Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
9th Aug 2013 | 18:30
The S4 gets shrunk and we put it through its paces
It's hard to mention the Samsung Galaxy range of smartphones without mentioning the sheer range of devices that it covers, from the highest end powerhouses such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, all the way through to the wallet-friendly Samsung Galaxy Fame.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 may not be proving as popular as the Korean firm had hoped, yet that hasn't stopped it extending the S4 range, equipping it with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and the smaller Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini being reviewed here.
Being the baby of the S4 range, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini manages to slide in at a relatively reasonable price point, depending on where you look. SIM-free offerings have been seen as low as £360 (around AU$595), and you can get it for free on UK contracts starting at £21 per month if you're willing to give up having oodles of data.
This puts the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini right up against the well established Nokia Lumia 820, Sony Xperia SP, and the ageing, yet incredibly popular Samsung Galaxy S3. But its main competitor is the HTC One Mini, the cut-down version of the world's best smartphone.
However, it seems that like with the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini, the South Korean brand has sliced its handset down from the full-fat Galaxy S4 even more than its Taiwanese rival - which could explain why it's slightly cheaper to buy at the moment.
We're also left a little confused by the need for a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, possibly something brought on by the way that Samsung's nearest and dearest rival, based out in Cupertino, handles things.
Apple hasn't, as yet, released a lower powered version of its flagship handset, instead relying on sales of a previous iteration, but rumours of an iPhone 5C, offered at a lower cost, keep wandering around. This begs the question, does Samsung need the Galaxy S4 Mini, when it already has the Galaxy S3?
This is something that we shall take a look at, but looked at entirely on its own, a dual-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz coupled with 1.5GB of RAM definitely sets the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini off to a decent start. A 4.3-inch Super AMOLED qHD display adorns the face of the S4 Mini.
It's also important to note that the Mini name is about as far as Mini goes. The 4.3-inch screen is larger than that of the iPhone 5, and the whole handset measures in with a smaller yet deeper frame than the Samsung Galaxy S4, at 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.94mm (4.9 x 2.4 x 0.4 inches).
The plastic chassis is more fitting to a handset of this pricing and helps to keep the weight low at only 107g (3.8oz).
Size of phones is a hot topic, with many people feeling that modern flagships, and the rise of phablets, are just too large. We were showing off the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini to friends, and one avid iPhone user commented that it was a far nicer size than the S4, and a lot easier to use, especially one-handed.
We're not going to dedicate an entire section to the screen in this review, like we did on the Samsung Galaxy S4 review. That's not to say that the screen is a letdown, because it's leagues above the Galaxy S3 Mini screen.
There isn't any super-fancy-super-charged-hover-over-the-screen tech involved like there is in the full Samsung Galaxy S4, but the 960 x 540 resolution, while not HD, is bright, clear and crisp.
That said, we found that we were able to operate the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini with a pair of gloves on, which gets it a thumbs up.
Behind that screen and the plastic frame sits all the bells and whistles that you might hope for, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC, 4G (confirmed for the UK, with 3G variants in other markets) and an infra-red blaster. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is also a TV remote.
Design-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini obviously follows in the footsteps of the bigger Samsung Galaxy S4, and every Galaxy phone in recent memory. The massive screen takes up the majority of the front real estate, a large home button adorning the base, and the back and menu soft keys sitting either side.
The thinner bezel is vaguely reminiscent of the iPad mini, and something that we thought was very impressive on both the aforementioned Apple device and the Galaxy S4.
Long gone are the days where phones and tablets had similar designs, square with chunky black bezels, with the curvier edges and almost edge to edge display making the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini feel like a premium device.
Colour-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini comes offering the now standard black and white, with a metallic band wrapping around the edge of the frame. It is something we've seen on other models, and it gives the S4 Mini a more premium feel.
The plastic back wraps around the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, and like the S4 and other Galaxy models, is removable. We were very disappointed with the back plate, however. There is quite a lot of give in the plastic, as a result of the thinness to keep the depth and weight of the phone down.
Tucked away is 1900mAh worth of battery, which again is removable. For intense users, this might prove to be a bonus, because it means secondary batteries can be swapped easily. In all, we're not overly fussed given how cheap portable USB charging packs are.
The microSD card is hidden behind the back cover as well, in one of the most awkward spots we have seen. It's not only hidden behind the battery (so not hot-swappable), it's also very fiddly to put the card in.
It's always been a staple of the Galaxy diet, but given that Samsung devices have a heavy media slant, it's very important that the 8GB (around 5GB after putting the Android Jelly Bean OS on top) is backed up with up to 64GB external storage.
In terms of photography, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini obviously doesn't come close to the prowess of the Galaxy S4 Zoom that was announced alongside the Mini and the Galaxy S4 Active.
That's not to say that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is lacking in that department, since it has a 1.9MP front-facing snapper for those pouty profile pictures, and an 8MP sensor on the back. The rear sensor also comes with an LED flash, for improved night time photography.
