Samsung Galaxy Mini
18th May 2011 | 16:48
To infinity and beyond? You're in for a bumpy ride
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Overview
Samsung is the only manufacturer that can get away with launching variants of one particular device in a series and pricing them to suit different budgets, as it did five years ago with the D500 and its variants the G600 and D900. Now the Koreans are doing it again with the Galaxy Series.
If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you can check out our quick video guide to what to look out for:
The latest addition to the Samsung Galaxy range - topped by the five star Samsung Galaxy S2 (currently number one in our 20 best mobile phones ranking) - is the Galaxy Mini. Almost identical to the Galaxy Fit, it's slightly lighter and has a lower camera quality.
It's clear that Samsung designed the Galaxy Mini to look and feel low-end and when it's up on the shelves on the high street, it will fit in well next to the likes of LG's Optimus One and Orange's San Francisco.
This touchscreen phone is definitely affordable, at £10.50 per month on an O2 contract or £129.99 on prepay, but it's clear that you'll have to make sacrifices on performance and looks as a result.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini looks and feels pretty cheap in comparison to others in the Galaxy range. This is a real shame as we were expecting a lot more from this dinky device after being pretty impressed by the low-end Samsung Galaxy Ace, which is miles better in terms of performance and aesthetics.
The white variant of the Galaxy Mini that we reviewed looks particularly cheap, and starts to look grubby after a week or so as it attracts the slightest bit of dirt. Again, this is where the Samsung Galaxy Ace is miles better, as it looks and feels like a bigger, better and more robust device.
However, it is 3G HSDPA and the download speeds are pretty impressive, all things considered.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini is a good size in the hand, weighing 106.6g and measuring 110x60x12mm. But it feels slippery, unlike its brother the Galaxy Ace, which sports a textured back cover making it more grippy in the palm. For those with fat thumbs, the keypad on the Mini may be a bit tricky to operate.
There are very few buttons on this simplistic handset, and the side buttons are mostly flush against the surface of the device.
The left side has a volume rocker, while the opposite side sports the power button and SD memory card slot.
The top of the Galaxy Mini includes a 3mm headphone jack and a micro USB charger port with a cover to protect it from nasty dust bunnies.
The 3.14-inch capacitive touchscreen is an ideal size for most activities, but it's far less responsive than the Samsung Galaxy Ace and, most of the time, a light touch isn't good enough to launch an app.
It's clear that Samsung decided to save on the screen display quality in order to place this device in the low-end range, as when compared to higher quality screens, such as the Apple iPhone 4's retina display, there's a very, very clear distinction.
In other words, the 240x320 resolution is as sharp as the bluntest pencil in the box and makes reading text-heavy web pages an excruciating task – but this is understandable, given the low price.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Interface
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Interface
There are obvious sacrifices that have been made to the performance in order to offer the Samsung Galaxy Mini at a low price. The 3.14-inch capacitive touchscreen is very slow to respond, sometimes forcing you to press harder and repeatedly until you get any reaction.
In fact, on several occasions we experienced software glitches and freezing when jumping between applications, in particular immediately after making a phone call. To be truthful, our experience with the interface was an incredibly bumpy ride.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini comes pre-installed with three Home screens. You can add up to seven, which seems like quite a lot considering it's not a media-rich or app-intensive device.
The main menu flows in the same way as the Home screens, ie from left to right instead of up and down, allowing for consistency in the method of navigation, which is a bonus. Generally it's easy to navigate and is standard to Android, so if you've had an Android handset before, you'll find it very easy to navigate this smartphone.
Widgets can be downloaded onto the Home screens, but they're quite simplistic and a little buggy. For example, the news widget provides a list of real-time news stories from various news outlets, but text gets cut off at the bottom of the window and is borderline illegible due to the tiny font.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini's saving grace is the Android 2.2.1 Froyo platform, which is easy to use for both Android fanboys and newbies to the OS. It's straightforward and does what it says on the tin, making the whole experience much more pleasing.
If this little white number was to be embedded with a clunkier UI, namely Symbian, it would be on top of the recycling pile, for sure.
When downloading apps from the Market, they automatically save on the Menu page, but you can drag and drop them into the Home screens to make them easier to find.
There are several pre-loaded applications on the device, but thankfully it lacks the 'bloatware' of the Samsung Galaxy Ace, which comes with games and gambling apps that can't be deleted when bought on the Three network.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini comes pre-installed with the Samsung Apps application, an app store exclusive to Samsung devices. But we have an inkling that this app store will quickly become defunct, thanks to the fully-stocked Android Market. This is heaps easier to use and generally more fun to navigate.
