What is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is what the HTC One Mini (review coming soon) is to the HTC One – a smaller version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Dropping to a 4.3-inch display, the S4 Mini loses the quad-core power and Full 1080p HD display. It does retain many of the key S4 features including NFC, Android 4.2.2 and a removable battery. The basic design is much the same, it just fits more comfortably in your hand and pocket.

Priced from £350, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is significantly more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini (£269) at launch and is £229 cheaper than the Galaxy S4. It goes up against the likes of the Sony Xperia SP and the Nokia Lumia 820, Samsung wants the S4 Mini to the ultimate mid-range smartphone and a more pocketable rival to the iPhone 5. Can it compete with the best mobile phones around? Read on to find out.

Watch our Samsung Galaxy S4 mini video review

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Design

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is essentially a clone of the Galaxy S4. From the glossy, plastic body, thin bezel and metal band separating the screen from the battery cover. This is the flagship Samsung smartphone, only smaller and lighter - read more about how they compare in the our S4 vs S4 Mini comparison.

This is a handset we have already seen as well. The screen size and basic specs are identical to the smartphone half of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

All buttons and ports remain in the same place as they do on the S4. The Home key flanked by capacitive buttons remain below the screen. The volume rocker is on the left side, on/off button on the right and headphone jack up top. The LED flash and 8-megapixel camera sensor line up above each other just as they do on the S4. The eagle-eyed of you will notice that the Air gesture sensor is missing, which means there’s no hover-your-finger-over-the-screen features to play with.



Weighing in at 107g, the S4 Mini is lighter than the S4 (130g) and the HTC One Mini (122g). At 8.94mm thick, it's also slimmer than the One Mini, but it is around a millimetre chunkier than the S4. It’s available in White Frost and Black Mist colours, and having played with the black version it's a shade that helps hide some of the cheapness in the build.

The plastic battery cover clips away from the body via a small gap above the on/off button that you can wedge your fingernail under. It comes away easily from the body, but the cover itself feels very flimsy. Underneath you’ll find the 1,900 mAh battery, micro-SIM card slot and MicroSD card slot.

Unsurprisingly, the S4 Mini fits a little more nicely in the palm of the hand than its bigger brother. Despite the slippery nature of the back, the S4 Mini stays put and is comfortable to use with one hand. It's got a durable feel that should make it withstand everyday knocks.

Samsung’s persistence to use plastic over the more premium materials found on the iPhone 5, the HTC One and the Nokia Lumia 925 continues to divide opinion. It's more acceptable for a mid-range device, but at £350 we still expect a smidgen more quality.


Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Screen Quality

The biggest physical difference between the S4 Mini and the S4, of course, is screen size. The S4 Mini has a 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED display minus the Gorilla Glass protection. It also drops to a 960 x 540 screen resolution and the PPI goes from 441 to a not so impressive sounding 255.

Everything suggests the screen should be much worse than the S4, but it’s not as dramatic as that. Yes, you lose the clarity of a Full HD display, but the qHD screen is still bright and colourful and remains a vibrant place to watch movies and play games on.

It responds well to touch and provides an accurate surface for typing on the virtual keyboard. Despite the drop in overall quality, the S4 Mini screen is still perfectly acceptable for everyday tasks.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Software

The S4 Mini runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Samsung TouchWiz UI. Again, if you’ve read our Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review, it's more of the same from the Mini. The current combination of the user interfaces looks and feels much cleaner and user-friendly than previous unions of the two. The presence of the stock Android UI outweighs Samsung's TouchWiz UI and that's a good thing.

It's here where a few more features fail to make the cut. The notification LED has been left out, leaving you unable to see if the _phone_ is charging or if an email comes through. Air View and Multi-Window support, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also dropped. S-Health, disappointingly, misses out as well, as do the less essential temperature sensors.


Samsung apps and software are all largely intact, however. You can access Group Play, S Travel, S Translator, Story Album, ChatOn, Samsung Video and the improving, but not yet perfect Siri rival S-Voice.

The S4 Mini is available in 8GB and 16GB storage versions. In the 8GB model, Samsung software accommodates 3GB leaving you with just 5GB to play with. Thankfully there is a microSD card slot in the back and free Dropbox cloud storage to make up for it.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Performance

The S4 Mini processor is a 1.7GHz dual-core CPU with 1.5GB of RAM. It's slightly faster than the CPU inside the S4 Zoom, which is good news considering it was perfectly smooth in general operation.

