With the iPhone excitement slowly cooling down, it’s time to take a look at the other side of the fence. Release cycles being as they are, the Samsung Galaxy S4 seems old to us already, despite being released a mere 6 months ago. But did you know about the S4’s little brother?
Released back in July, the Galaxy S4 Mini is Samsung’s newest major release, and claims to pack most of the goodies you know from the regular S4 into a smaller, lighter, and more affordable package. For half the price of the Galaxy S4, you get a shrunken version of the phone, which nonetheless looks almost identical. Is this the bargain everyone’s been missing, or do they just look alike?
I’ve been using the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini as my primary phone for the past week, and I have some answers. What’s more, one of you will be lucky enough to win this $400 Galaxy S4 Mini for free!
Galaxy S4 Mini vs. Galaxy S4 vs. Galaxy S3 Mini
There are tons of Android devices out there, but if you’ve decided to go with Samsung, you’re probably curious how the Galaxy S4 Mini shapes up next to its siblings, the Galaxy S4 and the older Galaxy S3 Mini. Without getting too technical, we’ll go over several major features, and look at some prominent differences between these three devices.
Display: The Galaxy S4 Mini features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 540×960 resolution and a pixel density of around 256 ppi. This is considerably better than the Galaxy S3 Mini with its 4-inch 480×800 pixel display, but is obviously inferior to the Galaxy S4’s 5-inch 1080×1920 display. On paper, the Galaxy S4 Mini’s resolution is not very impressive, and falls far behind that of the iPhone 5, which has a similar sized screen.
Camera: The S4 Mini’s camera is 8 megapixels, with a 1.9 MP front-facing camera to boot. It comes with a LED flash, produces images up to 3264×2448 pixels in size, and can shoot 1080p HD videos. The Galaxy S4’s camera is only somewhat better at 13 MP with a 2 MP front-facing camera, but includes several software features such as smile recognition and dual-shoot that the S4 Mini doesn’t. The S3 Mini features a pretty weak 5 MP camera, and an even weaker 0.3 MP front-facing camera. It can only shoot 720p videos.
Memory and CPU: The Galaxy S4 Mini comes in a 8 GB version only, but includes a microSD slot which supports up to 64 GB. It comes with 1.5 GB of RAM, and runs a dual-core 1.7 GHz CPU. In this too, it sits between the Galaxy S4’s 16-64 GB storage, 2 GB of RAM and quad-core CPU, and the S3 Mini’s 1 GB of RAM and 1 GHz dual-core CPU. Unlike the S4 Mini, though, you can buy the S3 Mini with 16 GB of storage, but you can only use a 32 GB or less microSD card in it.
Price: When deciding on a smartphone, price is one of the most important aspects most people consider. It’s obvious that the S3 Mini is a far less powerful device that the S4 Mini, but at $230 it’s a very affordable option with adequate features. The Galaxy S4 is not very affordable, but for $600 you get a very competent device with almost anything you can ask for. The S4 Mini comes in two versions: a 4G LTE-enabled model (which we’re reviewing today), and a regular, non-4G model. The price for these ranges from $370-$400.
These are the technical details. They make a difference, but at the end of the day, numbers only tell half a story, and you’re probably curious how the device fairs in everyday use. So let’s dive in and see what the Galaxy S4 Mini is all about.
What’s In The Box
The Galaxy S4 Mini comes in the regular fake wood Samsung box, and with every basic accessory you could possible need for it. These include a wall charger, a USB cable, earphones with interchangeable earbuds, and an instruction booklet.
Unlike other smartphones in the market which are not made by Samsung, the Galaxy S4 Mini comes with another exciting accessory: a battery! The back of the S4 Mini comes off easily, so you can remove and change batteries in seconds. This is also where you’ll find both SIM and microSD card slots.
The S4 Mini runs Android 4.2.2 out of the box, with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on top. This model comes with NFC, but the I9190 model of the same device (non-LTE) does not.
Note: the device is rooted, and came so out of the box.
Getting To Know The Galaxy S4 Mini
If the Galaxy S4 Mini looks uncannily like the Galaxy S4 in these pictures, it’s because it truly is very similar. In fact, you can’t help but wonder if the only difference is in size, despite knowing better.
Like all Samsung phones, the Galaxy S4 Mini sports a plastic back that doesn’t give you that “premium” feel you get from the Nexus 4, HTC One, or the iPhone. It doesn’t feel bad to hold, but it is incredibly slippery. Together with the smaller size, the S4 Mini has a tendency to slip out of your hand at the worst moments.
On the back, you can see the camera lens and the LED flash, as well as the device’s speaker. Yes, the speaker is on the back, but unlike the Nexus 4, you still get really good sound even when the phone is lying on its back.
Like all modern Samsung phones, the Galaxy S4 Mini includes a micro-USB port for charging. While it seems usual enough, I found it extremely difficult to plug the phone into any charger. It may be an issue with my unit, but I actually had to use force to get the connector to plug in. This happened every single time I wanted to charge the phone.
In front, you’ll find the front-facing camera along with some sensors, and the signature squished home button.
Two glowing capacitive buttons finish the job with “back” and “menu” options.
What you won’t find here is a notification LED, so there’s no way to see if there are missed calls or messages waiting at glance. You’re going to have to turn on your screen for that. This is a sorely missing feature, and it’s hard to understand why Samsung decided not to include it here.
