What is the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini?

The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini is a 4.5-inch Android _phone_ that's essentially the Galaxy S5 in a smaller body. Much like the S3 and S4 Mini. It looks like the S5, retains most of the flagship's new features, but it does make some compromises. It doesn't have a Full HD screen and it lacks the S5's impressive camera — two of the S5's best features. There are better value phones out there, but the S5 Mini is a step from from the S4 Mini.

Watch our Galaxy S5 Mini video review


Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Design & Features

So the good news is that from afar, the S5 Mini is every bit the spitting image of the S5. That’s down to the colours its available in and the positioning of all the key buttons and ports. The same curvy corners are still in place, as is the plastic silver trim around the edge, so no Galaxy Alpha metal here. It still has that dimpled plastic back, which makes a nice change from the polycarbonate rears on previous Galaxy handsets.

Much like the white S5, however, the white version of S5 Mini feels extremely cheap compared to the soft, more textured feel on the Charcoal Black S5. It’s a little more slippy to the touch and while you won’t lose grip of it, it simply doesn’t feel as snug or stylish as the One Mini 2. For this reason the black version is the one we recommend.

The S5 Mini measures in at 9.1mm thick and weighs 120g, making it slightly thicker and heavier than the S4 Mini as well. It’s not a difference you'll notice, though. This is still a light, well-built phone. The plastic back still unclips to reveal a removable battery along with micro SIM card and microSD card slots. Around the back is the single speaker and camera sensor with LED flash along with the heart rate sensor featured on the S5, though the sensor isn't especially accurate or useful.

The S5 Mini also retains the fingerprint reader, though it's still a hit and miss affair. Apple's Touch ID trounces it for consistency and accuracy, so much it's hard to persevere with it.

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Elsewhere, there's an infrared (IR) blaster to turn the S5 Mini into a universal remote control and the body is IP67 certified dust and water-resistant. This means you can dunk it in water up to one metre deep for 30 minutes as long as the battery cover is securely in place. You also don't have to worry about any fiddly latches as the S5 Mini doesn't have any.

The missing latch also reveals one of the hardware casualties. The micro USB 3.0 support is gone. That means you miss out on faster data rates to transfer files, music and video. It's a shame that this isn't included, but understandble in the name of keeping the price down — we can't think of any _phone_ at this price that supports USB 3.0.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Screen

The S5 Mini is a step-up from the S4 Mini in three important ways. At 4.5-inches it's 0.2-inches larger, it has a higher 720p resolution and it uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3.

That’s no real surprise on all fronts. Phones continue to creep up in size, while the Moto G has shown cheaper phones don’t have to make such dramatic compromises in screen resolution. It’s a Super AMOLED display just like the S5, and it's just as bright, rich and colourful. It's a great screen. If you are not entirely happy with the screen, Samsung still includes the same display settings on the S5 with dynamic, standard, professional photo, cinema and adapt display modes.

Like most smaller AMOLED, the S5 Mini uses a PenTile array. This relates to the arrangement of sub pixels that make up a single pixel in the display. Samsung uses four sub pixels as opposed to three, which most smartphone displays use. Those sub pixels are lined up diagonally instead of on top each other, as is the case with smartphones using RGB screens. This can can lead to some screen fuzziness up close, but you are going to be hard pressed to really notice it on the S5 Mini.


Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Software

Samsung’s take on Android has improved dramatically in recent times. It's no longer an ugly, bloatware-riddled place. Now with Android 4.4.2 KitKat, it's cleaner and eaiser to use. Most of the bloatware is gone and Google's own apps have a greater presence throughout the UI, though Samsung apps such as S Health and the rebranded My Galaxy app store are still there, too.

When you move into settings, it's a familiar experience. Samsung packs the S5 Mini with options presented in the new colour coded, circular layout. There's plenty to take in, but with the usual S Finder search feature it's certainly a far less scattered approach to finding things than previous versions of TouchWiz.

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Most of the features seen in other phones are intact, the notable omissions being the multitasking Multi-Window mode, gestures like Air Browse and the new download booster feature introduced with the S5. Leaving out Multi Window makes sense given the size, though. It wouldn't work well on a phone this size. Indeed, none of the features are critical losses.

S5 Mini photo samples

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Performance

The S4 Mini came in for some criticism, mainly due it lacklustre performance in games. Other than that, the dual-core CPU was well equipped to keep things running smoothly. The S5 Mini retains the same smooth general operation, but performs better in games.

It's moved to a quad-core Samsung Exynos 3470 CPU clocked at 1.4GHZ with Cortex A7 cores. That's accompanied by 1.5GB RAM and a Mali 400 MP4 GPU. This is more than suitable for everyday tasks and some of the more playful features. It handles multiple running apps without any real signs of a struggle and Real Racing 3 runs with few signs of lag or framerate issues.

It's not faster than any close rival, though. The S5 Mini manages a 1,134 multi core score in our Geekbench 3 benchmark, about the same as the HTC One Mini 2 (1,120) and Moto G (1,155), suggesting there's very little between the £300 and sub £100 phone.