Samsung's app store only files apps under three categories; Health/Life, Reference and Utilities, and the majority of the apps are currently just foreign language dictionaries.
There's one nifty addition to the Samsung Galaxy Mini – the Recent Activity function. Pressing and holding the menu button reveals the most recent activity on the handset, which allows the user to quickly find a frequently used application. It's handy when you're in a rush to launch an app.
However, although the Galaxy Mini may have some nice quirky extras, it doesn't counter the fact that the 600MHz processor is low quality and juddering occurs when flicking through home screens, apps freeze when jumping between programs and all in all it's not a very fluid experience.
Although it's very easy to use, the interface is clunky and tends to lag, which makes it lose points in terms of performance.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Contacts and calling
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Contacts and calling
Calling on the Samsung Galaxy Mini is simplistic, user-friendly and probably one of the few things this handset does well.
The calling keypad includes a message button that launches a new message page, in case you chicken out and prefer to send a text message instead.
Accessing your contacts is done by simply hitting the Contacts button, which remains on the bottom of the screen regardless of whether you're on the Home screen or in a menu.
Clicking through to your contacts brings up a list of contact names that can be viewed alphabetically or grouped.
The Contacts application integrates social networking contacts too, thanks to the Social Hub app which is a 'nice-to-have' addition. Just log in to Facebook or Twitter when setting up the handset and contacts will seamlessly integrate in the contact book. It even details people's birthdays and Facebook/Twitter profile images, plus the option to choose between these accounts as a default offering.
The History tab integrates text messages, Facebook inbox and calls, but if you're after a list of recent phone calls, you have to go into the Log tab of the phone dialler app.
The Activities tab should be renamed 'Facebook news feed', as that's exactly all it is. The Facebook app itself is much more aesthetically pleasing, so this feature is more gimmicky than useful.
Adding a new contact is really easy – hit the + sign and enter all the details in the next page. You can even add a contact's IM ID for a number of different IM accounts (eg Google Talk, AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Skype, QQ, ICQ and Jabber).
Call quality is good as the speaker is clear, calls don't drop and the volume can go up much higher than even some of the more expensive smartphones, including the iPhone 4 (no, really!).
However, it's no surprise that there are several functions the Galaxy Mini can't deliver, such as HD Voice and noise reduction (thanks to no extra microphone), but that is expected for the price you pay.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Messaging
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Messaging
The QWERTY keypad is almost rendered unusable in portrait mode, as the buttons are tiny, but that problem is solved when flipped sideways. However, yet again, the unresponsive touchscreen makes us want to talk rather than text on this device.
Messaging isn't very intuitive, but at the price it rings in at you shouldn't expect an iPhone-esque experience. Although social media integrates with your contacts, messaging isn't as fluid. There isn't a universal inbox, but instead you are given one for email, one for social networking messages and one for text messaging.
A blue pointer pops up to move the cursor around to help clean up mistakes, but placing it in the right place is difficult and again slows you down if you're attempting to edit text.
A standard XT9 predictive text facility makes it easier to type, with advanced settings to tailor the service to your needs. For example, you can set the predictive texting to complete a word, predict your next word, automatically make substitutions and even add words and pre-select word substitutions, which is very handy and an impressive inclusion for a low-end device.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini also has voice-to-text capability, so if you're not feeling up to tackling the keyboard and are in a quiet environment, you can use this facility. It works pretty well for most people, but not as well when tried on someone with a thicker accent.
Messages are displayed as a thread, making it easy to see how a conversation flows. The font is a good size too.
Oddly, apart from the standard Google Talk IM app which comes with all Android handsets, there aren't any other IM apps on board, even though the New contacts page encourages you to include your friends' IM details. IM apps such as eBuddy messenger and Skype can be downloaded from the Market, and most are available for free.
Setting up emails is very straightforward, especially if you have a Gmail account. The email app offers pre-supposed folders for you to use – Inbox, Personal, Receipts and Travel – so you can move emails to a folder or set up a new one for other emails.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Internet
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Internet
The Samsung Galaxy Mini incorporates 3G HSDPA and Wi-Fi. When using a 3 Mobile SIM, web pages load quickly and browsing is a surprisingly good experience - equally so over Wi-Fi too.
But here's the major flaw – especially if you like to surf the web on the go. The screen quality is very poor, so reading text-heavy websites is nigh on impossible.
