We found the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini to be something of a let-down so it's fingers crossed for its successor, the Galaxy S4 mini. Read our Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review to find out more.
Priced at around £380 on a SIM-free basis, the Galaxy S4 mini sits at the top end of the mid-range smartphone market. It's a slightly strange price as you might be tempted to spend just little more to get a fully equipped model, or opt for the bargain favourite, the Google Nexus 4 that starts at £239. See also Galaxy S4 mini vs HTC One mini comparison review.
On a contract the Galaxy S4 mini can be bagged from Phones4U for ‘free’ from £25 a month for two years at the time of writing - £240 less than the full-sized Galaxy S4 but only a couple of quid less than the excellent Sony Xperia Z. Visit: The 8 best smartphones: What's the best phone you can buy in 2013?
With this in mind, let's see if there's any stand out reasons to plump for the Galaxy S4 mini over its rivals and higher end smartphones. See also: What's the best Samsung Galaxy smartphone?
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Design and build
As the name suggests, the Galaxy S4 mini is a smaller version of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4. It's the same idea as the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S3 mini. Other firms have joined in the fun including HTC with the HTC One mini.
Our white frost model came from Clove but the phone is also available in black mist.
So, the Galaxy S4 mini looks like its bigger brother but fits in the hand better. For anyone that finds a 5in screen is just too big, this may come as good news. It's much easier to reach all four corners of the screen and also the touch-sensitive buttons, which are awkward to use on the Galaxy S4.
The downside of its similarities with the Galaxy S4 is that it has Samsung's typical plastic build quality. A thin removable rear cover does give you access to the battery but the phone just doesn't feel very premium or special.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Hardware and performance
Although the Galaxy S4 mini does have a downgraded specification compared to the Galaxy S4, it's not as big a drop as we saw with the Galaxy S3 models.
With a 1.7GHz dual-core processor and 1.5GB of memory, the Galaxy S4 mini is the sport version of a hatchback. The phone shows good performance both from a user perspective. But the hardware on offer here is not very inspiring.
[Editor’s note: benchmark performance figures have been removed while we research allegations that Samsung deliberately cheats performance tests by increasing processor speed when certain benchmark programs are running on the phone.
See, for example, http://www.anandtech.com/show/7187/looking-at-cpugpu-benchmark-optimizations-galaxy-s-4 & http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/opinion/mobile-phone/3461669/did-samsung-game-its-galaxy-s4-benchmarks/]
The 4.3in screen is a good size – if still rather large to qualify for ‘mini’ status – but a 540 x 960-pixel resolution and a pixel density of 256 ppi is now quite acceptable.
The Galaxy S4 mini's main rival, the HTC One mini, has a screen with 341 ppi on the same size display.
Moving onto storage, things don't look good with just 8GB of initial capacity. After the debacle with the Galaxy S4 gobbling half the original capacity with OS and Samsung’s heavyweight software, Samsung now clearly states that the Galaxy S4 mini has 5GB available to the user. We respect the transparency but that doesn't change the fact it's very limited.
A microSDXC card slot is here to save the day, though. It will accept up to 64GB cards and we've been able to move some, but not all, of our downloaded apps over to the removable storage.
Connectivity is a strong point of the Galaxy S4 mini with 4G LTE support, dual-band 11n Wi-Fi (not 11.ac though), Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. Furthermore, Samsung has kindly left in the infrared transmitter which is found on the regular Galaxy S4 so you can control devices in your home.
Strangely, there is no notification LED on the Galaxy S4 mini which you might find an annoying omission.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Cameras
Some top smartphones now get 13Mp main cameras, but the 8Mp shooter on the Galaxy S4 mini is about what we expect from a decent mid-range device now. It's a respectable camera and takes high-quality images in general but indoor shots tend to look hazy.
There are many different shooting modes to choose from: Auto, Beauty face, Best photo, Continuous shot, Best face, Sound & Shot, Panorama, Rich tone (HDR), Sports and Night. This means a few have been dropped compared to the S4 (Dual shot, Drama, Animated Photo and Eraser).
The majority of these modes are useful but we found Beauty face to be nothing short of pointless. As with most smartphone cameras you have optional control over settings such as ISO, white balance and exposure.
The 1.9Mp front facing camera is perfectly suitable for 'selfies' and video footage is acceptable for video calling at 1280 x 720 pixels.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Software
Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) and TouchWiz is the current software combination from Samsung. The firm has improved its user interface overlay over the months and years but it's still not quite as good as HTC Sense or Sony's skin in our opinion.
The homescreens are full of mostly useless widgets out-of-the-box, although you can at least delete these, and the settings menu is unorthodoxly split into four sections. It needs customisation and will take some getting used to if you're not a previous Samsung customer.
There are many facilities missing when compared to the Galaxy S4, though. These include Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, Air Gesture, Air View, Dual shot, Multi-Window and S Health. While it's a shame to miss out on some useful ones like Air View, most are gimmicky features anyway.
To be fair to Samsung, Multi-Window would be difficult to use on a 4.3in screen. S Health can be downloaded via Samsung Apps but we can't find any trace of it there.
The reason Samsung has left out so many apps and features may be to make sure the paltry storage isn't completely used up. But it might be nice to have the option to add these features at the users' preference.
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Battery life
With a 7.2Wh removable battery, we expected long life from the Galaxy S4 mini. It saw us through a day of frequent use using just over half the battery. After a night on standby and a few more hours of various tasks we hit the battery low warning level of 15 percent.
So, battery life was good but not quite good enough to get us through two complete working days. This means you'll be charging it, like most smartphones, every night – unless you're brave enough to see how far it gets you through a second day.