Swiping through homescreens and opening up applications is near-seamless. Only people who use a quad-core _phone_ like the S4 everyday would possibly notice any lag - everyone else will have no problems.

Apps start quickly and running more than one application is generally no problem for the Mini. Web browsing is on par with the S4 Zoom and 4G LTE compatibility means things can be quicker if you wish to pay the extra for a 4G contract.



Gaming is where you begin to see the difference between quad-core and dual-core. Running Real Racing 3, gameplay is fluid and smooth until there is a bundle of cars on the screen. Then you begin to see some lag. On the whole, though, the S4 Mini runs more taxing Android games well, even if they push the Adreno GPU to its limits.

Running the benchmark tests from the Unreal Engine powered Epic Citadel demo back this up. The S4 Mini managed a score of 54.7. That’s basically the same as the Zoom S4 and supports the S4 Mini’s gaming credentials.

In the audio department, there is nothing spectacular to report. The S4 Mini speaker is positioned low down on the back of the removable battery cover. Sound is clear but simply can’t compare to HTC’s BoomSound speakers. If you want to watch a movie or listen to music, you’ll get a better experience plugging in some headphones.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Camera

The S4 Mini has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus and a Power LED Flash to help shoot in low light conditions. Despite dropping down from the 13-megapixel sensor on the S4, the Mini is still a more than capable cameraphone, albeit not quite as polished.

It works on the same principles as the S4 and the S4 Zoom. There’s an automatic mode where settings are adjusted for you. Expert mode, alternatively, let's you tinker with exposure, white balance and lighting levels to get a more manual camera experience.

There's 10 smart modes to pick from. It's not quite the 25 on the S4 Zoom and notable absentees include the impressive Smart Mode Suggest and Animated Photo mode.




Some of the ‘Smart Modes’ are better than others. The HDR and Best Shot modes do a great job of enhancing clarity. The Sound&Shot is not great and the audio recording quality isn't extremely clear. There is a zoom, but this is no Galaxy S4 Zoom. It performs about as well as most smart phones that get up close and that's not very well.

The S4 Mini shoots Full HD 1080p video at 30fps, but the Dual Shot mode from the S4 is missing. Nonetheless, the S4 Mini is still a respectable video shooter and delivers footage that offer similar results to stills shooting shooting.

Up front there’s the same 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera found on the S4 and S4 Zoom. As front-facing cameras go, the results are at the top end of the spectrum making it perfect for video calling on the move.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Call Quality

This is an area that, thankfully, we can say matches the S4 in terms of its results. With the earpiece sat in the identical position as the bigger S4, calls are loud and clear without any noticeable muffling. Even in built-up busy areas, the S4 Mini performs well.  It's worth noting that an in-call equalizer lets you refine the quality if needed, too, though we doubt many people will really need it.


Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini - Battery Life

The S4 Mini has a 1,900 mAh capacity battery, which is up from the S3 Mini’s 1,500 mAh battery power. In intense usage running several apps, downloading an 850MB film over Wi-Fi and playing Real Racing 3 at the same time, the battery quickly dropped to about 20% from full charge within an hour.

In more general use making calls, browsing, playing games, watching videos on YouTube and streaming music from Spotify, the S4 Mini makes it through the day with a bit to spare. We'd say it managed seven hours before nearing perilously low on the battery status icon. The quick access notification panels make power management easier to control as ever to switch off Wi-Fi or adjust brightness.


Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini?

If you really want a small S4, then yes, you should buy the S4 Mini. It's a very good phone that performs well and has a decent screen. If you want Android phone that's more pocket-friendly than most out there, it's a small step up from the Sony Xperia SP.

If size doesn't matter to you, however, think twice. While it's a very good phone, it's not the best mid-range Android smartphone available. The 4.7-inch Nexus 4 still holds that crown as its cheaper £239 price tag gives you a quad-core processor, a similarly impressive screen and a nicer design.The 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S3 is now available for under £300, too, which also has a quad-core and a high capacity battery compared to the S4 Mini. If size is no object, we'd pick both before the S4 Mini.

If you are weighing up whether to get the S4 Mini or the HTC One Mini the latter feels like a more impressive 'mini' smartphone, but is still more expensive at £380 - we'll be posting our review of the HTC soon.

For more alternatives, head to our best mobile phones 2013 round-up.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is the S4 without some of the frills. The specs are good, but not ground-breaking. In terms of the whole package though, it's the among the best 4.3-inch Android smartphones to buy right now.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini smartphone used in this review was provided by Phones4U