When the page loads, it's virtually impossible to make out any of the text on the page. Pinch zooming is an option, but once you do so you have to keep swiping the screen across to read the text. And, if zoomed in too much, the text becomes pixelated.
You can add bookmarks very easily by tapping the Bookmark icon then hitting Add. However, the bright backlight coupled with a low resolution screen means you will not want to surf the web too often on this device, so bookmarking may be unnecessary.
You can also access the internet without a SIM card by using the Wi-Fi feature, which also works very well. Speeds are, not surprisingly, much faster when using Wi-Fi, and web pages load within a maximum of three seconds.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Camera
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Camera
The Samsung Galaxy Mini comes with a 3.15MP camera with no flash. For the price, the camera's average, but when comparing it to other devices, it's shockingly poor – mainly down to the lack of flash.
Once again, here's where its brother, the Samsung Galaxy Ace, gets points as it incorporates a flash, allowing for better quality shots to be taken in dark environments.
There are different shot modes available – backlight, beach/snow, candlelight, dawn, fall colour, firework, landscape, night and party/indoor – but they are gimmicky and don't provide any actual enhancements, only making images more blurry or red.
NORMAL MODE: Picture taken indoors at night is a good shot, picking out the white of the fur
CANDLELIGHT:This image is much more orange, and alters the colour of the fur and carpet quite drastically
NIGHT:This mode should have been the best for the environment, but the normal mode does seem better
DAWN: Image is the blurriest of the lot in this mode, and orange
FIREWORK:Or is this the blurriest? It's a close call, but at least this one's white
SUNSET:Colours are warmer again, but lines are quite clear
ACTION:Action shots are incredibly difficult to capture, and more often than not, you'll just see a blur
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Video
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Video
You probably won't want to use the video feature on the Samsung Galaxy Mini after your first experience with it. Although it's very easy to use, the quality is very poor.
To access the video app, click into the camera app and hit the camera icon on the top right corner. This will change the functions bars on either side of the screen to inform you that you're now able to record a video.
Video playback is very grainy, recorded in QGVA at 15fps. There's no video light, so you can only use the feature during the day or else end up with a mostly black screen for the duration of the video. Again, this is a compromise that needs to be made as a result of the low cost of the phone.
The volume rocker becomes the zoom in and out buttons, but when using them during a recording, the sound of the button being tapped will also be heard in the playback.
Images become very blurry when zoomed in to the maximum (3x zoom) so taking videos of objects far away is tricky. Also, zooming in and out isn't fluid but jerky, so it will be very obvious when this function is being used.
The video function gives you the option to record in negative, black and white or sepia modes, as well as choosing from normal, fine and superfine video quality. We recommend shooting in superfine or else playback will be even more grainy than usual.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Media
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Media
Samsung obviously decided that media was not a priority on the Samsung Galaxy Mini. It comes with a bog standard media player and FM radio app, which gets pretty good reception even when on the go.
Listening to music with headphones is an average experience, but you'll have to buy your own as Samsung doesn't provide you with a pair. The jack is a standard 3.5mm so it'll be very easy to find some that fit.
Listening to music with headphones is much more pleasant than with the speakers, as using the latter distorts the sound quality, making it sound tinny and muffled. Tracks are also distorted when played at a high volume.
Navigating from one track to the next is as easy as hitting the next track button, and music can also be played on a loop. However, you won't be able to store much on the 160MB built-in memory. It does come with a 2GB memory card (with full SD adapter, which is handy), but again 2GB won't mean you can carry around your full music library.
It supports MP3, WAV, eAAC+, MP4 and H.264 formats, so you're relatively limited in what can be viewed or listened to, although it does tick the main boxes. DivX support would have been a great plus.
The Gallery app combines all videos and pictures taken on the Mini, which can be viewed as thumbnails or full screen.
There's also an option to change the format so that images are grouped by the date they were taken.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini doesn't come with any editing tools on board, but a quick search on the Market will bring back a list of suites – paid for and free.
In terms of streaming, the YouTube app comes pre-installed with any Android device, and the Samsung Galaxy Mini is no exception. Videos look better when the phone is flipped on its side, because when upright, information about the video is displayed at the bottom of the screen, making the clip much smaller.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Battery life and connectivity
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Battery life and connectivity
The Mini comes with a standard Li-ion 1200 mAh battery, which Samsung claims lasts for up to nine hours 30 mins (talk time) and 570 hours (standby). In fact, by the end of a day begun on a full charge, the battery was already in the red.