As you can see, the Galaxy S4 Mini comes with a tiny screen bezel. This leaves lots of room for a bigger screen on a small device. This combination gives us a small device that’s very easy to use with one hand, but that nonetheless has a nice sized screen.
There’s a downside to this, however. The small bezel means there’s not a whole lot of room to hold the device while reading, browsing or texting. Many times, I found myself fumbling with my fingers to find a good grip, accidentally pressing the capacitive buttons on the way.
Display and Sound
The S4 Mini may be small, it may be less powerful than other premium devices, but when it comes to display and sound this little phone packs a surprising punch.
From the moment I started using it, I was highly impressed with the display. I hadn’t expected it, but using the Galaxy S4 Mini made my Nexus 4’s display feel faded and colorless. This may be due to the difference between LCD and Super AMOLED screens, but the colors on the S4 Mini just seem to pop. The display is sharp and clear, and even simple apps such as Instagram look fantastic.
Sound-wise, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Galaxy S4 Mini is quite the audio animal. While it’s not great sound for audiophiles, it’s definitely loud, and you won’t have any trouble watching videos or holding audio chats and hearing every word. It’s loud enough to have it play music and enjoy it throughout the room.
The phone managed to run every app I threw at it, including complex and resource-heavy 3D games such as Real Racing. Here’s what it looks and sounds like:
Don’t get discouraged by the 8 MP specification. The S4 Mini’s camera is actually excellent, and unless you’re habitually shooting high-definition photos, you’re going to be very satisfied with what it can produce. The camera interface is the usual Samsung fare, with 10 shooting modes to choose from, including panorama, night, and HDR.
It also comes with flash controls, automatic sharing, a timer, and voice commands. If you choose to enable these, you can use the words “smile”, “cheese”, “capture” or “shoot” to take a picture without touching your phone, or “record video” to start recording a video.
The camera produces great photos in everyday use, and manages to perform well even with low light condition (in Night mode). It even managed to take great shots of my cat while he was constantly moving.
While the camera doesn’t come with Macro mode, you can still use it to good results, even up close and personal.
This may rub some people the wrong way, but to me, the worst feature of this phone is the TouchWiz UI. No, it’s not slow or unresponsive. Quite the opposite: it feels great to use, it’s very responsive, and finding your way around is easy. If you like Samsung’s TouchWiz, you’re going to love it. If, like me, you can’t stand it, you’re in for quite a ride.
The S4 Mini comes with a watered down list of Samsung apps (compared to the Galaxy S4), but you’ll still find a surprising number of apps you’ve never asked for, will probably never use, and can’t really get rid of using conventional methods. These include:
- ChatON: Duplicates WhatsApp, Viber, and just plain text messages.
- Group Play: For playing games, and sharing photos and documents with other devices.
- S Memo: Duplicates Google Keep.
- S Planner: Duplicates Google Calendar.
- S Translator: Duplicates Google Translate.
- S Voice: Duplicates Google Now.
- Samsung Apps: Duplicates Google Play.
- Samsung Hub: A content store for videos, games, music, and learning.
- Samsung Link: For streaming content to a TV, tablet, or computer.
- Story Album: Organizes your photos and creates album based on specific events. You can then order physical copies of those albums.
- WatchON: For watching on-demand video. If this sounds confusingly similar to Samsung Link, that’s because it is.
On top of these, apps such as Dropbox, Flipboard and TripAdvisor came pre-installed, as well as multiple Google apps such as Google Search, Google+, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Google Play Music, Google Talk, and more.
It also comes with some built-in voice commands that make themselves apparent in the right moment. For example, every time your phone rings, you’ll see a message telling you that you can answer the call hands-free by saying “answer”. The call will be answered on speaker when you do this.
Aside from the usual Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth toggles, you’ll find many other useful toggles right at your fingertips, accessible by swiping down with one or two fingers.
From here, you can quickly enable or disable modes such as Smart stay (screen shouldn’t turn off while you’re looking at it, doesn’t work well in low light), Blocking mode (only certain notifications get through), Driving mode (for hands free calling and texting), and more. You can customize which buttons appear on top of the notification panel, and change their order as you wish.
Living With The Galaxy S4 Mini
Going into this, I had no special expectations of the S4 Mini. Turns out this is not only a capable and affordable phone, it’s in some ways better than what I was used to. To start, the smaller size is somewhat a relief. Texting and browsing with one hand is a breeze, and you can barely feel it in your pocket. I’ve become so accustomed to huge phones, spending a week with a smaller one felt a little like going back to the “good old days”.
The battery life on this device is also very good. I managed to go more than 48 hours without charging, and even then the battery wasn’t completely drained. This wasn’t under heavy use, but I did use the phone for short navigations, browsing, Facebook, texts and some calls during this time.
Despite the phone’s weaker specs, I couldn’t get it to fail on anything I tried, and it’s AnTuTu benchmark score of over 20,000 is better than many of its bigger competitors. If it weren’t for TouchWiz, I would be having a hard time going back to my Nexus 4.
Should You Buy The Galaxy S4 Mini?
This a great phone for a great price. If you have no special cravings for huge screens, and can stand TouchWiz (or alternatively, are willing to flash a new ROM) the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a great buy.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it.
How do I win the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, October 18. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.
Congratulations, Rachel Beltz! You would have received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond before October 28 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.
Send your products to be reviewed. Contact Jackson Chung for further details.