Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review

Samsung's Galaxy S5 mini is a compact version of the company's flagship Galaxy S5. It's a great mid-range Android smartphone, but with equally slimmed-down specs it's just too expensive at £389. Read our Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review to find out why. (Our review is of the Gold Galaxy S5 Mini which is an exclusive colour to Phones4U. Thanks to them for lending us the handset.)

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Price UK 

The mini S5 is due to go on sale in the UK on 1 September, and you can pre-order it now for £389.95. In the face of its closest competition - the HTC One mini 2 - that doesn't sound too bad. After all, HTC's mini smartphone has been on sale for a few months now, and SIM-free the One mini 2 is just £35 cheaper (the S5 mini should fall in price following its September release). And, in many respects, these two compact smartphones sit very much on par with each other. Also see: 40 best smartphones 2014. 

More worrying is the smaller price gap between the S5 mini and its bigger, beefier brother, the standard Samsung Galaxy S5. In this pairing the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini just doesn't stack up. Until its price drops significantly, a smaller screen and less powerful hardware demands far greater than a £25 price reduction. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was available from as little as £413 SIM-free at the time of writing.  

(All smartphones work out cheaper when bought SIM-free and then combined with one of the best SIM-only deals.) 

So, let's look at exactly what you don't get in return for your £25 saving. Also see: 37 best Android phones 2014. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Galaxy S5 vs Galaxy S5 mini 

We cover this in more detail in our Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Samsung Galaxy S5 mini comparison review, so here we'll just point out the fundamental differences between S5 and S5 mini. 

The most obvious difference is the screen. Not only is the S5 mini's display smaller, at 4.5in versus 5.1in, it's also just 720p against the S5's 1020p, which means it has a lower pixel density, too (326- versus 432ppi).  

The processor-, memory- and storage options have been downgraded. Whereas the Samsung Galaxy S5 boasts a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core chip with 2GB of RAM and 16- or 32GB of storage (plus microSD support up to 128GB), the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini has a still quad-core but slower-clocked 1.4GHz processor, 1.5GB of RAM and only a 16GB storage option (plus microSD support up to 64GB). 

And although the mini S5 has a smaller screen and is therefore lighter, shorter and narrower, at 120g, 65x131mm against 145g, 73x142mm, it's actually chunkier: the super-slim 8.1mm Samsung Galaxy S5 is a full millimetre thinner than its little brother. It's hardly a chunk, but width is traditionally one of the biggest giveaways of a budget price tag. 

Other cutbacks include the omission of 802.11ac Wi-Fi in the S5 mini, plus an inferior rear camera (8Mp, 1080p video versus 16Mp, 4K video). Surprisingly, the mini has the better front camera, but only just, at 2.1- versus 2Mp. 

The S5 mini also has a lower-capacity 2100mAh battery (S5: 2800mAh), but this is understandable given the smaller screen and less powerful hardware. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Design and build

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review

Despite the aforementioned differences, in terms of design and build the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is exactly what its name implies: a smaller version of the Samsung Galaxy S5. It's available in the same colours - white, black, gold or blue - and has the same dimpled plastic rear cover. As with the S5 this cover is removable, giving access to an also-removable battery, plus SIM and microSD slots.  

Unlike other phones with removable covers, the S5 mini won't flex or creak under pressure. And that's reassuring, given that Samsung claims this phone features IP67-rated dust- and waterproof protection. It doesn't have the same fiddly (annoying) MicroUSB cover flap as the standard S5 - apparently that's okay, but it's probably not a good idea to plug the S5 mini into the mains with any water droplets inside this port. 

Samsung has been heavily criticised for this rear panel, and we have to agree: it makes the S5 mini look much cheaper than it actually is. The Copper Gold colouring of our review sample doesn't help: it's like Samsung's been playing in the dressing-up box and found the nasty fake gold costume jewellery. Even the dimples appear to be a half-arsed attempt at adding a touch of flair (I have an overwhelming desire to stick a pin in them and make them deeper), and they do little to aid grip. Also see: Samsung Galaxy S5 mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini comparison review. 

That's not to say the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is a bad-looking phone, although it's got nothing on the all-metal HTC One mini 2. A sleek slab with rounded edges, the S5 mini's design is identical to that of previous S-series handsets. You get a 3.5mm headset jack and IR blaster on top, power on the right side and a volume rocker on the left. At the front is a physical home button, which now includes a fingerprint sensor (more on that later), plus two software buttons: Recent apps and Back. Turn it over and you'll find an 8Mp camera with single-LED flash, a speaker and an also-new heart-rate sensor (also more on that later). 

Its smaller dimensions make the mini a much better fit in my hand than the larger Galaxy S5, even if that does mean sound is muffled from the rear-facing speaker, while its extra width makes up for the reduced weight in gaining a secure grip. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Screen 

The screen is a key difference between the standard S5 and S5 mini. At 4.5in this phone's display is hardly tiny, but the 0.6in between the two is noticeable. If you're an avid film- and video watcher then you may appreciate the extra space provided by the standard S5, but more likely you'll prefer its higher full-HD (1020p) resolution. 