This was mainly thanks to the email and social networking apps we downloaded, which pushed data to the device. Google Maps and Navigation both drain the battery very quickly, which is a real shame as the ease of use of these GPS apps means you'll want to use them more frequently than the battery allows.
To ensure your battery is being preserved, make sure programs have been shut down correctly in the Task manager app. This handy app tells you what apps are currently open and how much RAM they are consuming, plus CPU. The summary tab lets you know how much storage space is available on the handset too so you can keep track of memory and upgrade the SD card when necessary.
Connectivity via the SIM card is excellent on the Samsung Galaxy Mini, considering its price. Speeds are fast and it claims to be capable of connecting speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps. In reality speeds probably wouldn't top 5Mbps, even on the best of smartphones. However, the internet connection did feel rather speedy, and allowed us to do super-fast Googling on the go.
The Wi-Fi capability is also good and stays connected, even when metres away from the router. We tried the Wi-Fi at home in the back garden, with the router near the front door, and found the Wi-Fi flawless, working just as well as it did when used next to the router.
To the dismay of the mobile operators, tethering is encouraged on this handset as it can be turned into a Wi-Fi hotspot. But it is buggy and doesn't always connect a new device on the first try. On occasion, it would disconnect after a few minutes, forcing you to try to reconnect again.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Maps and Apps
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Maps and Apps
The Samsung Galaxy Mini has Google Maps and Navigation on board – a truly great sat nav which never fails, regardless of which Android device they run on. With Google Navigate, you can say the destination you want, choose to navigate by car or walking and navigate to one of your contacts if they've given you an update on their location.
The Market has a number of satnav applications available for download, but Google Navigation is easy to use and a fail-safe when lost.
GPS works really well on the Samsung Galaxy Mini, especially while using a sat nav app, and is remarkably accurate at pinning down the handset's location.
It keeps up pace when driving fast down London's motorways, and doesn't even drop in the City, where some high-end smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S tend to fail. This ensures you can use the Samsung Galaxy Mini as a full-time replacement for a standalone sat nav.
Other apps can be downloaded from the Market, which is by far our favourite app store, because the list to choose from is plentiful and will keep you occupied for hours on end. Users will frequent the Market, because there very few pre-loaded apps on the handset.
All apps on the handset are standard Android ones, including the Calendar, YouTube, Memo and Quickoffice, while Samsung only incorporates its pretty pathetic Samsung Apps store. To a large degree, it's great to see plenty of space for personalising and little space being used by useless additions.
Basic widgets are available, including news and weather, and some social networking apps come with a widget extension once the app is downloaded.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Benchmarks
Samsung Galaxy Mini
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful phone reviews on the web, so you're able to make a more informed buying decision.
Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.
Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.
We test each device three times and take an average.
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Hands-on gallery
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Hands-on gallery
Samsung Galaxy Mini: Verdict
Samsung Galaxy Mini review: Verdict
Considering the Samsung Galaxy Mini can be yours from as little as £10.50 per month on contract, one can't complain about it not being a 'bells and whistles' device.
The social media integration, ease of use and white colour appeal to younger members of our family, so it may be worth putting on the Christmas list for your younger niece or nephew.
Fast 3G HSDPA and Wi-Fi connectivity allowed us to quickly surf the web. The GPS works really well, and when coupled with Google's own navigation app, you're likely to use the handset as a sat nav very often. We also like the price point, as it is definitely worth the price on the tag and not a penny more.
The unresponsive touchscreen made the whole experience very slow. Coupled with the slow processor, launching applications is an even slower process. We also disliked the low quality screen, which made reading a chore.
If you're willing to make some sacrifices to the speed and responsiveness of the handset in order to save a bit of dosh, the Samsung Galaxy Mini is a decent choice. It will appeal to those in the market for their first smartphone, looking for a simplistic experience.
Android fanboys won't be very impressed with this handset as the poor screen quality makes the UI look just as low-end. Compared to the likes of the Orange San Francisco, which costs nearly half as much from some vendors, the Galaxy Mini costs more and doesn't perform as well, with a much lower-res screen and much slower operation.
Samsung has traditionally performed well in the low-end smartphone segment, with the Galaxy Europa winning a few plaudits from the review team - but the Galaxy Mini feels like a phone trying to do too much with too little. We'd recommend looking at the alternatives or saving a little more cash and looking at some handsets higher up the scale.
Thanks to Expansys for supplying us with this review handset.