What’s with all of these “Mini” smartphone editions?

by: Brad WardMay 2, 2013


It was only a few months after the Galaxy S3 launched that we saw the first Mini handset out in the wild: the Galaxy S3 Mini. Fast forward later into 2013 and we’re hearing about what is reportedly a Galaxy S4 Mini. Samsung isn’t the only one creating Mini versions of its flagship devices though. HTC is joining the party as well with the HTC One Mini, or HTC M4.

As manufacturers begin to produce Mini versions of their handsets, the question has to be asked. What’s with all of these dumbed-down versions of popular flagship handsets?

Does Android need small handsets?

There all billions of people in this world and every last one of them has their own likes and dislikes. You and me, we’re different. I could tell you how much I love my Galaxy Note 2 with its epic 5.5-inch screen while you may scoff at the idea of holding such a large phone up to your ear. To you, it may serve well as a tablet, but definitely not a phone.

Right there you can see two different types of people — one who likes large phones and the other who prefers a smaller device. If all Android had was large devices I don’t think it would be as popular as it is now. Forcing someone who likes small handsets to use a big smartphone would put that person in an uncomfortable situation. That doesn’t bring people to your operating system. On the contrary, it shies them away.

Android is a very diverse OS. It targets low- and high-income demographics while also appealing to a wide variety of preferences. So, if we took small handsets out of the Android picture, the OS would lose a lot of popularity because that essentially alienates the demographic who likes small handsets. So yes, Android does need small handsets along with many other sizes.

Why are manufacturers creating Mini editions?

We can’t know the exact reason, but there sure are some sensible answers. Let’s use the Galaxy S4 as an example. There are people who are excited about the 5-inch screen the device touts while others aren’t so onboard with it. Those people, due to their dislike of the display size, are, in most cases, looking at other options to meet their preference.

Samsung can fix this easily. They already have the design in place, what hardware they’re going to use and what software the Galaxy S4 will have. Simply dumbing down the Galaxy S4 a little bit to create a Mini handset seems the most cost effective way to meet the two demographics we talked about earlier: those who like large screens and those who don’t.

Samsung’s Note series is a great example of this. We have the Galaxy Note 10.1, the Galaxy Note 8.0 and the Galaxy Note 2. They all essentially do the same thing, but they are all different sizes. Those three products appeal to those who like small devices, large devices and even something in between.

Along with the various device sizes, simply creating a Galaxy Note 10.1 allows Samsung to continue using the popular Note brand name with a variety of devices instead of creating an entirely new product. This way consumers will become familiar with a brand like the Note and are more likely to purchase that instead of a new, unfamiliar product.


Purported HTC M4 image – HTC’s One Mini?

The Korean tech giant is maximizing its potential profit by meeting just about every demographic. Of course, you can’t please everyone, so there’ll always be those who scoff at the devices.

Do Android manufacturers serve this niche well?

Samsung sure is, but Android manufacturers as a whole? Not as much as they should be. Android Authority’s Robert Triggs in a post about HTC’s quarterly earnings said what makes Samsung so strong is that they make a lot of decent handsets fitting a range of different budgets. LG and Sony do this too, but as I mentioned above, not nearly enough.

HTC does not seem to be following in Samsung, LG or Sony’s footsteps when it comes to meeting demands in different demographics, which could be a good thing. The Next Web quoted HTC UK chief Phil Robertson saying:

We have to get back to focusing on what made us great – amazing hardware and a great customer experience. We ended 2011 with far more products than we started out with. We tried to do too much.

Samsung’s Galaxy S3 may have garnered the company a lot of success, but it sure isn’t the only thing that put them at the top. All of their handsets together contributed to the success, which continues to spread like wildfire. Without Samsung creating handsets for a wide variety of budgets and preferences, it’s hard to believe that they would the top dog by a landslide.

The problem with Mini handsets

Compared to the handsets that are coming out lately, the iPhone is a very small device. One of the reasons why it’s so popular is due to its size though. It offers a 4-inch display (3.5-inch for past models), which makes it appealing to those who prefer a more compact experience. Interestingly, various studies have showed that more women prefer the iPhone than an Android device. Does size have anything to do with that?