Because Samsung uses a Super AMOLED panel, the S5 mini's 720p HD panel is much better-looking than most. Its colours are bright and vivid, and the phone's 326ppi pixel density is still up there in what Apple terms 'Retina' quality (indeed, it has the same pixel density as the iPhone 5s, as well as the comparable HTC One mini 2 and much cheaper Motorola Moto G). Text is sharp and clear, and viewing angles are good. You'll only really notice the difference when watching video. 

You can access a brightness slider in the mini's drop-down notification bar, although we found the screen perfectly usable at around 50 percent brightness. In bright sunshine you might want to turn it up a few notches. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini: Hardware and performance

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review 

With a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM and Mali 400 graphics, we weren't expecting to see performance as high as that of the Samsung Galaxy S5 from the mini. But given its faster-clocked processor, we did think there would be a bigger gap between it and the similarly priced 'mini' competition. 

We ran the S5 mini through our usual processor and graphics tests, and you can see how it compares to the competition in our article What's the fastest smartphone 2014. 

In Geekbench 3 the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini recorded 372 points in the single-core test, and 1186 points in the multi-core component. That's only slightly faster than the HTC One mini 2's 1153 points, and LG G2 mini's 1175 points. More surprisingly, the super-budget EE Kestrel comes very close to this performance with 1152 points. 

In GFXBench the mini managed 9.5fps in the T-Rex test. That's sufficient for most non-demanding casual games, such as most of those you'll find on Google Play, but it's a long way from the best we've seen. Even the £39 ZTE Kis 3 did a better job in this test, with 11fps. 

Finally, in SunSpider, Samsung's tiny Galaxy recorded 1104ms, putting it slightly behind the older Samsung Galaxy S4 (1092ms), but ahead of the HTC One mini 2 (1504ms) and LG G2 mini (1698ms). 

In terms of real-world use we found the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini fairly snappy. There is some lag when opening certain apps, such as Camera, Gallery, Settings and particularly S Health, or playing demanding games. Most users should find it quite reasonable in day-to-day use, however. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Storage 

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini comes with 16GB of onboard storage, but has just 11.62GB available when you take into account the Android OS, TouchWiz UI and preinstalled apps. There's a microSD slot that lets you add a further 64GB, and you can also take advantage of Google Drive and third-party cloud-storage apps - many are available on Google Play. However, while photo, video and other media will happily live on a microSD card, Android is known for at times being awkward when it comes to moving apps to SD - sometimes it will allow only part of an app to be transferred. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Connectivity 

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is a 4G phone, which means it can offer Wi-Fi-like download speeds if you live in an area with the relevant connectivity and your tariff supports 4G. (Also see: What is 4G: Complete guide to 4G.) It doesn't, however, feature the S5's Download Booster, which pairs 4G with Wi-Fi to offer theoretical maximum download speeds of 400Mb/s. 

Its Wi-Fi connectivity is dual-band, spanning 802.11a/b/g/n, but not the very latest 802.11ac. Since it's unlikely that your broadband hardware supports ac, that's not a particular problem for the meantime. Samsung also provides support for Wi-Fi Direct and Wireless Hotspot. 

NFC is included (also see: What is NFC), as is Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and a 3.5mm headphone jack. You won't find support for MHL or DLNA, however. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Cameras 

It's only 8Mp (which, as HTC tells us, means little in terms of quality), but we were impressed with the S5 mini's rear camera. This is paired with a single-LED flash and autofocus (or you can tap the screen to focus), plus several filters and special effect modes found in previous S-series handsets. As was first seen in the S4, for example, you can take several shots in succession and then merge them into a single action photo, or apply Beauty mode, which in effect 'Photoshops' portrait images, toning down imperfections. Other modes include the now-standard HDR, Panorama and Continuous shot, while Samsung also offers a Virtual tour mode, which is almost like having your own personal Street View. 

As you can see from our test photo below, there is an impressive amount of detail, with no evidence of blurring. It's a fairly overcast day, so the colours are pretty realistic, too.

 Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review

The rear camera is also capable of shooting full-HD video at 30fps, which is decent but down from the 4K video of its bigger brother. 

A front-facing camera is rated at 2.1Mp, making it a little better than that found in the S5 for selfies and video chat. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Fingerprint scanner and heart-rate monitor 

Following on from the full-size S5, the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini features a fingerprint scanner. This is built into the Home button. It's pretty easy to set up, and thereafter can be used to unlock your device, verify your Samsung account or pay with PayPal. 

Do note, however, that you need to fairly slowly swipe your thumb over the Home button from top to bottom (not merely tap it) for it to register, and your thumb needs to cover the entire button. You also need to swipe your thumb at the same angle, so make sure you are holding the S5 mini comfortably when setting up the fingerprint scanner.  