The 1.9MP camera above the screen at the top of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini sits alongside various other sensors, as well as the front speaker and Samsung logo.
The sensors aren't too noticeable on the black model, but they are heavily visible on the white. Interestingly, and disappointingly, there is no notification light to speak of.
The power/lock button sits on the opposite side of the volume rocker, again following the traditional Samsung layout. Both buttons were easy enough to hit, even one-handed.
The obligatory ports again sit in their traditional places, the 3.5mm headphone port (beside the infra-red blaster) at the top and the micro USB at the base.
In the hand, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is very comfortable, being easy enough to use one-handed, and extremely pleasant for those who use both.
The 4.3-inch screen sits in a sweet spot, a lot easier to hit than the 5-inch screens that are increasingly popular (or the 6.44-inch leviathan on the Sony Xperia Z Ultra).
Design-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is unsurprisingly similar to the Galaxy S4, a phone that we said was a little underwhelming design-wise.
The curvier design sets it apart from the standard squarer smartphone, and the thinner bezel is a little iPad mini-esque. Samsung's mini version of its flagship phone certainly makes you want to take a second look.
Thanks to Unlocked-Mobiles for providing our Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review sample.
Nigh on every Android manufacturer is providing some sort of customised experience, the Google Nexus 4 and other Nexus devices (including the Galaxy S4 Nexus Edition and HTC One Nexus Edition) being the only notable exceptions.
Anybody who has used any Samsung device in recent memory will be instantly familiar with TouchWiz, the name that the Koreans have given to their overlay.
Building on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, Samsung has ensured that it is at the fore of Android iterations.
Not everyone will be a fan of the overlay, but it is very easy to use and intuitive. It is also different enough to be able to feel the differentiation between the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and the Samsung Galaxy S3, which has to be considered one of its nearest rivals.
On the hardware side of things, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini appears to suffer against its older brother, given that it has 'only' a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, whereas the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini does come with 1.5GB RAM, as opposed to the 1GB in the S3.
One of the key things we feel that every OS and UI should be is intuitive. After all, what is a smartphone if it doesn't feel smart?
Thankfully this is something that Samsung has nailed with TouchWiz. Take the Notifications bar as an example - having immediate access to quick settings is a massive plus.
Google's push to have access to settings via the Notifications bar is also there, in the form of an icon in the top-right hand corner.
We've said before that we feel it is a little redundant, we don't see it being used much, but it is there should you want it.
Android Jelly Bean's notifications are also out in force on the handset. This is an area that we have praised before, because the expandable and dismissible notifications are a major bonus.
The top notification expands to show you more information, such as multiple messages from WhatsApp, or the ability to archive messages via Gmail.
Swiping to the left or the right also enables you to remove the notification from view, meaning that you don't have that text or email sat there bugging you all day.
Voicemail messages, as ever, are still sat there until you call to retrieve them.
Another key area we look at is just how smooth the operation of the phone is. Thankfully the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's internal specifications are rather respectable.
We struggle to say that the S4 Mini coped perfectly, because there was a little slow down while swiping between home screens or rifling through the app drawer, but on the whole the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini coped with everything we threw at it.
Speaking of the app drawer, this is another area that shows where the Koreans have paid some attention. You can sort your application list by date or name, or hide apps that you don't want on there.
Off the top of our heads, we can think of a few, but we'll leave you to make your own minds up there.
Folder creation isn't possible within the app drawer, which is a little frustrating, but it's entirely possible to create them to sit alongside your widgets on one of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's seven home screens.
Drag and drop, like in iOS and other interfaces we have used, doesn't create a folder. Rather, long-pressing an empty space, or dragging an icon to the top of the screen, does.
Another area that has taken a lick of paint over and above the standard Android and previous TouchWiz iterations is the lock screen.
It is about the same level as the HTC One, having widgets placed on it, to control the music player for example. Having your favourite apps there too is also another welcome feature.
You can also edit the text that appears on the lock screen, giving yourself a little welcome message like when turning on old feature phones.
It is really only a teeny weeny detail, but it really makes your phone feel personal, even when you know you have to give it back after reviewing it. Seeing your phone say hello every time you open it, well, it made us smile. Simple things, simple minds and all that.
When it comes to widgets on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, there are many to choose from, all accessed from a separate tab in the app drawer. Long-pressing them means you can add them to a home screen.
Among the most interesting are the assistive light (to turn your LED flash into a torch) and the clock. Just about every UI comes with a custom clock, and Samsung's is clean and effective, and fits in with the blockier nature of TouchWiz.
This isn't something that was repeated on the Galaxy S4. Plugging in headphones and being recommended to check Facebook, Chrome or Email didn't make sense to us at all.
Thankfully, our tests didn't seem to show this on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, where we were instead offered the much more logical Music, Video, Phone, YouTube and Voice Recorder options.
