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

May 2, 2013
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galaxy-s3-review-1

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.

HTC M4

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.

Conclusion

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!

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