Samsung's newest smartphone with a smaller screen could give Apple's iPhone a run for its money. But the specs -- including the absence of 4G LTE -- aim the device more toward the mid-tier.
Shara TibkenFormer managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Samsung today unveiled a smaller version of its popular Galaxy S3 smartphone as the Korean electronics giant ramps up competition with Apple's iPhone.
The device, dubbed the Galaxy S3 Mini, features a 4-inch screen and the latest version of Google's Android operating system. By comparison, Samsung's flagship Galaxy S3 smartphone has a 4.8-inch screen.
The iPhone 5 also features a 4-inch screen, slightly bigger than earlier versions of Apple's device, but the two are in different leagues. The screen Galaxy S3 Mini display is 800x400 (233 pixels per inch), while the iPhone 5 display is 1,136x640 (326 pixels per inch). In addition, the Galaxy S3 Mini lacks 4G LTE networking, which the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 both support.
Samsung hasn't yet provided details about availability or pricing. We'll update if we get that information.
The new Galaxy smartphone comes as the latest entry in the ongoing war between Apple and Samsung -- and, well, all other Android handset vendors. The companies are vying to control the mobile market, introducing new devices at a steady clip. Apple has unveiled one new phone a year, while Samsung has been pushing its high-end Android Galaxy S line and introducing other devices at the same time.
While many consumers have sought out smartphones with bigger screens, analysts say there's still a big market for smaller devices. Many Apple users, for example, have shunned the larger screen sizes found in Android devices. Thus far, many of the phones with smaller screens have been geared more to the entry level market, not providing the powerful specs found in high-end devices. That means few have given Apple a run for its money.
"Apple has proven quite conclusively that tens of millions of people are happy to have a device they can wrap their hands around," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said. "It doesn't mean they don't want powerful processors or high megapixel cameras."
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini isn't as powerful as its flagship phone, but the company says the device "can be an optimal choice for consumers who are looking for more practical smartphones."
While Samsung may be counting on the new device to help it compete with Apple, it's not likely to change much in the U.S. without 4G LTE capabilities. Also, the chip used in the Mini is dual core, rather than quad core like the S3. And the camera is only five megapixels instead of eight.
Where the Galaxy S3 Mini could shine, though, is emerging markets, a key area for smartphone growth. And it could also be a strong device for prepaid carriers, which also have started offering older versions of the iPhone.
It also could be a viable rival against the older models of the iPhone, which Apple is still selling through carriers at steep discounts.
"This is something that will compete not with flagship devices from other companies, but their mid-tier," Gartner analyst Jon Erensen said. "It's not competing against the iPhone 5 but against the 4S and 4, in that price range."
Either way, the folks in Cupertino are likely to pay pretty close attention to the new device.
Here are the main specs, courtesy of Samsung:
Updated at 9:30 a.m. PTwith additional details about specs and market positioning and again at 11:50 a.m. PT with further analyst comments.