Something else we feel we must comment upon, if only because its exclusion on the Galaxy S3 Mini and other devices is such a letdown, is the auto-brightness feature.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini has it. Huzzah! You can set brightness manually from the notifications bar, and a nifty feature also means that you can even adjust the brightness of the auto-brightness to a certain level.
Overall, we're still impressed with Samsung's UI. The operation of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is on the whole very smooth, with the only real note of slow down coming when we tried to load the Android multitasking window.
This is something that the Nexus Android software has always won on, with its own dedicated button.
TouchWiz still has its attractive look that will appeal to both the newest smartphone users and those who have used smartphones and Samsung devices before.
The higher contrast and the bright screen really appeal. While the resolution is noticeably less than the highest end devices, it's no hindrance, the Super AMOLED technology making using the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini all the more pleasant.
Contacts and calling
In order to be called a phone, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini needs to be able to make phone calls, in some way shape or form. We're pleased to say that it does in fact do this.
In an almost Fifa versus Pro Evo argument, there are two types of people who navigate their contacts.
There are those who learned to navigate their contact list via the Dialler screen (as was taken via the HTC Desire a few years back), and those who navigate to browse the Contacts app.
Thankfully both sets of people are well catered for. Starting with the Phone app, the T9 dialler that every man, woman and child is familiar with comes up, with large, easy to hit blue buttons contrasting against the black background.
The bright Super AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini almost gives the buttons a metallic feel, which is very attractive. Looks aside, the dialler is also highly functional, with smart dialling being supported once again by Samsung.
Dialling 323, for example, brings up 'Dad', like it would have done in predictive text on old feature phones. It also brings up contacts that have the 323 number combination within their contact details. As a feature, it's one of those that really helps make a UI feel intuitive, and while being supported on many, it is still missed on others (read iPhones and Windows Phone handsets).
For the second group of people, who tend to access their contacts via the Contacts app, the list is rather uninspiring as per usual. The high contrast black background with white text looks a lot like the old easy read settings on Windows machines.
Functionality-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's Contacts app is among the best. The list brings up smaller, low resolution pictures that when tapped bring up methods of contacting people, as well as little icons to show how many accounts are linked with that individual contact.
Moving around the contact list is smooth, swiping up and down the dual-core insides copes well, and moving around selecting the individual letters to scroll around even quicker.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini pulls in your contacts from all your pre-installed social media accounts, such as Google, Facebook, Exchange, as well as others from other social accounts such as Skype and Twitter (which unfortunately no longer comes pre-installed), should you use and install them.
It works very well, but can leave your contacts list feeling a little cluttered. That said, tapping the menu button and going to Contacts to Display' means that you can choose different accounts, and even better is the option to show Only Contacts With Phone Numbers.
Again we were a little disappointed that, unlike with the excellent HTC Sense, there is no automatic contact matching and linking.
Selecting individual contacts does enable you to link contacts, and the suggestions it comes up with are generally fairly accurate, but they can require some manual searching.
Samsung devices also don't have the ability to show up Facebook statuses, nor browse through photo albums pulled in from varying social accounts, much like HTC devices such as the HTC One. We can't tell if it's a good or bad feature, since we can take it or leave it.
Another niggle we found is that, unlike other phones that we have used and reviewed, high resolution pictures can't be selected from your social networking accounts, they can only be pulled in from your Google account. It's not a major thing, but having high resolution photos throughout the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini would go a little way towards making the phone feel a little more premium.
Once you have selected the contact you want to get in touch with, you need to be able to speak to them properly.
Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is more than up to the task. Just like on its bigger brother, the Galaxy S4, the earpiece does need to be positioned correctly.
That said, we found that call quality was nothing less than superb. HD Voice is also supported, depending on your carrier, ensuring that call quality over 3G/4G networks is also the best on offer.
Signal holding was also impressive. We certainly didn't have any dropped calls, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini seems to hold on to the Samsung Galaxy S4's ability to keep its shoes and shirt on, since there were very few times when there was no service.
Samsung's Adapt Sound feature from the Galaxy S4 is also included on the Galaxy S4 Mini. Pop in a headset, or some headphones, and the phone will tailor the sound to suit your ears. Soft Sound' and Clear Sound are also available, but we didn't really notice a lot of difference.
Within the call are the standard Android options of Headset, Keypad, Speaker, Mute and End Call.
One feature we have praised Samsung's Galaxy devices on before, still makes a very welcome appearance on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
After the call has ended, the screen brings up options to Message, Call or Video Call. This is ideal if you've agreed to text over some details, or suddenly realised you forgot to mention something and want to quickly call back. We use this all too often.
If you hadn't gathered from all of that, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini includes the ability to video call a contact. We don't entirely see the point of this, since Skype and other dedicated apps are a lot easier to use, and with Skype contacts syncing with other contacts, you can Skype-call them direct from the contact screen.
As we said, a smartphone needs the ability to make phone calls to keep the smartphone title. Without it, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini would just be a smart, and that makes no sense. It also needs to be able to send messages of all varieties, otherwise it might as well drop the smart title.
