The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is the device we expected it would be. A solid performer, it is the lineal step in the life of a Samsung product, and diversifies their overall lineup. It might be a shrunken version of the flagship Galaxy S4, but it also makes a few compromises. Some of those decisions are expected, while others are strange to us. In using the Galaxy S4, we found it a nice fit, both in form and function. While the experience is paramount, some of the omissions leave us wondering — and wanting.
Right out of the box, what struck us was the lightness of the GS4 mini. At a mere 3.77 ounces, it was surprisingly void of heft we had expected. Typically, smaller devices feel a bit more “there”, but the GS4 mini was joyously light. It also keeps the styling cues we like from recent Samsung models, like the brushed aluminum-lookng sides.
Around the back, we find the familiar Samsung plastic battery cover, removable for swapping out power sources. The camera and flash ensemble is also top center, while the power button and volume rocker sit on the sides. The speakers and micro USB charging port sit at the bottom, and the familiar hardware button rests at the bottom of the all-glass front. Ours is a Verizon version, with big red having branded the hardware button, as is their calling card.
The screen, however, begs for more pixels. At 4.3-inches and 960 x 540, the 256 PPI rings dead with us. Colors are just fine, as you’d expect with AMOLED, but the resolution is scrappy at best. We liked the extensive viewing angles, which made quick glances to check time easy, but that doesn’t provide much when the resolution is so weak.
We also get an adequate Snapdragon 400, Adreno 305 GPU, 1.5GB RAM, and 8GB memory that can be added to via microSD card. The cameras are an 8MP shooter around back, and a 1.9MP selfie-machine up front. A 1,900 mAh battery powers the GS4 mini admirably, too. Overall dimensions are 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.94mm (4.91 x 2.41 x 0.35 inches).
While Android, the actual application of such is increasingly suspect. The Galaxy S4 mini runs Android 4.2.2, which only serves as a vehicle for Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. In terms of utility, we’ll simply point you to our TouchWiz UI review. While hefty, Samsung did trim away a few parts for the GS4 mini.
Those that missed the cut aren’t missed, and that’s due to the small screen. While diminutive, the screen and resolution wouldn’t do the missing features any favors, as they’re mostly gesture based anyway. ‘Smart’ features like Smart Scroll, Smart Pause and Smart Rotation are missing, with Air Gestures and Air View are also absent.
When we talk about software, it’s wise to note that the software buttons are limited to ‘back’ and ‘menu’ key that are always available, but only light up occasionally. The hardware button acts as the ‘home’ button, which is nice, though unnecessary. We still prefer Android’s suite of software keys, and don’t feel Samsung needs to set themselves apart in this regard.
Day to day, we found the Galaxy S4 mini to be an admirable device, capable of handling just about anything we tossed at it. Save for bulky multitasking, this little device held its own nicely. The processor/RAM combo proved powerful enough for videos and gaming, and calls were clear and crisp.
If you’re looking for a smallish device that will hold up, the Galaxy S4 mini is one to consider. If you’re looking for a device that can do a variety of things that will surprise and amaze you, this isn’t it. The screen takes away from the device as a whole, and we’d even call it a mis-hit on Samsung’s part. Had they given a better screen on this device, we would be chatting it up much more.
For an 8MP camera, the Galaxy S4 mini’s shooter performs admirably. If you’re used to Samsung, you’ll be familiar with the suite of modes this camera has, like Beauty Face or continuous shot. You’ll also find the setup — which is more like a camera than a smartphone — easily usable. For newbies to the Samsung world, there is no gimmick here, as the layout is clean and easy to figure out. The pic below shows the same shot in two lighting situations; the top with natural light, indoors, while the bottom is simply void of light, using flash.
Shots were good quality, though nothing we’d enter into a photo contest. We did like the low-light performance, but find the shutter speed a bit slow. That is what we expected, though, with an 8MP shooter. The 1.3MP front-facing cam is great for video chat or closeup selfies, but loses a lot at distance. Overall, we were pleased with the outcome, but couldn’t tell how good the shots were until we saw them via an online via our Google Photos backup. Again, the screen resolution takes away from the experience.
Yeah, we know, benchmarks are suspect now. We also know that Samsung has been accused of being the biggest culprit of Android’s doping era. With that, we leave you with the image below showing both AnTuTu and Quadrant scores. You’re free to take from them what you like, and discern the validity of them for yourself. For what it’s worth, the Galaxy S4 mini tested a bit higher than the Moto G, which it competes with. We found our experience with both to be fairly even.
We tested the Galaxy S4 mini on Verizon’s LTE network, and found the connectivity sound at all times. While the Galaxy S4 mini can rightly be called a mid-range device, the price defies that moniker. Coming in at $349 off-contract with Verizon, it’s nearly double the cost of a Moto G, but still quite a bit cheaper than an iPhone 5C. On contract, you might be able to get the device for no money down with a two-year agreement, but you end up paying for it via the contract, so we don’t encourage that thinking.
For fans of the Galaxy S4 who want a smaller device, this is one to look at. We like the smaller profile, and think the size has a lot to offer those who are looking for it. It’s not the monster some tech enthusiasts like to see, but it does pack a bit of a punch. Web surfing, email checking, messaging, and light gaming were a snap with the Galaxy S4 mini.
In terms of pitfalls, we give you the screen. It may sound a bit unfair to continually bring this point up, but the screen is your only interaction with the device. The screen here is simply lacking, and for a device with the price tag of the Galaxy S4 mini, we’d like to see better. The on-board storage is also a bit slight, considering that after TouchWiz, you’re not left with much. This almost makes you get a microSD card, which is not exactly fair, and adds to the already steep price tag.
Battery life was adequate, getting us through a day on moderate use. Steady use of the device caused us to charge it in towards the end of our work day, but that’s to be expected. The scaled down phone has an appropriately scaled down battery. Fortunately, if it becomes a bit problematic or inconvenient to charge your device, you can switch the battery out, a feature seemingly limited to Samsung these days.
Through it all, the real lynchpin is TouchWiz. If you know it — and like it — check this phone out. If you aren’t familiar with Samsung’s Android skin, give it a hard look before snatching this one up. The feature set is impressive, but it can be a learning curve if you’re not familiar with it. The UI also looks dated, and could put some off. Overall, we like the device for what it is, save for the price tag. If it came in appropriately priced, and with a better screen, we’d recommend it highly.