Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini review: Flagship Samsung style in a more comfy, but less powerful, form

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.7
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 6.0
Review Date:

The Good The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini has the same rubberised design as its full-size brother, it's waterproof, with a vivid screen and decent camera.

The Bad Like all of Samsung's previous smaller flagships, the S5 Mini seriously waters down the specs of the top-end phone, meaning it's just a mid-range phone with a flagship name and high price. The plastic design feels far less luxurious than the metal HTC One Mini 2 and the fingerprint sensor rarely works as it should.

The Bottom Line If you've been hoping for a fully-fledged flagship phone with all the bells and whistles of the the other elite mobiles just in a more compact size, prepare to be disappointed. The Galaxy S5 Mini matches the regular S5 in name and looks, but not in specs. If you're after a comfortable to use phone with the Samsung name and enough power for everyday use, it'll suit well. For a true compact flagship, look towards Sony's Xperia Z3 Compact.

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Samsung released compact versions of its flagship Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 phones, so it was no surprise when the Galaxy S5 Mini was announced. Although those Mini phones bore the name of their flagship brother, all were in fact heavily watered-down versions of their respective top-end counterparts. The same is true of the S5 Mini.

Its 4.5-inch screen has a 720p resolution, it has a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, an 8-megapixel camera, 4G LTE, fingerprint and heart-rate sensors and runs the older Android 4.4.2 KitKat software. The S5 meanwhile, has a 2.3GHz quad-core chip, a full HD display and a 16-megapixel camera. The Mini does look identical to its bigger brother though, and its smaller size makes it much more comfortable to use in one hand.

It would be more honest of Samsung to call it the "S5 Lite" to indicate to interested buyers that this phone is not just a small flagship, but a mid-range phone that shares the name and some design cues. Sony is currently the only mobile manufacturer that has a mini phone that actually uses the same blistering tech as the flagship, in its Xperia Z3 Compact.

The Mini does at least come with a cheaper price tag, starting at £390, SIM-free directly from Samsung here in the UK, $450 on Amazon in the US, and AU$500 in Australia, with carriers in all three countries offering it on contract too. Its mid-range specs are more forgivable at that price, but it's still not exactly cheap.

Design

Other than its size, the S5 Mini is indistinguishable from its full-size big brother. It has the same soft-touch, rubberised back panel with a dotted pattern, the chrome-effect plastic edging, the physical home button on the front and the same square camera unit on the back, with the heart rate sensor beneath.

samsung-galaxy-s5-mini-20.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's made from the same plastic materials, although they feel even more plasticky on the smaller model -- which isn't helped by its very light 120g weight. If you're looking for luxury in a small phone, you probably won't be too keen. Instead, look towards the HTC One Mini 2, which has a gorgeous, all-metal design that feels much better to hold.

At 131mm long and 65mm wide, it's physically much smaller than the full-size model, which apart from helping it sit unnoticed in your trousers, also makes it far more comfortable to use in one hand. I found I was able to reach all areas of the screen with one thumb, which I struggle to do on the S5.

The back panel is removable, providing access to the microSD card slot -- allowing you to expand the 16GB of built-in storage -- as well as letting you swap the battery out for a fresh one when needed. It's available in the same colours as the S5, including white, dark blue, electric blue and gold -- the latter is exclusive to Phones 4U here in the UK, although colour availability will apparently vary depending on region.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Like its brother, the S5 Mini has an IP67 rating, meaning that it's protected from dust and can be submerged in water up to 1 metre (3.3 feet) deep for up to 30 minutes. In real terms, it means the phone won't conk out the first time you accidentally drop it in the toilet. Unlike the S5, however, the Mini doesn't require a flap to cover its micro-USB port on the bottom.

I'm really not sure how Samsung has managed to waterproof this port, particularly as it's the bit that deals with electricity, but it's certainly handy to not have to worry about clipping an awkward flap back into place. I'm especially relieved as that flap broke off my Galaxy S5, rendering it no longer water resistant.

Display

The Mini's 4.5 inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, which is a fair step down from the full HD display of the flagship S5, but its smaller screen doesn't require as many pixels to remain sharp. Indeed, it has a pixel density of 326 pixels-per-inch, which is the same pixel density on the iPhone's retina display -- and you'd have to be in a really foul mood to say that's not sharp.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's plenty of detail on high-resolution images -- although higher resolution panels certainly seem more crisp -- and for everyday things like tweeting and Instagramming, the 720p display is more than adequate. It's bright too, and easily readable under London's rare midday sun, although I'm sad to say I don't know how it will fare in use while wandering around a Spanish villa.

Its colours are very vivid too, which makes cartoons like "Adventure Time" look great, and you can head into the settings to tweak the colour balance if you prefer a slightly less saturated, more natural tone.

Android software

You'll find Android 4.4.2 KitKat on the phone, which isn't the most recent version of Google's software -- that honour goes to version 4.4.4. It's still KitKat though, and with its cheaper price tag, I'm willing to let this slide. It has a nearly identical interface to the regular S5, which isn't necessarily a good thing as the S5 and the Mini are so full of tweakable settings that it can be very confusing to use, even for veteran Android fans.

It does have Private Mode, which allows you to hide certain files and folders behind a password or a fingerprint, using the fingerprint scanner built into the home button on the front. I don't recommend using the latter however, as the fingerprint scanner is extremely hit and miss. In my own use, I found it failed to recognise my print way more often than not, resulting in me having to type in my backup password after too many failed attempts -- an issue I found on the S5 as well.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini

Part Number: GALAXYS5MINI
Low Price: $12.95 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 4.23 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
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