We've come to praise many a device on its ability to send messages, especially Android devices, due to the sheer volume of options available. We'll cover the main ones in this section, but before we begin, we have to give a shout out to the keyboard.
Samsung Galaxy devices of old were never amazing - in fact we'd go so far as to say they were awful, with cramped keyboards tied together with inaccurate word predictions making things very difficult indeed. Thankfully things have changed with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and, as such, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
We were a little worried that the smaller screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini would prove a bit of a hindrance, and take us back to the Galaxy days of old. That didn't seem to be the case, though.
We can't say that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's keyboard is the best we've ever seen, since there are some truly exceptional third-party offerings on the Google Play Store, but the key spacing and autocorrect are a lot better than previous Galaxy offerings.
The smaller screen size also makes it a lot more comfortable to use when typing in landscape mode, if a little stretched still, at least when aiming our digits at the middle keys.
SMS and MMS messaging is handled, rather unsurprisingly, in the Messaging app. The blue and yellow bubbles are out again in full force, with a little customisation of the colour and the shape of the bubbles. Small contact photos also sit next to the bubbles.
Samsung has thankfully taken a lick of paint to the email client that had appeared on previous Galaxy devices.
It is something that we commented on in our Samsung Galaxy S4 review, and we are glad that it is still present on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
The clean UI makes it easy to use, and the support for multiple accounts and an aggregated inbox makes it a lot more intuitive.
Google has also bundled its Gmail client in with Android devices. With the latest update bringing in contact photos and the ability to swipe to archive messages, the app is more packed and more intuitive than ever.
It also brings across all the features that have made the desktop client so powerful.
ChatON is a feature that now graces every Samsung device. In essence, it is a WhatsApp / BBM / iMessage rival, that sends instant messages across to your contacts. You can also use it to send voice messages, as well as pictures.
As a platform, Samsung has clearly given it some thought, and it's rather good. Unfortunately, we don't see it catching on, since we have found that there are very few contacts online.
The rise of the cross-platform WhatsApp and the announced for iOS and Android BBM platform won't do ChatON any favours.
To call messaging a dream on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini would be somewhat of an overwhelming understatement. It is a large step up from previous Galaxy devices, one that Samsung really needed to make.
An improved keyboard and email client, paired with the decent Gmail app and functional SMS app, mean there is little to leave you feeling like it's wanting.
Like every Android Jelly Bean device before is, the internet capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is handled with either the native internet browser or via Google Chrome.
We can keep commenting on our confusion over this, given that they do the same thing in almost identical fashions.
As to which you wish to choose, you might as well flip a coin. We would suggest that Chrome is slightly better at managing bookmarks and tabs, and moving between devices, especially if you have your bookmarks synced to your Google account, since the Samsung browser no longer draws them in from the cloud.
We do some benchmarking tests with every review, one of which is the Peacekeeper browser test. Using this, we were a little surprised to find that the benchmark results for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini were in line with the full fat Galaxy S4. This was also reflected while browsing, with there being little slow down over Wi-Fi.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is also 4G-enabled in certain territories, such as the UK.
Unfortunately at the moment, the roll out of 4G is limited to EE, which has yet to cover the whole of the UK.
For the immediate present, 4G is only going to appeal to a smaller audience, but it helps keep it future-proof, with all the major networks hoping to have 4G signals across the country by the end of the year.
Other countries, such as the US, already have a strong 4G service, so 4G phones have more appeal there.
Looking back at the browser, Samsung's offering has some nifty features. Tabbed browsing and incognito browsing are available in both browsers, but making new bookmarks in Samsung's own browser is slightly easier than in Chrome.
Hitting the star-shaped icon in the upper-right corner brings up the Add Bookmarks option, and then you can choose where to save that particular bookmark.
It is also possible to turn off image loading, in order to save data. Given that we expect most Samsung Galaxy S4 Minis to be sold on contracts, at £25 and above, we don't expect that limited data will be a massive problem, but you never know.
One nifty feature that has been missed out on the Galaxy S4 Mini, and all Samsung Galaxy devices, is text reflow.
Double-tapping text will zoom the text to a certain level, but there is no custom level of zoom, no matter how we tried. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini will zoom in, but it will not reflow.
Both desktop and mobile sites can be enabled, and the Super AMOLED qHD screen is very bright, making reading text very easy.
The 4.3-inch screen size makes it a little less appealing for extremely long periods of browsing, but those who are likely to do that will be using tablets or phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is more than sufficient for using while commuting, and for a light to moderate browsing experience.
Again, we have to say that the S4 Mini's screen is leagues above the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini's, with the added size and resolution making browsing a far greater experience.
Elsewhere, functionality-wise the Samsung browser seems to have borrowed more elements that we had noticed in Chrome before. One of these is a little magnifying pane that pops up when you tap a hyperlink that is right next to another, while zoomed out, to make it easier to select the correct one.