Furthermore, whether you like it or not, the iPhone has some decent hardware as well.

That’s where the problem lies with Mini handsets: hardware. In every Mini rendition we’ve seen so far, there hasn’t been one that had premium specs. In fact, the Galaxy S3 Mini feels like it’s mid-range at best (check out our video review below). Holding the name of the Galaxy S3 you’d think all Samsung would have done is shrink the screen size. It makes you wonder though, why don’t OEMs make small premium handsets? Apple does it, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Not everyone wants a small form factor with below-average specs.

The future

At the time being, a lot of people may look at small Android handsets like the Galaxy S3 Mini as a gimmick or quick money grab, but that may change in the near future. Future Motorola devices are supposedly going to be “just right” when it comes to screen size. In an interview with PC Magazine, Motorola design chief Jim Wicks when discussing screen size said, “I think ‘just right’ is important, and we’re designing so we don’t disappoint those people.

What is “just right” though? We can’t know exactly, but the 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5 is called “just right” on Apple’s own website. It’s just my own speculation, but it’s possible that we’ll be seeing some premium “Mini” devices from Motorola in the future.


All in all, Mini versions of handsets have a place in the constantly evolving world of Android. With Android being a very diverse operating system, we should be welcoming Mini editions of smartphones. They’re made to appeal to a wider demographic of people, which ultimately brings more popularity to Android. It isn’t a far-fetched idea that Android would not be as popular as it is now if we didn’t have these types of phones among many others.

With all of that said, what do you think of Mini editions of flagship models? We’d love to hear what you think! Let us know in the comments below!

  • Cláudio Brito

    I want a mini but with decent specs…

    • RaptorOO7

      Sadly Samsung’s idea of mini means middle of the road specs. Why is it they can’t put the same or nearly the same specs into a mini chassis? They can, they just choose not to.

    • Mikesphoneandtab

      I agree. They are doing people who want smaller oh one a disservice. I liked how the Motorola marketed the Razor M, the didn’t have to mention it was small in the title. The specs were still a little to “mini” for me.

    • droidage

      I second that.
      I want a 4″ phone with the same decent spec as SGS4 (apart from screen resolution).

      is it that hard ?
      I mean, perhaps latest snapdragon 800 or exynos octa die size is too big for a 4″ phone ?

  • RaptorOO7

    Well you take what is a solid product/idea and cast a smaller version for those who don’t like bigger phones. Apple claims no one wants BIG phones, but that’s a lie as the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, Optimus G Pro have all proven so far. But if you want to cover your bases as any good Android OEM should you offer the other part of the masses what they may want, smaller but same as the bigger in features.

    • MasterMuffin

      Only problem with these mini phones is that they are often so bad! Why don’t they put more effort to minis?

      • nishantsirohi123

        indeed, apart from the sony xperia devices(which before the xperia z had max screen 4.5 with xperia ion) that had dual core krait precoessors

        even the xperia ray was a unique device

  • Jules Landry-Simard

    “Those three products appeal to those who like small devices, large devices and even something in between.” You really just said that the Note 2 was a small device !?

    • JosephHindy

      lol! compared to the note 8 and the note 10.1, it is small!

  • BigMartin58

    Next up: The iPhone Mini!

    • Mikesphoneandtab

      They already have that. The iPod Nano.

  • Just calling it a Mini doesn’t make it the smaller sibling of the S3. Cram in above average specs, if not equal. Run a publicity campaign for the Mini. And yes, it’s the perfect decision, more the handset choice more will be the company’s consumer base.

  • bob

    samsung is unable to build an iPhone-size phone with the same specs. thats the only reason 5 inch phones exist today – to compete with apple’s specs and battery life, in addition to oled displays/mostly black android theme. think about it ;)

    • ahd

      its more like 5inches is the perfect size and apple is too stupid to realize it ;D

      • bob

        i cant use a 5 inch phone with one hand. that alone makes it faaaar away from being perfect. and if i cant use something with one hand, i use two. if i use two hands, 5 inch is to small, hell, even 8 inch is to small. 5 inch phones exist for a single reason only – apple incredible expertise in miniaturisation. look how the galaxy phones were evolving ;)

        • Cole Raney

          They can put all the innards of a 5 inch phone into a 4 inch phone, but they would lose a lot of sales because some people want bigger screens.