When you compare things to the Xperia Z1 Compact, it's something of a different story. Sony's smaller offspring of the Xperia Z1 runs on a Snapdragon 800 CPU, the same architecture found inside the LG G2. It's undeniably the most powerful of the minis scoring a 2,836 multi core score in Geekbench.

Outside of the One Mini 2 and the Xperia Z1 Compact, we shouldn't forget about the sub-£300 Nexus 5, which also runs on the Snapdragon 800 CPU and also scores up into the 2,000 in the Geekbench benchmark tests.

Clearly, then, while the S5 Mini is 'fast enough' you don't have to spend more to find phones that perform better. It's competent, but not outstanding.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Camera

The S5 Mini has an 8-megapixel main camera, so don’t expect the same quality photos as the Galaxy S5. It also lacks the new ISOCELL sensor, hybrid auto focus and Phase Detect autofocus features that help make the S5 one of the best smartphone cameras on a flagship phone.

But that's not to say you can't capture good quality images both indoors and outdoors using the S5 Mini. It's one of the easiest to use and best performing phones in its class and it performs well in most shooting conditions.

Additionally, there's and 2.1-megapixel front-facing cameras for above average selfies and video calling plus the ability to shoot video at a maximum Full HD 1080p.

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Shooting with S5 Mini is similar to the S5. Most of those key photo modes are there, including Beauty face, Panorama, Virtual Tour and HDR modes. There’s even the option to download more shooting modes if you need to.

Head into the settings and you’ll quickly notice that HDR mode can only be selected from the Mode button. Selective focus is also missing. This is the S5 camera feature where you can choose to blur out the background or foreground. It’s something already possible on the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the HTC One M8. It’s undoubtedly a cool feature, but most will get by without it.

The S5 Mini's camera does a good job up close. Colours are well reproduced and there's a good level of sharpness on show. Even in trickier, low-light conditions it still manages to produce vibrant, detailed images.

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The S5 Mini's 8-megapixel camera in Auto mode handles close-up shots well

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S5 Mini (left) and S5 (right) close up images compared give you an idea of the difference in sharpness and overall quality


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Even in low-light, the S5 Mini still manages to produce well balanced shots

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Shooting from a distance, it still captures strong images albeit without the same level of detail or high contrast the S5 manages. When you compare it to the 13-megapixel camera on the HTC One Mini 2, there's a more noticeable difference in quality.

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S5 Mini (left) and HTC One Mini 2 (right) proves megapixels isn't everything

The HDR mode (see below) works well. It balances the high-contrast areas of clouds well while also brightening up the gloomier parts of the foreground, and all without leaving any irritating 'halo' effects around objects.

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S5 Mini with HDR mode turned off

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S5 Mini with HDR mode turned on

When it comes to shooting video there's not much in the way of helpful settings to improve the quality of footage. There's no video stabilization or the ability to shoot in HDR mode, though you do still have the option to pick a recording mode that's more share-friendly.

When you get recording, you can adjust the autofocus just like you can do with the stills camera. Footage is bright, vibrant and detailed and largely free of any annoying juddering. Audio capture isn't perfect, but it's a decent camera for capturing short clips.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Battery Life

One of the most impressive features of the S5 above everything else is the battery life. Whether it’s in standby mode or after heavy use, it’s capable of breaking the two-day barrier.

On light use you can comfortably get more than a day and even further when you turn on the power saving modes. It also includes the same Ultra power saving mode, which turns the screen grey and limits features. It’s a really handy option on the S5 and is similarly useful to have on the S5 Mini.

Running a 720p HD video on loop with default brightness, the S5 Mini performs lasts around 11 hours, way above the One Mini 2's 9 hours.

A 30-minute charge adds 28% of battery power, so an hour should be enough to get you through most of the day if you're caught short.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini: Call and Sound Quality

Call quality is nothing out of the ordinary. The earpiece is well positioned and is nice and loud. As is the case with most phones, there’s a secondary mic to offer noise cancellation and we didn’t suffer any great interference from background noise sitting inside a pub. You will still want to take it outside to take the call, though.

Speaker quality is virtually the same scenario with the S5. It’s still a single grille at the back off the phone that doesn’t really impress all that much. It’s undeniably loud above anything else with very little distortion, but it's thin and lacks any bass. HTC still holds an egde here.

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Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini?

The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini is the best mini Samsung has come up with so far. It’s made some big improvements on the S4 Mini particularly in the screen, battery and camera departments. It's not an automatic choice, though.

That's mainly because the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, which is rumoured to be replaced by a Z2 Compact in the not too distant future, has a more powerful Snapdragon processor, a better camera and if you shop around can be bought for less. There's little to choose between this and the HTC One Mini 2 either, though the latter looks and feels slicker.

If you're determined to go with Samsung and don't want a larger 5-inch phone this is a very good choice, but it's not the best. The honour goes to the Sony.

Verdict

A very good, smaller take on the S5 that's only eclipsed by the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and cheaper 5-inch phones.

Next, read our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini vs Samsung Galaxy S5
comparison