Flash is also missing from the browser. We know Adobe pretty much killed Flash last year, but with it being offered as an optional plug-in on HTC devices, its omission is rather noticeable.
In general, we miss mobile Flash, so it's not just the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini that we have commented upon that makes us miss it.
Just a side note to Google Chrome, that we touched upon earlier. We found that we tended to lean towards it, if only because of the way it handles bookmarks and tabs better. It still syncs across all the bookmarks that you have attached to your Google account.
The three default Chrome home pages enable you to choose those bookmarks, your most recently visited/most popular pages, as well as the most recent tabs opened across all your devices, be it desktop or other mobile devices, including Chrome on iOS devices.
No matter what you choose, we find little that would leave you disappointed while web browsing on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. It is far better than the Galaxy S3 Mini, and comes with two feature-packed browsers. The dual-core innards also keep everything plugging along nicely.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's main camera measures in at a respectable 8MP, with a second 1.9MP sensor sat on the front.
While it doesn't match the 13MP that is found on the full Samsung Galaxy S4, we never expected it to. What it does bring over from the Samsung Galaxy S4, though, is the ability to take some truly stunning photos.
There are so many preset shooting options to play with as well, we couldn't try to list them all… Oh fine then, we will; Auto, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Continuous Shot, Best Face, Sound & Shot, Rich Tone (HDR), Panorama, Sports and Night.
It is quite a comprehensive list really, with each one being pretty self explanatory. Samsung's venture into the camera market, with the Samsung Galaxy Camera, is really paying its dividends here.
That said, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini will never be a match for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom for sheer photographic power.
Buried within the settings menu are all the usual tools, such as changing the exposure levels, the white balance levels and geotagging. These, we have always felt, are more the preserve of the more serious photographer, with the preset shooting options more than covering everything that you could ever want to do with a smartphone camera.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini camera does also come with an single LED flash, which is a bonus given its exclusion from other devices. It is certainly bright enough in lower light conditions, but will never be a match for the more powerful flashes on even the most compact of cameras.
We were a little disappointed to see that the Drama mode and Animated photo mode didn't make it over to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, but again, given the lower price tag this is just something that we are going to have to accept, especially given the range of options that are already included. Picture in picture is also unavailable... oh no...
Rather than having two separate apps (or one app with a little toggle switch in the corner), the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini bundles both the stills camera and video camera tidily into one app.
To start with, it was more than just a little confusing. We tapped the Video recording button, expecting it to switch to video mode, but no, it started recording. This took us a few seconds to get used to, but it is a bigger feature than we would initially have given it credit for.
It means that switching between taking photos and recording videos is a lot, lot smoother and lot, lot easier. Oh and it's a lot, lot quicker, meaning that the unmissable event you want to record is more likely to be recorded, rather than being just a memory.
The video recording also includes the ability to zoom while filming. This is a feature that is too often missed on other devices for our liking, even though it is probably just a minor feature. Anyway, it's there, so smiles all round.
We also found that the video recording quality was rather good, being able to record at 30fps at 1080p HD quality.
We know that HD video recording is slowly hitting more and more phones, but it is nice to be able to have higher quality recordings, meaning it is suitable for a much wider range of occasions.
Media seems to be an element that Samsung really has focused on when it comes to phones in its Galaxy range. Honestly, this is something that doesn't surprise us, given that Samsung's biggest rival is the iPhone 5, a device built very heavily around the media experience.
When it comes to media features, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini comes with just about everything you can think of, from a feature-stocked music player, a decent video player and an FM radio. Wait. What? There is an FM radio? Oh my.
This is somewhat surprising given its exclusion on the full Samsung Galaxy S4. As we said in that review, sure there are plenty of internet radio apps, but Samsung's FM radio was among the best, with the ability to record live radio on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Having it here on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, therefore, is nothing but a good sign in our eyes.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's rear speaker has also taken an upgrade over the ones on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
Obviously we can't say that it is quite as good, nor as bassy, as the one on the Samsung Galaxy S4, nor was it ever going to be as good as the HTC One's speaker. But it is loud enough to cope with sharing YouTube clips, or to wind up the entire carriage on your commute to work.
We would also be remiss if we didn't mention the inclusion of the microSD slot here as well, which is somewhat necessary given that the internal storage only leaves about 5GB of space, once the OS and system apps have been installed.
Samsung has graciously supported the ability to expand storage by up to 64GB on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, which is large enough to cope with most media libraries.
Where do we start with the handset's music app? It comes with enough features to keep nigh on every user happy, and sound reproduction is first rate.
Admittedly a certain level of that has to be down to the headphones you choose. We had no problems with the bundled headset, but obviously those who want to listen a lot will want to provide their own kit here.
So what features does it include, we hear you shout? Well, let's continue with the sound theme, because that's arguably the most important feature. Obviously sound volume can be changed by the rocker on the side, but there's also a little speaker icon in the top-right that brings up a little slider.
