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Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini Review (video)
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is easily one of the best device’s on the market right now, and while it has top-of-the-line hardware, it might just be too big for some people. Sure, 5-inch screens are quickly becoming the standard, but many still think a 4- or 4.3-inch display is perfect for a smartphone. So, maybe the Galaxy S4 just isn’t for you, but what if it was available in a smaller size?
Enter, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, a much, smaller version of its big brother. While Samsung’s flagship has been shrunken down into Mini size, there’s much more that’s changed than just its form factor, such as hardware downgrades, but that might not be a bad thing.
It goes without saying, the Galaxy S4 Mini is a very small device. If you’re used to 5-inch displays or bigger smartphones in general, picking up the Galaxy S4 Mini is going to be a bit of a shock, but that feeling quickly fades away when you see just how easy the Mini is to handle. Being an all around smaller and lighter device, it’s very easy to throw around in one hand.
As far as the design goes, there’s not much to see here. It’s Samsung’s standard layout for the majority of its handsets — same button layout, built with the same plastic materials, and it has the same removable back, allowing access to the microSD card, SIM slot, and removable battery. Mini really is the operative word here.
5-inch smartphones are incredible, but picking up a smaller phone like the Galaxy S4 Mini will remind you how much you’ve missed having such an easy time with a handset. Everything on the screen can be reached without any straining or hand gymnastics. It’s an all-around incredible feeling.
While the feel of the Galaxy S4 Mini may be an incredible feeling, you do lose some things in the transition to a smaller device. As you’d expect, the display was made smaller to accommodate the smaller form factor of the device. Instead of the 5-inch 1080p display of the original Galaxy S4, you get a much smaller 4.3-inch screen capable of only 960 x 540 resolution, rated at 256ppi.
The downgrade is understandable. After all, the Galaxy S4 Mini is supposed to be a smaller, more affordable smartphone, but on some level, one of the things that would make this handset even more appealing is if it was sporting a 720p display.
Nonetheless, the Galaxy S4 Mini’s screen is still very good with the Super AMOLED panel’s saturated colors and contrast. The viewing angles remain very good, but the lowered resolution makes the pixel density drop, and it’s noticeable with smaller text and a lack of smoothness in higher quality games.
If your smartphone is your go-to device for gaming and media consumption, it will, obviously, be easier on the eyes to go for the bigger phone. However, the Galaxy S4 Mini really doesn’t do a bad job packing a pleasant experience in this 4.3-inch screen.
People often see smaller devices and immediately think that it would perform horribly. In most cases, it’s true; however, Samsung did at least try to keep a good amount of power in the S4 Mini. It goes without saying, though, you really don’t need a Snapdragon 600 quad-core CPU clocked at 1.9GHz to smoothly run a less demanding, 4.3-inch smartphone.
Powering the Galaxy S4 Mini is a Snapdragon 400, the dual-core variant of the 600 that powers the original S4. Instead of the usual Adreno 320 GPU that you find in most smartphones, you get the Adreno 305, along with 1.5GB of RAM. As for scores in AnTuTu, they consistently hit the 15,000 mark, while Epic Citadel set at Ultra High Quality was able to keep a consistent 47 frames per second.
It goes without saying, the Galaxy S4 Mini performs very well. I was able to perform tasks quickly and smoothly. Multitasking and browsing the web was as fast as ever, and I ran into very few problems. When playing the beautiful game, The Room, lag did occur, but it happened very rarely, and it didn’t hinder the experience whatsoever.
The Snapdragon and Adreno names have been known to bring good performance to the table, and you can rest assured that that is the case for the Galaxy S4 Mini, as well. They do a great job in this small, little peformer.
And now, we get to the hardware, where changes are a little more drastic. Unfortunately, the many sensors the original Galaxy S4 is sporting, don’t make a return to the Galaxy S4 Mini. In other words, you won’t be able to take advantage of hand gestures to navigate through your device or use Air View to zoom in on webpages.
