On a close-up of Her Maj's front gates, the S4 again displayed far more detail in the image, but neither camera did particularly well at counteracting the bright sky.
Both cameras did a decent job of exposing for the indoor scene while maintaining accurate colours. At full screen, it's easy to see the S4's quality advantage though. It might not have the megapixel advantage, but the Mini's camera seems perfectly good for snapping shots of your friends out and about, and for bombarding your Instagram followers with endless pictures of pasta.
While the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini doesn't have the same impressive lineup of specs as its illustrious relative, it still packs plenty of power and a decent screen into a very comfortable little body. It's just a shame it's so expensive.