This is something that we might normally skip over, but there is a little equaliser button underneath it, something that we almost missed. This brings up a list of equaliser options, from the standard Auto mode, through to Bass Boost, Pop, Rock and the more interesting Tube Amp effect and Virtual 7.1 ch.
For less music-savvy users, Auto mode is about all you'll ever need, but having the extra functions is never a bad thing.
In the opposite corner, the upper-left, there is also a small icon that to some may seem a little unfamiliar. This is for DLNA streaming, a feature that felt a little disjointed on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
Thankfully that is not the case here, tapping the icon brings up a list of media outlets that you can stream your music too.
Lyrics are supported, so all you karaoke fans can see the words that you're getting wrong while you belt out your rendition of 'I did it my way'. A word on that though, you will need to make sure that you have the lyrics downloaded already, since we can't find a way of downloading them in the app.
Tapping the menu button also brings up settings, and Music View. This is an entirely novel feature, with - we expect - little real world use, but it seems to show a graph of the volume of the music being played.
AdaptSound is also present within the Music app. After following the set-up wizard and listening to a variety of beeps at varying frequencies, it will boost the music to suit your hearing range.
This is something that we reckon will have less effect on the younger audience, given that your hearing range narrows as you age.
Alongside all the usual ways of viewing your music, by artist, album, song, playlist or by folder, Samsung's Music square makes another appearance. This is something that we are still a little undecided on, but if you have a large enough media library, your Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini will go through and analyse and sort it, enabling you to choose your music based on your mood.
The obvious play, pause, track skip, shuffle and repeat buttons are also out in full force, but we expected no less. As a music player app, it is extremely well stocked, and we doubt you will need another one, but Google's Play Music app does also come installed if you're after something a little different, or there is always the Google Play Store for a third-party app.
Samsung's music player also plays a wide variety of music tracks, supporting MP3, AMR-NB / WB, AAC / AAC+ / eAAC+, WMA, Vorbis (OGG) and FLAC files.
When it comes to video playing, the first thing anybody will comment on is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini's screen. It really doesn't matter how feature stocked the player is, unless you are going to get a decent experience while watching it. We have already mentioned it once or twice throughout this review, but the screen resolution isn't Full HD.
While this has yet to be a problem, it is more of a letdown here than anywhere else. That said, we still struggle to call it a letdown, with the Super AMOLED screen still being bright and vibrant despite its lower ppi.
The 4.3-inch size is another area that will prove a little bit of a talking point here, since larger devices are always going to make video watching easier. That said, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is large enough to watch videos on, although we would recommend that if you plan to watch a lot (and we do mean a lot) of videos, you'd be better off using a tablet.
After all that, the player will need to be decent. This is somewhere that the Korean brand has managed to excel, and that is something that has yet to change on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. Where do we start? Let's try the beginning. Open up the video player and you are greeted with a very attractive grid of your videos.
The video player manages to pull in all your videos from your Dropbox account, as well as showing all the videos that you have on your Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. This is something that we'd have to give a massive thumbs up to, since it saves a lot of space, meaning that the 69GB you potentially had is boosted, with another 48GB that Dropbox provides for connecting your Galaxy device.
Another interesting little feature is that videos stored on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini plays as little thumbnails. It might only be a small feature, and one that we were a little unsure would make it to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini due to its lower internal grunt, but it makes the phone feel a little more fun and alive.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is also packed fairly well with the ability to play video, with MPEG4, H.264, MP43, VC-1, WMV 7/8, Sorenson Spark, H.263 and VP8 all supported.
Hip hip, hooray. Hip hip, hooray. Hip hip, hooray. Yes, we are very pleased to see that Samsung has included an FM radio on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, especially given its exclusion on its larger brother.
If, however, you are expecting us to wax lyrical about the app, you would be wrong. As an app, it keeps the smart style of the other media apps we've just mentioned, and is still as highly functional.
When you first load up the radio, with earphones connected, it immediately starts searching for stations. We can't say it found every station we were after, but it found enough.
It also has the ability to record live radio for listening to later, as well as storing your four favourite stations for easy location. The little knob in the middle is also easy enough to use.
Samsung's gallery app is also very attractive, providing a grid of thumbnails from all the folders that have stored media.
We didn't notice initially, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini will also pull in all your photos from your Dropbox account (with the Dropbox app also enabling you to instantly upload photos to the cloud), as well as those from your Google/Picasa account, and from your Facebook account.
Photo editing is also available, for images that you have saved on your phone.
There are so many to go through that it is impossible to list them all, but should you decide that you want to forgo editing on your desktop, Samsung has you more than covered.
Battery life and connectivity
A smartphone is only as good as its weakest elements. It would be impossible to have an amazing phone with only enough juice in the battery to power it for 10 minutes. Take a look at our HTC One review, for instance, to see that it only achieved the 5-star status after getting an update to address battery problems.