When it comes down to it, pretty much everything has been stripped down, and the only real addition that makes a return is the IR Blaster for controlling your TV or other related devices. On the positive side, this means you’ll have less TouchWiz features taking up storage. Speaking of storage, the Galaxy S4 Mini comes with 8GB of onboard memory, and while that’s not a lot, there’s a microSD card slot available under the back cover if storage issues rise.
Voice calls works well on my T-Mobile connection. They were crystal clear, and I had no issues with dropped calls. If you’re having trouble hearing during a phone conversation, there’s an in-call equalizer that will enhance your call volume. I’m actually using the Duos version of the Galaxy S4 Mini, which is capable of handling two SIMs. Having dual SIMS is nice for frequent travelers.
It’s also worth mentioning that, much like the original S4, there are a slew of different variations of the Galaxy S4 Mini. That said, a LTE version of the Mini will be available, but at the time of this writing, no further information has been released on it.
With a smaller phone, you get a smaller battery. A 1,900 mAh unit can be found inside the Galaxy S4 Mini, and if that’s not enough juice for you, it is indeed removable and replaceable. Between the screen, lower processing package, and even lack of a super high Internet speed, I expected battery life to perform remarkably well. For the most part it, it did.
Playing video for two hours only used 25% of battery life, so it’s likely that this device could last 7 hours of straight video streaming. In other words, the 1,900 mAh unit will be able to get you through your day, and possibly even more, especially with the power saving options available to you.
As expected, the camera in the Galaxy S4 Mini has been brought down from the 13-megapixel performer in the original Galaxy S4 to your standard 8-megapixels. In a nutshell, this camera produces photos as good as last year’s flagship devices.
The app has the same interface as before, with modes and settings available as overlays on top of a full screen viewfinder. You don’t get as many modes this time around, so things like Drama shot, Eraser shot, and dual recording won’t be making a return. However, Best photo and Best face is still here, along with HDR and panorama.
As for picture quality, it’s still very good. In our tests, we found that it captured details really well and reproduced colors nicely, all of which translate into the full 1080p video recording capabilities. As expected, low light shots aren’t the best, but getting a decent picture in less ideal situations is still possible — they just won’t be as vibrant.
Shutter to file speeds are really fast, so having no lag between shows will help you quickly get that photo you want. All in all, the Galaxy S4 Mini performs very well as a point-and-shoot camera, despite its smaller and simpler outlook.
While some TouchWiz features didn’t make it to the Galaxy S4 Mini, it still has many of the same features that are available in the original S4. As we briefly mentioned before, the missing sensors mean that a lot of TouchWiz features just aren’t here, such as hand navigation and Air View. However, WatchON is still there, as the IR Blaster makes a return, and Group Play can be used if you have friends with S4 phones.
S Health isn’t preinstalled, though if it’s something that you really need, there’s plenty of APKs floating around the Internet, especially on the XDA forums. Since the Galaxy S4 Mini is running Jelly Bean (4.2) , you get Google Now as an alternative to Samsung’s own S Voice, if you prefer.
Despite the smaller screen, this newer version does do a better job of scaling everything down for the Mini to ensure it isn’t too bloated or crowded. And on a smaller screen it is definitely easier to handle and was actually a little refreshing, if not a little too familiar.
The Galaxy S4 Mini is currently available for pre-order on multiple carriers in Europe, but it has yet to see any release information here in the U.S. If the Galaxy S3 Mini is any indication, we may not even see it here, aside from unlocked models. Looking at the price of the S4 Mini across the pond, it’s likely to have a price tag of around $500, unlocked.
And so, there you have it. The Galaxy S4 Mini, is basically, a smaller, original S4. Almost everything has been brought down to size and thus when you see the smaller form factor, you can expect a fitting experience underneath. But what you lose in performance and hardware is made up for in its handling.
Let’s face it — we can be spoiled sometimes. Our uber performing 5, 5 and a half, 6.4 inch screens with faster performance than some laptops can makes us forget what used to be the norm. I love when I get a smaller phone in my hand and still have a good time with it. Just like the S3 Mini before it, the S4 Mini is a phone for the everyman and everywoman — a phone that despite its nature can go the distance, is refreshingly easy to handle, and, most of all, works.
Brad Ward contributed to this review.