          • bob

            if they could, they would. look at galaxy s3 mini. they have trouble competing with iphone with 5 inch screens, let alone 4 inches. they just cant do it. how do i know that? because they most certainly would!

            s3 vs iphone5 – the same, benchmark wise

            s4 vs iphone 5s – the same, benchmark wise, most likely

            how is that possible?

            how can a dual core be as powerful as a quad core?

            answer – apple!

  • The reason Apple can cram a “premium” phone into a smaller package is because the actual specs on the processor, memory, and battery capacity are well below Android’s standards for a premium handset. The iPhone 5 is a dual core 1.3Ghz processor with 1GB of RAM and a 1440mAh battery. That was impressive for Android handsets back in 2011, but would be considered mid range now in 2013.

    Basically the mini Android phones pack less performance because the batteries are smaller. The Snapdragon 600 in the S4 would demolish a smaller 1500mAh battery, so don’t expect to see it in mini phones anytime soon. Unfortunately Android is also much more feature complete (read: bloated) than iOS, so the latest versions of the OS tend to run like a broken refrigerator on last year’s hardware.

    I feel like I’m just stating the obvious, here.

  • Hopefully the s4 mini is better than the s3 mini, that thing was horrible. Also the screen is too small for me. The s4 mini should be like the s3 ‘regular’

    • carlisimo

      Then it wouldn’t be mini!

  • But as for myself I totally have Bss (big screen syndrome). I just want bigger and better! So I’d like Note 3. Even if you didn’t want those specs, you could get a Mega… But yes, mini versions of phones should be good still. Altough only in my opinion, I think phones like the iPhone 5 and it’s dumb screen is a waste.

  • youxian


  • JanetheAddiction

    What’s so bad about the specs on the HTC One mini or GS4 mini? Objectively speaking, what function will they not be able to perform with their “middling specs?” Not be able to flawlessly play the latest and greatest time wasting game? Yawn……..

    • carlisimo

      We won’t know until they’re out, but the Galaxy SIII Mini was mediocre in pretty much every way (processor, resolution, camera). There’s no way it was going to attract buyers over an iPhone5 except on price – and that’s pointless because there are already a ton of Android phones that only sell because of their low price.

      Just like Apple is missing out on people who like iOS but want a bigger phone, Android is missing out on people who want a high end Android phone with a smaller screen. Every 4.3″ or smaller recent Android phone has been flawed in one or two major ways. The HTC One S had a poor screen (I bought one and am mostly happy with it); the Motorola Droid RAZR M had the same screen, plus a poor camera; the HTC First has a better screen but an even worse camera.

      The iPhone has its own limitations, but if your priorities are performance, screen quality, and camera… it holds up really well against those phones. No one’s really taken it on directly.

  • Alfred Loo

    5 inch screen is too big to run a marathon with. I am 5 ft 9, 68kg

  • William Worlde

    It’s simple; it’s not rocket science. The Android platform is still unsure of itself and still measures itself by comparing to the iPhone. So, although it’s “geeks” want an open system and a bigger screen with more power, it still had to win the hearts and minds of the majority who had been exposed to an entire year of the iP before Android came on the scene.

    It’s time Android grows up and realizes that it is now the leading device seller in the world – with all its myriad versions, big and small.

    Of course, there is the little matter that the more devices you create – and create a demand for – the richer your stakeholders. Like I said, this is not rocket science. Hmmm…..

  • Rachel Watkins

    There are customers who NEED a smaller handset. I suffer from joint issues in my thumbs and wrists, and absolutely can’t use the larger phones. I’ll bet I’m not alone, either. I wish the makers would start selling a quality phone in a small package.

    Unfortunately, I suppose the cries of “Bigger! More screen real estate!” are going to drown out voices like mine for some time to come.

  • Radha Santadharma

    The Galaxy Gio was a mini as was the Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro, even though neither used the mini moniker. Even the Xperia Arc is a mini.

    The Gio was limited by memory. the Xperia Pro & Arc, by CPU being slow and single core. Though the Pro appeared to be faster than the Arc.

    In comparison, the Sharp 13C appears to be faster but I would still consider it a mini.