There are huge, top-of-the-range saloons that offer every imaginable creature comfort, and then less expensive compact cars with fewer standard options. This phenomenon also rings true of the smartphone world where the Galaxy S4 mini is a more compact, less flashy version of the range-topping S4 flagship.
The baby brother to the Galaxy S4 (review) has taken a shrinking pill to bring its dimensions down to a level iPhone users should be comfortable with, seeing that it is almost the same size of the iPhone 4S (review).
Gone is the multimedia consumer’s best friend in the 5" (1080p; 441 ppi) touchscreen on offer on the S4, and in its stead a 4.3" (540 x 960; 256 ppi pixel density) Super AMOLED.
As you can expect, the pixel quality on this non-HD screen is not as sharp as on the S4, but we still found this resolution to be more than suitable for most tasks such as browsing the web and viewing your photos. In addition, the Super AMOLED screen remains very usable outdoors in direct sunlight, and boast excellent viewing angles as well as colour saturation.
Under the South Korean bonnet
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the S4 mini contains the same specs as is bigger brother - actually only the styling is the same. Powering the Android 4.2.2 running smartphone is a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor running at 1.7 GHz per core. This CPU is coupled with the same curious RAM amount (1.5 GB) as found on Samsung’s Galaxy Mega range. We expected a smooth and snappy performance whilst navigating Android and weren’t disappointed.
It is always interesting to see how well this year’s midrange devices fare against last year’s top range devices, illustrating the performance strides made in just one year.
During benchmarking within SmartBench 2012, the S4 mini delivered a combined productivity and gaming indexes score of 8442, surpassing the 7364 tally of LG’s Optimus G (review).
Even more impressive is that the S4 mini produced a better total score in AnTuTu v2.3, than both the Galaxy S3 (review; 11 887) or the Galaxy Note 2 (review; 13 683). Its score of 14 872, however, is virtually half the Galaxy S4 managed (28 158).
The S4 mini looks and feels like a more compact versions of the S4, but it sports a lot less processing power and software features under its bonnet.
In terms of optics, users get an eight megapixel rear-facing camera as well as a 1.9 megapixel HD front-facing camera, with picture quality and camera performance being on par with that of the Galaxy S3.
The S4 mini ditches most of the additional snapper functionality available on the S4 including Dual shot and Animated photo. Users still have access to continuous shot, whereby a series of photos are captured at the rate of three per second, and Sound & Shot, which sees your photos being enhanced with a few seconds worth of recorded background audio.
Users will need to make use of the microSD memory card slot that supports cards up to 64 GB in size to store their photos, apps and other multimedia content, since the phone only offers 8 GB of internal memory (5 GB user available).
After foregoing most of the software additions from the S4 the likes of Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, and Air Gesture, the Galaxy S4 mini still offers the functionality seen in the S3, such as Smart Stay and Pop-up Play. The former tracks your eyes via the front-facing snapper to see if you are still looking at the screen and prevents it from turning off, whilst the latter minimises the video you’re playing into a moveable rectangle, allowing users to continue surfing the web or IM chatting within WhatsApp while also watching a movie.
At the top of the S4 mini resides an IR (infrared) blaster, enabling the device to serve as a universal remote control for compatible electronic devices in a user’s lounge, bedroom or the boardroom. Using Samsung’s WatchON app, we were easily able to use the S4 mini as a remote control for a Samsung HDTV and LG DVD player, with the app allowing us to change the channels, increase the volume and perform all the normal remote functions via its easy to use onscreen buttons.
To the point
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 mini packs a great deal of performance, eye-catching (all be it an all plastic one) design, and a handy IR blaster function into an excellent overall midrange package that costs R5 700 at Vodacom outlets around the country.
This makes the S4 mini a little more expensive than Nokia’s Lumia 720 (review), but the mini does however provide some added spec and feature bang to more than justify the extra R300.
Looks and feels like a mini version of the S4.
Smooth performance thanks to its snappy CPU and good dollop of RAM.
You can swop the battery.
IR blaster on board.
Has very little in common with the S4 when it comes to software enhancement.