So how does the S4 Mini stand up to the flagship Galaxy S4? We’ve taken a look at the key features of each device, to see whether the smaller handset lives up to its big name.
True to its name the S4 Mini’s form factor is an almost identical, miniaturized version of the high-end handset. The Galaxy styling that has become standard amongst Samsung’s devices since the launch of the S III is seen on the S4 Mini, but both it and the Galaxy S4 feature less rounded edges than the Korean firm’s 2012 flagship.
However, there is an area where the smaller handset doesn’t fully live up to its name. At 8.9mm, the Mini’s body is one millimetre thicker than that of the Galaxy S4, and while this difference is just about noticeable when holding each device, the S4 still sits very comfortably in the hand.
In an age when high-end handsets are getting bigger and bigger, for instance a flagship like the S4 which has a 5-inch display, the compact, ergonomic design of the S4 Mini is refreshing. The device is ideal for using in one hand and we had no problem stretching a thumb across the entire display without shifting the device around.
Samsung makes some of the best smartphone displays around and it’s to the firm’s credit that it has continued this trend with the S4 Mini. We have often remarked that the Galaxy S4 features one of the best screens we’ve ever seen and that it, along with the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z, form part of a new generation of displays that are better than anything else currently available.
However, we are hugely impressed with the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen on the S4 Mini, finding very little difference between its performance with that of its larger cousin. While there’s no doubt that the S4 makes a better impression due to its size, when it comes to colour reproduction and clarity there is little to separate the two handsets.
The S4 Mini’s screen is as bright and bold as that on the S4, with Samsung’s typically saturated colours standing out very well on both. The same happens when watching high-res video and while the Galaxy S4’s size gives it the edge, this is the only factor where it has a clear advantage.
Under the Hood
There is little surprise that Samsung has had to radically cut-down the 1.9GHz quad-core processing power of the Galaxy S4 to make the S4 Mini, although its 1.7GHz dual-core chip is nothing to be sniffed at for a mid-range device.
We ran the AnTuTu Benchmark test on each handset to find out how well the processor and memory work, with the Galaxy S4 inevitably scoring far higher but the S4 Mini still doing pretty well. The miniature device performed only slightly worse than the Galaxy S III and above the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note.
When really put to the test the S4 Mini will struggle with the most demanding tasks such as processing 3D graphics and streaming HD video but for everyday tasks the device is very impressive indeed.
Operating System and User Interface
Each handset runs Android 4.2.2, a platform which makes for incredibly smooth performance, so the differences come about in what Samsung has done with the user interface on each device. The manufacturer has scaled back many of the gesture-based control functions which it made so much noise about during the Galaxy S4’s launch, leaving the mid-range device without many of its high-end cousin’s main selling points.
There’s no Air View, Air Gesture or Smart Scroll, but many reviewers of the S4 (ourselves included) found these features to be a little annoying and not well suited to everyday use. In testing the handset, we commented that they drew attention away from the fact that the handset is simply a brilliant smartphone and they’re not something we think of as a major loss.
What S4 Mini users do get is one of the best user interfaces around, with Samsung’s notifications bar and settings menu being particularly good. The huge range of controls and options within each are carefully arranged so as not to be daunting, leading to the technical aspects of the phone’s operation being very easy to adjust.
Aside from this, the versatile lockscreen of the Galaxy S4 is transported wholesale to the S4 Mini, meaning that it can be filled with widgets and app icons to allow you to access nearly any function without having to unlock the handset first. Again, the display size gives the S4 an edge in all respects here, but the S4 Mini doesn’t miss out on a great deal.
Photography is another area where the S4 Mini sees a reduction in the power that its high-end cousin can boast. However, the smaller handset has an 8 megapixel sensor that is capable of capturing high-quality images.
There’s no Dual Camera function, another aspect of the Galaxy S4’s feature suite that was widely promoted at launch. However, we have found little use for this unusual feature and we don’t miss it on the S4 Mini at all. Many of the shooting modes that were included in the high-end handset’s camera app, such as Best Photo and Panorama, have made the transition, as has the innovative wheel-menu first seen on the Galaxy Camera.
Where there is a difference is in the quality of images produced. There is nothing essentially wrong with those from the S4 Mini, but the Galaxy S4 puts its 13 megapixel sensor to good use and captures just that little bit more detail in the finer points of a photo. However, as you can see in the image below, there is very little difference in quality at all.
The S4 Mini strips away a lot of the pomp and ceremony that was seen on the Galaxy S4, such as the gesture controls, and offers a more straightforward handset. It has lower specs, certainly, but can hold its own in some key areas, especially in the incredible way that its display performs.
The Galaxy S4 is still the all-singing, all-dancing flagship handset of Samsung’s range and, in that respect, certainly doesn’t have a challenger in its miniature cousin. However, for a mid-range Android device that offers power and performance in a compact, practical design, we can think of few better options than the Galaxy S4 Mini, an outstanding smartphone that includes some of the best aspects of Samsung’s record-breaking Galaxy S4.