The problem with writing this section of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review is that just about every user of every device will be using it for different reasons. That said, we reckon that the 1900mAh that is packed behind the battery cover is more than sufficient.
The dual-core innards go some way to keeping the battery life under control. The larger quad-core processors tend to drink a lot more juice, so thinking that the smaller 1900mAh battery won't cope as well would be a mistake. The smaller screen also uses a lot less power.
Battery life is an area that Samsung has really given some thought to. The quick settings that sit in the notifications bar have been around for as long as we can remember. They really help save the battery life, giving you the ability to turn off battery-draining services such as Wi-Fi and GPS.
We threw the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini through its paces, and we were pleased to say it lasted on a standard day. Checking emails occasionally, and sending the odd text message, as well as taking quite a lot of photographs, we were glad to see that by bed time we still had more than 30% left.
Even our standard battery test proved quite decent, with our 90 minute HD video only draining the battery by 19%. It might seem like a lot, but we have seen a lot worse.
When it comes to connectivity, modern smartphones are getting more and more connected. Even the entry-level handsets that we have used are coming with things such as NFC.
Being a mid-range phone, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini comes with all the standard bells and whistles that you might expect. Wi-Fi, GPS and GLONASS, Bluetooth, NFC, 4G. Yes, double yes, yes yes, oooh.
Having 4G onboard also puts it square against the Sony Xperia SP, with 4G slowly making its way to the mid-range smartphones. It's nice to see that fast mobile internet technology is slowly making its way down to cheaper devices, because this will only increase the number of users taking it up and push the technology further.
Wi-Fi is supported to a/b/g/n standards (as well as Wi-Fi Direct onboard), and Bluetooth 4.0 and A2DP support are also available.
DLNA streaming is also built in to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, as we mentioned earlier. We also mentioned the IR blaster earlier, which turns the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini into a remote control.
We should also mention in this section that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini includes what Samsung has termed Group Play.
It is an app that connects the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini to other modern Galaxy smartphones, so you and your mates can turn your phones into a sort of surround sound system, with music being played through all the external speakers.
Connection to the PC is done via a micro USB port, which also doubles itself up as the charging point, as it always has done on Galaxy devices. This sets the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini up as an external drive, meaning that the usual drag and drop features on the desktop are still present.
Samsung also has its proprietary Kies software, which the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini can connect to via the micro USB cable, or via Kies Air (if both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network).
Maps and apps
These days, the need for a dedicated sat nav is diminishing, with it now being more the preserve of long distance driving and for users who are out and about all the time.
For things such as small drives, and even for the longer distances, the Google Navigation option is more than sufficient.
Every time we write a review of an Android phone, we do find ourselves disappearing off on a tangent, giving it compliment after compliment, yet the Google Maps option is almost unparalleled.
If you're planning on using your Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini as a full on sat nav, we'd have to say that it will cope admirably, but the 4.3-inch screen makes it a little less useful than the larger screened Samsung Galaxy S4.
That said, GPS and GLONASS - Russian developed tech similar to GPS - means that location lock on was as swift as ever, and route planning was extremely quick.
As for the general mapping app, the dual-core processor wasn't perfectly smooth at zooming in and out, and we found that there was a slight hint of slowdown, but nothing that we found to be a hindrance.
There are so many features packed into the Android Google mapping app, all being pulled in from the desktop version.
When it comes to apps, you will probably have guessed that, with the Android OS behind it, the Google Play Store is where you will most likely be heading for all your app needs.
Samsung has bundled in its own app hubs, should you decide that Google's offering isn't your cup of tea.
In reality, we can understand exactly why any OEM would bundle in their own app store, but given how well populated the Google Play Store is, we don't know if it is something that will ever get much use.
It's a little disheartening to be honest, since the apps have clearly had some thought put into them. They are as visually attractive as the Play Store, and come with the same levels of functionality.
We could, again, cover the Play Store in high levels of detail, but given that it is now so well known, we don't think that we need to. We will, however, mention that it is broken down into easy to navigate sections, consisting of Games, Apps, Music, Movies, Books and Magazines.
Each section is then broken down further, to make it easy to navigate. This is aided with large images, making it a visually pleasing experience to browse the Play Store.
When it comes to bundled apps, don't go expecting to find a raft of S-branded apps. There is no S Health, for example. What you do get is S Planner, S Voice, S Translator and S Memo.
S Planner is a fancy title for the calendar. It is a very visually busy app, but comes with many features to warrant its inclusion over the standard Google calendar.
Things such as pinching to zoom through timings (day, week, month, year) are smart, yet the processor seemed to lag a little, with a noticeable delay between times.
S Voice is the Korean answer to Siri, and in tests it seemed to work well enough. We can't say that it is, as yet, as charming or as able as Siri is on Apple products, but as a voice assistant it works well enough, and did most of what we asked it to, so we can't knock it too much.