You are able to access the camera from the quick access button on the lock screen without swiping your thumb, which is helpful if you're having problems unlocking the Galaxy S5 mini with your thumb and needing to type in the alternative password means you miss the photo opportunity (also, once it fails to register your fingerprint five times in a row it won't let you try either access type for 30 seconds). To get to the Gallery or other apps you'll need to fully unlock the device, however. 

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini also has a heart-rate sensor, which it takes from the full-size S5. To take advantage of this you'll need to fire up the preinstalled S Health app and create a profile.  

The first time we tried to use the heart-rate monitor S Health crashed; the second time it complained we were pushing down too hard; thereafter we recorded several scores within 1bpm of each other, which may or may not be accurate. According to the NHS the normal adult resting heart rate is between 60- and 100bpm, so the S5 mini says we've got nothing to worry about. (Let's hope it's accurate…) 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Software 

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini runs Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, and will be upgraded to Android L later this year (also see: Android L release date and new features). Samsung overlays its TouchWiz UI, which has seen a few tweaks since its implementation in the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. 

The most notable difference is in the Settings menu. Rather than separating this menu under Connections, My device, Accounts and More tabs, you get one long scrollable menu that features round, colourful  icons. These are organised under the headings Quick settings, Network connections, Connect and share, Sound and display, Personalisation, Motion, User and backup, System and Applications. Although we're more familiar with the old-style Settings menu, this new setup is infinitely more user-friendly and easier to find your way around. 

You'll still find all manner of quick access icons from the drop-down notification bar. Here Samsung has also added quick access buttons for S Finder, which is almost like desktop search but for your phone, able to turn up any file or contact stored on your device, plus Quick connect. There's still enough room for four notifications (potentially fewer, depending on their type) below. 

Samsung won't let you uninstall the preinstalled apps on the Galaxy S5 mini, but a new option lets you hide any app. If your concern is with a cluttered app tray, rather than a lack of storage space, this is potentially very useful. 

One of those preinstalled apps is the aforementioned S Health; Samsung also bundles the S5 mini with dedicated video and music players, the S Voice voice assistant, its own app store Samsung Apps, plus something called Studio, which lets you 'Get creative with pictures and videos'. There's also a link to download Kids Mode, which lets you restrict acces to apps and media, and provides child-friendly content. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review: Battery life 

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini has a smaller-capacity battery than the full-size S5, at 2100mAh versus 2800mAh. It also has a lower-resolution screen and less powerful hardware, however. Importantly, both batteries are removable, allowing you to swap in a spare if needs be, although we prefer to use a portable USB charger (see: Best portable USB chargers 2014). 

We found the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini would easily last a day in our tests, but of course this depends on how much you use your phone. Samsung claims up to 8 hours internet usage (over 3G, 11 over Wi-Fi), 11 hours video playback or 10 hours talk time (3G). This should get a boost with Android L, too - see Battery life to get a boost with Android L. 

Pleasingly the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini features its bigger brother's Ultra Power Saving Mode. This turns the screen to greyscale mode and turns off non-essential features. In the case of the S5 it can add a further 24 hours life once the battery hits 10 percent remaining.

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini: Specs

  • 1.4GHz Exynos 3 quad-core processor
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in (720x1080, 326ppi) Super AMOLED display
  • Mali 400 graphics
  • 4G LTE
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • fingerprint sensor
  • heart-rate sensor
  • IR blaster
  • 8Mp rear camera with autofocus and single-LED flash, supports full-HD video at 30fps
  • 2.1Mp front camera
  • GPS
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • water- and dust-resistant
  • available in white, black, gold and blue
  • 2100mAh removable battery with Ultra Power Saving mode
  • 131.1x64.8x9.1mm
  • 120g
  • 1.4GHz Exynos 3 quad-core processor
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD support up to 64GB
  • 5.5in (720x1080, 326ppi) Super AMOLED display
  • Mali 400 graphics
  • 4G LTE
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • fingerprint sensor
  • heart-rate sensor
  • IR blaster
  • 8Mp rear camera with autofocus and single-LED flash, supports full-HD video at 30fps
  • 2.1Mp front camera
  • GPS
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • water- and dust-resistant
  • available in white, black, gold and blue
  • 2100mAh removable battery with Ultra Power Saving mode
  • 131.1x64.8x9.1mm
  • 120g

OUR VERDICT

Like the Samsung Galaxy S5, the S5 mini is a very decent Android phone. Our key concerns lie in its pricing and performance: while most users will find it more than fast enough for day-to-day tasks, the price tag is a lot higher than we'd like to pay in terms of what we get in return. The new dust- and waterproof casing is a nice touch, but the S5 mini isn't as good-looking as the HTC One mini 2, while the heart-rate monitor and fingerprint scanner are welcome but not essential additions.

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