- Good e-Health features
- Cluttered notification bar
Little flagships have become the big thing over the past year or so with top-end manufacturers knocking out scaled-down variants of their flagships to suit those whose pockets aren’t as deep – both dimensionally and financially.
The latest to arrive is the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini, a diminutive version of Samsung’s stellar Galaxy S5 that aims to offer flagship performance at a knock-down price.
Those who like their flagships constructed from shiny glass and metal turned their noses up at the original Galaxy S5 due to Sammy’s persistence with a polycarbonate outer shell. Not that Samsung was bothered though as that device flew off the shelves earning the firm a pretty penny, something that perhaps explains why the Korean firm has chosen not to tinker with a design and build that many consumers clearly liked so much.
As such, the Galaxy S5 Mini looks pretty much identical to its bigger brother with its mottled plastic rear cover, rigid plastic bezel and tactile plastic home button sat at the foot of the 4.5-inch display.
The decision to include touch-sensitive soft keys on the original was a bit of a head scratcher given that the Android 4.4 KitKat OS that it runs allows for on-screen ones, but you can’t blame Samsung for going with them here in the name of consistency.
Round the back you get a centrally positioned 8-megapixel lens and LED flash that also doubles up as a sensor for the heart rate monitor (more on this later) and neatly incorporated into the chrome-effect edging at are a volume rocker, power on button, 3.4mm audio jack and USB 2.0 port. It’s worth noting that whilst the keys lack the brushed aluminium quality of the HTC One Mini 2 the S5
Mini gets one over on its shrunken flagship rival with the inclusion of an IR Blaster.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini screen: Little wonder
As these mini devices are pitched as mid-range alternatives to the flagships that inspired them, you can’t very well expect top-end specs and so the 5.1-inch 1080p HD Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy S5 has morphed into a 4.5-inch 720p HD effort on the S5 Mini.
It’s not that much of a radical departure however, both in terms of size and performance and the screen knocks out crisp visuals that really pop. The age old problem of oversaturated colours that plagues many AMOLED phone screens crops up again meaning that photos can take on a cartoon-esque hue, but at least Samsung has given us the option of toning things down a little with the inclusion of cinema and photo screen options.
Viewing angles are excellent too and the screen itself doesn’t seem to be as shiny as some of its competitors meaning that not only can you read what’s on it whilst outdoors, you also won’t have to contend gleaming shafts of reflected light burning your retinas.
Pixel density pedants might balk at the 326ppi but the only time that this becomes noticeable is if you zoom in a gazillion percent when viewing web pages. For casual browsing however this display easily holds its own and is more than competent for web browsing, YouTubing and trawling through the Instagram feeds of people striving to appear much more interesting than you are.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini OS: Touchy subject?
Samsung’s TouchWiz interface underwent a bit of a refresh with the Galaxy S5 and emerged on that device with a cleaner, more streamlined interface that looked to have borrowed a few graphical elements from HTC’s Sense 6 skin. Those improvements resulted in an uncluttered overlay festooned with polished icons and menu screens and slick transitions, making for an intuitive and pleasurable user-experience.
Thankfully, Samsung appears to have reigned in its tendency to tinker and has ported the very same TouchWiz iteration over to the S5 Mini. It’s also seemingly learned its lesson in terms of needless bloatware – you’ll still get the largely redundant Samsung Apps portal that suggests stuff Sammy thinks you ought to have on your device.
The Geo News thing is a half-baked Google Now-alike that sporadically shoves location-based info your way, but the rest of it is admirably pared back.
Extra brownie points are headed Sammy’s way for managing to keep in useful S5 additions such as S-Health and the Smart Remote app. The former makes use of the heart rate sensor housed next to the LED flash on the rear whilst the latter allows you to bin your media centre remote and control your TV via the IR blaster.
The S5 Mini’s fingerprint scanner is also in situ and can be used to unlock the phone and authorise payments but if we’re honest, the smaller framed device makes it difficult to hold at the angle required to register your downward finger swipe.
So far, so good. If we could muster one criticism however it’d be that the pull-down notification interface is a bit cluttered and information presented can be quite hard to decipher where different features live, especially if you’ve loads of notifications in there.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini performance and battery: Tiny dynamo
Powering along the Galaxy 5 Mini is a Exynos 3 quad 3470 processor which clocks in at 1.4GHz. Whilst this quad-core CPU is an upgrade to last year’s Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini – that had a Snapdragon 400 – in reality, it isn’t all that more powerful.
That said, overall performance isn’t noticeably affected and swishing around the various menus and part of the UI are swift and lag-free. You might experience the odd hang here and there when opening apps, especially if you’re streaming audio or updating something in the background, but this doesn’t impact upon general use too much.
The 16GB of internal storage certainly comes in handy and SD card support will please the storage hogs out there but the MHL support of the Galaxy S5 hasn’t made the cut. This isn’t a great loss however and is more than made up for by the inclusion of 4G LTE, GPS, NFC and the Bluetooth-powered Quick Connect functionality that allows screen mirroring on compatible devices.
In terms of battery life, you’ll get a day’s use out of one charge, providing that day isn’t spent watching 720p videos back with the brightness whacked up to 11. We did notice however that overnight idling caused the charge to drop by around 15 per cent.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini camera: Pocket pinhole
If you pick up the Galaxy S5 Mini expecting camera performance to match flagship standard then you’re in for a bit of a shock. It’s not that the imaging capabilities are shockingly bad or anything, just that the results never threaten to rise above the workmanlike no matter how much you tinker with the many shoot modes.
The 8-megapixel sensor deals well with natural light scenes and the HDR mode makes a good fist of things, providing nice contrast without washing out elements of the photo.
The camera app itself has a nice, simple interface and the wealth of shoot modes including that weird Beauty Shot option, Panorama, Burst Shoot, and Virtual Tour are all present and correct.
Resulting images are sharp and burst with clarity although it does struggle to produce in low light setting on occasion, even with the HDR mode turned on.
It doesn’t shoot video in 4K but the 30fps at 1080p is more than enough for the casual user. It would have been nice to see some image stabilisation chops exhibited but footage doesn’t suffer too much as a result. It’s an OK camera, but it’s nothing mind-blowing.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini verdict: Miniature miracle?
All in all, the Galaxy S5 Mini is a decent phone and has a good go at reproducing the user experience offered by its bigger and more prestigious sibling.
When placed against other so-called ‘Mini’ spin-offs it fares well in terms of tech specs, however, there are a few devices out there not being pitched as scaled-down flagships that are possibly better all-rounders – the Motorola Moto G instantly springs to mind.
If you can look beyond the plastic build and bang average camera though, and aren’t tempted to jump aboard the good ship Windows Phone by Nokia’s recently announced mid-rangers, the Galaxy S5 Mini will see you right.