Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review: The S4 Mini packs plenty of power and a decent screen into a little body

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good

Average User Rating

4 stars 4 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Small, comfortable size; Vivid screen; Plenty of power for most tasks; Decent camera.

The Bad Mid-range specs don't justify high price; Multitude of settings won't appeal to newbies.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is not merely a smaller version of the Android powerhouse, lacking as it does the same impressive lineup of specs as its big brother. Nevertheless, it still packs plenty of power and a decent screen into a very comfortable little body. It's just too expensive for what it is.

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a power-packed beast of a phone with specs to make even the most hardened tech nerds quiver at the knees. At 5 inches across, it's pretty huge though, so what if you want something a little more comfortable to hold?

At 4.3 inches, the Galaxy S4 Mini is much more manageable. But with its smaller size comes a lesser lineup of specs, including a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, a 960x540-pixel display and an 8-megapixel camera -- all far inferior to the real deal. It does still have 4G for super-fast mobile data speeds though.

With a price tag of £380 SIM-free, and free on contracts from £27 per month, does it do enough to make it a worthy purchase?

Our S4 Mini review sample was supplied by Clove.co.uk.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini?

A word of warning: if you're expecting the blistering performance and boast-worthy specs of the real S4, but in a smaller body, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. It's not just the size that's been shrunk, all of its key features have too. The screen falls far short of the Full HD resolution of its sibling, it has an 8- rather than 13-megapixel camera and it has a dual-core, not quad-core, processor.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini next to S4
It looks very similar, but the resemblance to the S4 is skin-deep.

Its specs are much closer to the middle of the road, closer to last year's Galaxy S3 than the latest flagship. It's annoying, then, that Samsung has matched it with a price that puts it well above most mid-range phones. The Google Nexus 4 offers a better set of specs and costs considerably less. For the money, that's still the phone to go for.

If pocketability is a crucial factor and you can stomach the cost, it's not a bad phone. It's very comfortable to hold in one hand, it has a bright and bold screen, a decent camera and enough power for most tasks you're likely to need to do. If Samsung could just see fit to knock a hundred quid off the price, it would be an excellent phone for those of you who don't have hands -- or wallets -- big enough for the full-size S4.

Design and build quality

There's no question the S4 Mini has been cut from the same cloth as its big brother. The phone is surrounded in the same metal banding, while the white plastic back panel has the same subtle criss-cross pattern. The metallic-edged home button and speaker grille have both been lifted straight from the regular S4.

Where it really differs, of course, is its size. With a screen size of 4.3 inches, it's significantly smaller than the 5 inches of the standard S4. It measures 61mm across and is 124mm long, making it far more comfortable to hold in one hand, and much easier to stretch your thumb across the screen when typing. If you want a shiny new Android phone but you prefer your iPhone 4 's 3.5-inch display, the Mini should definitely be among your options.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini top front
It's really slim too, at just 8.9mm thick.

It weighs 107g -- light enough to remain unnoticed in your pocket. Build quality seems about the same as the S4. The plastic back panel feels undeniably cheap and flimsy when removed, but when it's all securely fastened it doesn't feel too bad. It's certainly less luxurious than the metal HTC One .

Around the edges you'll find the power button, volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port for charging and data transfer.

Storage

The phone comes as standard with either 8 or 16GB of internal storage. Samsung got into hot water with the S4 when it transpired that half of the advertised space was taken up by Samsung software . On the 16GB model, only 8GB was actually available to use. Samsung has promised to update the phone to allow for more memory and, crucially, add the ability to store apps on an external SD card.

That update is already in place on the Mini. On the 8GB model, a little over 5GB was available to use and I was able to move downloaded apps to an external card. It's a simple process of hitting 'Move to SD card' in the applications menu, but not all apps can be moved. The developers themselves have to build this ability in.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
A software update means you're able to move apps to an SD card, but not all apps can be moved.

I was able to move apps such as Riptide GP and Snapseed to the card, but bigger games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City couldn't be moved. Hopefully more apps will bring this feature in to let you make full use of the expandable storage. You can of course save all your photos, videos and music to the SD card too, keeping the built-in storage just for those apps that can't be stored externally.

Display

The 4.3-inch display has a resolution of 960x540 pixels, which is a considerable step down from the Full HD display of the standard S4. With a smaller screen size though, the Mini doesn't need to pack in quite as many pixels to remain sharp. It has a pixel density of 256 -- a far cry from the 441ppi of the S4 and not up to the standard of the retina display on the iPhone 5 either.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini top front
Its screen is fine, but not quite up to scratch.

Put it side by side against the full-size S4 and you'll definitely notice the difference in clarity. The Mini doesn't have the same sharpness around icons, and small text isn't as well defined. In everyday use though, it's perfectly good for most tasks. It's bright too and very bold, making videos on Netflix or YouTube look cracking.

It's a decent all-round screen and will suit most people. For the high price though, you'd be right to expect more. The Nexus 4, for example, has a higher-res 720p screen -- resulting in 330ppi -- and can still be bought SIM-free for only £240.

Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

The S4 Mini runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the most recent version of Google's mobile operating system currently available. As with the S4, Samsung has crammed in a significant number of tweaks.

The core interface stays pretty much the same. You'll find five homescreens to fill up with apps and widgets, with other apps stored in a grid of icons. Samsung has bundled its Story Album software, which lets you create photobooks of your pictures, as well as its S Translate tool, Group Play and S Memo.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

Part Number: CNETGALAXYS4MINI
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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