S Translator and S Memo are pretty self explanatory, with the former being a translator app, and the latter being a note-taking app. We thought that the S Translator was a very nifty app, with the ability to listen to your voice and then speak translations.
This is something that we can see being very useful when abroad, especially if you can grab access to some Wi-Fi.
Samsung has also provided an app called Story Album, which needed to be downloaded and installed before use. It isn't a massively useful app, offering the ability to make virtual photo albums that can then be sent to make real life albums.
It was initially rather impressive, but not an app that we can see being used an awful lot, especially because you can manually sort them all a lot better on a desktop, before sending them off to print.
A far more interesting app that has been bundled onto the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is WatchOn. This is the app that makes use of that infra-red blaster on the top of the phone, to control your TV. It is a feature that we saw on both the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4.
As a remote app, it works very well. We were able to set it up to a variety of devices, and with the feature of being able to customise it to different rooms, you can set it to work on multiple TVs.
This meant that we were able to set it to the Sony Bravia television in our bedroom, as well as the Toshiba TV in the living room, and the Sky box sat below it.
It managed to get all the right codes, and match in correctly first time. We would say that it doesn't come as well feature-packed as other IR remote phone apps we've seen, but it has its charm and works well enough should you misplace your remote. We wouldn't recommend it as a total replacement, however.
The other part of the app is the ability to have different programmes selected for you. You can set it up so that it will offer video options that it feels you might want to watch. We can't say that we found it overly accurate, but the longer you use it, the more programmes you tell it you like, and the more accurate it will become.
We have to mention again, before we go any further, that should you decide that you want to install a lot of apps onto your Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, you will want to have a decent microSD card popped into the fiddly slot at the back.
Hands on gallery
So there we have it, our Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review. The question is, where does this leave us? Samsung has created a mid-range handset, putting itself right against the 4G-toting Sony Xperia SP and Nokia Lumia 820 - but most importantly now in a war with the HTC One Mini too.
We were a little worried that the Korean's new device would suffer from a bit of an identity crisis, given that the Samsung Galaxy S3 is still selling very well. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini still manages to stand out on its own, albeit in a market now crowded with Samsung Galaxy S4 variants.
The design of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini was a scaled down version of the Samsung Galaxy S3, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a scaled down version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. We were impressed with the design of the Samsung Galaxy S4, our only real criticism being that it seemed similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Naturally then, we are impressed with the design of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, with the thin bezel and its light weight being very impressive.
The screen was also very exciting, if only because it was so bright and vibrant. We also think that the 4.3-inch diagonal also makes it the perfect size for those who find the 5-inch screens on modern flagship smartphones too imposing. At 0.3 inches larger than the iPhone 5, there is a little more screen real estate, in a device that measures only fractionally larger.
We were also big fans of the camera. We know that sensor size isn't something that can truly be relied upon as a measurement of a camera's image quality, but the 8MP sensor on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is more than up to the task, and doesn't leave you wishing that you had a compact camera in your pocket as well.
It seems harsh to comment upon the fact that the insides of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini are only dual-core (as opposed to the Galaxy S3's quad-core), given that it managed to cope with just about everything that we threw at it. It must be a testament to the phone that this is one of the few things we could say was wrong with it.
Another minor gripe that we found with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini was the lack of a notification light. If you have the notification sound/vibrate turned off, there is no way of knowing if you have a missed call or email.
We also have to mention the microSD slot sat behind the battery. We're not overly fussed by the fact that it is not hot-swappable, although this is something that we really wish would be made available on more phones.
What really got us was the positioning, having to lay the card flat against the phone and try to push it in with your nails. Once the microSD card is in, though, we don't see it needing to be popped out too often.
If you read this entire review, then you'll know exactly what we thought of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. If you've just jumped to reading this page then you should know that the things we put into the 'disliked' section are really only minor details.
We could mention the lack of a Full HD screen, the lack of quad-core power and, in reality, the lack of gubbins that make the Samsung Galaxy S4 the flagship handset of the Samsung Galaxy S range.
If we did that, we would be being very critical, given that the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a lot cheaper, and was never intended to be a flagship smartphone.
What you get with the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a far better trade off of price and features than you got with the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, and a phone that sits very comfortably within the S4 range.
As for those wondering whether they should buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini instead of the Samsung Galaxy S3, truly that is something that you will have to decide for yourself. But the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini more than makes a case for itself, with the upgraded software, decent battery life and 4G tech more than giving the Samsung Galaxy S3 a run for its money.
However, we will say this: the HTC One Mini is a better phone that's available for a very similar price at the moment. Its metal unibody, Ultrapixel camera and Boomsound speakers do exactly what its bigger brother does to the S4: prove that getting the basics right is what matters.
Both of these phones are very similar in spec and layout, but try them side by side and we think you'll probably just prefer the One Mini... especially as the microSD card slot on the S4 mini is a little harder to access.
First reviewed: July 2013
Thanks to Unlocked-Mobiles for providing our Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review sample.