Samsung's Galaxy S3 mini looks like a smaller version of its flagship Galaxy S3 smartphone, and it is, but there's more to this phone than just its shrunken size. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?
Samsung Galaxy S3: Design and build
The Galaxy S3 mini looks almost identical to its bigger brother, the Galaxy S3, apart from a few minor, almost unnoticeable, cosmetic changes and of course the fact it's smaller. All the buttons are in the same place but the front facing camera and sensors have switched sides, as has the headphone port, and on the back the LED flash and speaker have moved slightly.
Apart from these insignificant changes, the Galaxy S3 mini has the same appearance with nice curved sides and rounded corners. It’s more pebble-like because it's smaller and also fatter than the Galaxy S3. It's 10.2mm thick compared to 8.6mm. Nevertheless, it's still lighter than the already light full-size S3 at 113g.
Being small and rounded makes the Galaxy S3 mini fit nicely into the hand. The only time you have to stretch when using it one handed is to pull the notification bar down from the top of the screen.
At the time of writing the Galaxy S3 mini is available in pebble blue and marble white but other colours including garnet red and titanium grey are in their way.
Like its flagship counterpart, the Galaxy S3 mini feels well made. The front is one piece of glass with a silver metal surround giving it rigidity and strength. However, we're not fans of the flimsy plastic rear cover which hides the battery, SIM card slot and microSD card slot.
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini: Hardware and performance
Samsung has fitted the Galaxy S3 mini with a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It's nothing to get excited about and neither are the benchmark results.
In GeekBench 2 the Galaxy S3 mini managed an average score of 763. The similarly priced Nexus 4 scored a whopping 2,009. The Galaxy S3 hit 1669 points. Performance from a user point of view is generally good but there are signs of lag every now and then.
We also test graphics performance with GLBenchmark 2.5 in which the Galaxy S3 mini posted a frame rate of 12fps. Not great when compared to the 39fps recorded by the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4 but we found the phone could play games like Temple Run 2 smoothly enough.
As we've mentioned already, the Galaxy S3 mini has a smaller screen than the S3, and most smartphones for that matter. It matches the iPhone 5 at 4in and is a much more manageable size than many smartphones on offer in today's market.
Although it might be manageable, we're not bowled over by the screen quality. It's bright and vibrant like the Galaxy S3 thanks to its Super AMOLED technology but it has a relatively low resolution of 480x800 and a pixel density of 233ppi. This is the same as much cheaper phones like the Huawei Ascend G330 and way short of the Nexus 4's 768x1280 and 318ppi. Things look generally a bit rough round the edges.
On the storage front, the Galaxy S3 mini is fairly limited with only 8GB and 16GB models. It's not as limited as the Nexus 4 though since it has a microSD card slot for up to 32GB cards. The expansion slot is annoyingly located underneath the battery.
Connectivity includes the usual dual-band Wi-Fi, assisted GPS and Bluetooth 4.0. When the Galaxy S3 mini launched it didn't have NFC (near-field communications). Our review sample didn't either but Samsung has re-launched it with this feature so you should get it if you buy one. If you're looking to start using 4G mobile broadband on EE or other networks later in the year then you'll have to look elsewhere as the Galaxy S3 mini is restricted to 3G.
One thing that annoyed us was the pickiness of the Galaxy S3 mini when plugging it into a PC. The handset would only show up as an external storage device to transfer files when we used the supplied Samsung USB cable.
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini: Cameras
Another area of compromise on specifications to achieve the price of the Galaxy S3 mini is the cameras. It has a distinctly mid-range 5Mp rear facing camera and a low quality VGA front facing camera.
The rear facing camera produced the kind of pictures you'd expect from a mid-range 5Mp smartphone. It's a pretty good camera and the software Samsung provides is decent too. Video footage is not too shabby at a maximum of 720p. See below for one of the photos we took with the Galaxy S3 mini.
Unfortunately the front facing camera doesn't exude the same quality. At VGA resolution it's predictably grainy.
Click to enlarge to full size
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini: Software
An advantage of the Galaxy S3 mini is that is comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box. For a while it was more up-to-date than the Galaxy S3 but this is not the case anymore.
As we've come to expect from Samsung smartphones, there is the TouchWiz user interface instead of stock Android, which in its latest form is very good. Which you prefer will be down to personal taste as each has their own pros, cons and exclusive features.
The Galaxy S3 mini has almost all the features which made the Galaxy S3 good such as various motion controls like Direct Call and Smart Alert, customised notification bar, Smart Stay and a power saving mode.
One of the main features of Jelly Bean is Google Now, a predictive search hub which Samsung has left in the OS. There's also the inclusion of expandable notifications but there's no option for widgets on the home screen. We can't say what features will be added with a software update in the future.
There's a reasonable small amount of pre-loaded apps and there are a decent selection of widgets on offer.
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini: Battery life
We were a bit confused to find a 5.6Wh (1500mAh) battery inside the Galaxy S3 mini – the Galaxy S2 had a 6.1Wh (1650mAh) battery. However, we got a far better battery life than we were expecting.
The Galaxy S3 mini lasted through a day of use comfortably. As you can see from the screenshot, after 24 hours of use we still had nearly 40 percent of the battery remaining. This gives it the potential to be a two day phone, provided you don't use it intensively for gaming or video playback.
We like the inclusion of a power saving mode which can be easily switched on and off from the notifications menu. It doesn't have quite the same control as the Galaxy S3 though with only CPU and screen power saving options. We only used the power saving mode for a portion of our test making the battery life look even better.
Another good point is that the battery charges up very quickly. However, it's disappointing to find that the Galaxy S3 mini wouldn't charge properly from a PC using a generic USB cable. In fact, the battery life dropped even though it was plugged in. The device only worked properly when using the supplied cable.