- Compact form factor
- Great battery life
- Expandable memory
- Gallery performance issues
- Low resolution screen
If good things do indeed come in small packages, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini has all the ingredients needed to be a big treat. Not only does it bear the same name and design as one of the best smartphones around, it also offers a Super AMOLED display and LTE for great looking, very fast mobile browsing and streaming.
In the same breath, it's specs are stripped right down, it's screen significantly lower resolution and it's price tag live over £100 cheaper off contract than the Galaxy S4.
So which is it, a mediocre, overpriced offshoot, or does the Galaxy S4 mini bear the S4 name with pride, offering flagship highlights in a pocketable package?
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: Design and screen
It looks like a Galaxy S4 with its glossy plastic finish and faux metal trimmings, it's even got Galaxy S4 in the name, but this isn't the Galaxy S4 we've come to know, not by a long stretch.
With a display measuring 4.3-inches, for starters, it's significantly smaller than the original S4. It's also shorter and narrower, offering minimal bezelling and very little wasted fascia space.
Smaller it may be, but at 8.4mm, the S4 mini is thicker than the 7.9mm thin original. It feels slightly more squat, though offers good weighting and generally sits well in the hand.
The phone is also dense enough to not feel as cheap as some other all-plastic devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.
Speaking of the Zoom, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini offers a virtually identical 4.3-inch, qHD Super AMOLED display to that of its camera-centric sibling. Great for saturation and depth, unfortunately, not so great for detail, with a middling PPI of 256 PenTile pixels per inch.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: UI and performance
Loaded with the latest widely available version of Android and the newest coat of Samsung's TouchWiz around, the Galaxy S4 mini is off to a great start.
Thumbing through the UI and you'll soon realise the lengths Samsung goes to in order to give you a customised, thought through experience.
In some areas, it’s extremely tight and stronger than stock Android. You can choose to have a variable number of home screens for example, there are extensive options to customise your notification bar toggles and the overall look is refined by comparison to the older variants of TouchWiz.
It also bears many of the same fundamental flaws as other versions of Samsung's UI though.
Editing your apps tray and working with folders for example is significantly more labour intensive than it should be.
The pre-deployed widgets are also cumbersome, in contrast to the cleanliness of HTC’s Sense 5 or Google’s stock Android experience for example.
If these are all niggles, we have one over-riding gripe with the Galaxy S4 mini: its gallery’s loading times which can take up to ten seconds in our experience. For a £350, this is nothing short of inexcusable.
Aside from the gallery, our experience with the UI and gaming performance was generally positive. Smooth interaction, decent 3D frame rates and zippy app install times all lend to remedy the irks mentioned.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: Camera and multimedia
With its 8-megapixel f/2.6 camera coupled with a strong flash, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini takes a decent shot at a very respectable resolution.
Images are generally on-point as you can see from the samples. It isn’t the best camera phone at any particular type of shot, so you won’t get incredibly ambient low light shots or PureView levels of detail, but colour reproduction is good, auto-focus accurate and the user interface intuitive.
There are also plenty of shooting modes, not to mention filters that generate a live preview.
Video is recorded at Full HD and once again impresses. Detail is strong in good light and the auto-focus impressive. Audio is fair to good, though our fingers made a habit of covering the microphone and loud noise creates an unpleasant crackle.
Watching video, enjoying photos and reading eBooks on the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is slightly less impressive. On the one hand, the Super AMOLED display pops and the aspect ratio is also well suited to movies.
Unfortunately, at qHD resolution, it all looks a little blunt when compared to 720p displays on offer for less, such as the LG made Google Nexus 4 and Sony Xperia SP.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: Connectivity and battery
If you’ve gotten to this stage of the review remaining lukewarm to the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini, this section should help sway you in its favour.
Not only is the phone 4G ready, future proofing you nicely in the face of Vodafone, O2 and Three launching their LTE services, it’s also loaded with all the other connections you would expect, as well as an infrared blaster. This turns your lovely new smartphone into a TV remote control complete with an electronic program guide.
Continuing the praise for the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini and wrapping up our review, the 1900mAh battery does a very good job of seeing this thing through at least a full day.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: Conclusion
Our biggest gripe with the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is its price, given the phone's middling specs.
So while it isn't bad by any means, its dual-cores, 8GB memory and qHD screen fail to compete with the cheaper, more powerful Google Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy S3 or Sony Xperia SP to name a few.
If you love the pocketable design and can find a great deal on the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini therefore, you probably won't be dissapointed. At its current offline price of £379 though, is just too steep for us to recommend.