Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini review

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a cheaper but less powerful version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, and although it is a capable, solid smartphone, it is not a stand-out performer in the market. If you don’t want to splash out for the latest smartphone, or are simply unable to, you will want to consider the S4 Mini, which manages to perform day-to-day tasks well, without costing you an arm and a leg.

What we think

As its name suggests, the S4 Mini is a fairly small smartphone which unfortunately impacts its memory storage, especially by today’s standards. However, its camera packs a surprisingly good punch, and it performs well overall. Add that to its very respectable price, it is definitely a phone to consider if you are after a budget model.

Design

With the same design as the S4, just scaled down, the S4 Mini looks sleek and smooth. The phone consists of a glossy plastic back cover, separated from the screen by a thin metal band. The screen is a 4.3 inch qHD AMOLED display, and is very bright and vibrant.

However, its screen resolution is lower than the S4, dropping to 960 x 540 pixels, and the PPI drops from 441 to 255. Whilst the S4 Mini screen is no longer a Full HD display, it’s not as bad as the figures would make you think. Its responsiveness to touch is very good, and its accuracy is also impressive, with no issues experienced.

All buttons are located in the same places as they are on the S4. The on/off button is on the right side, the volume control is on the left, and the headphone jack is at the top.

The home button is a good size and located on the front of the screen. On its left is a touchscreen ‘menu’ button, and on its right is a ‘back/return’ touchscreen button. Normally these two buttons are lit up, but you can change the brightness in the settings and even stop the lights from appearing at all.

On the back of the phone is the 8MP camera and LED flash, and there is also a front-facing camera, but this is only 1.9MP.

The speaker for calls is located at the top of the screen, whilst for music there are two small speaker bars on the back near the bottom, allowing for a strong level of sound when put on full volume.

The phone’s measurements are 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.94mm (4.9 x 2.4 x 0.4 inches) and it weighs just 107g, thanks to its backing being made of plastic rather than metal. The phone has a Micro SIM card, and you can easily transfer your number across if you want to.

The S4 Mini is available in two colours, Black Mist or White Frost, and generally we feel the Black Mist helps make the phone look more expensive. The phone is fairly slippery though, so it is worth investing in a phone case to help protect your phone and provide extra grip.

S4 Mini front S4 Mini front
S4 Mini back S4 Mini back
S4 Mini power S4 Mini power
S4 Mini side S4 Mini side
S4 Mini top S4 Mini top

Operating system

The S4 Mini runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, with Samsung TouchWiz UI, and overall it’s a good, clean, user-friendly phone.

It is not perfect by any means, with a number of crashes and bugs experienced when using it, although admittedly some of these may be due to the apps themselves being buggy.

Annoyingly, the notification LED doesn’t show up either, so you don’t know your phone is charging or that you have received a message, unless you turn on the screen.

From the beginning, the phone has a number of apps already installed, such as S Translator, helping you carry out translations using your phone, and S-Voice, which competes with Apple’s Siri. Whilst these Samsung apps may be good, we have not found ourselves wanting (or needing) to use them really, so they can be considered a bit of a waste of valuable memory space.

What is good about the phone is that you can access many different programs from the lock screen simply by sliding the notification bar down and selecting the relevant notification. This helps save time as you do not need to unlock your phone every time. However, this only works if you do not have a lock screen set up.

You can also create shortcuts on the lock screen to enable you to have certain programs launch as soon as the screen unlocks.

Camera

Despite being a less powerful phone than the S4, the camera on the S4 Mini is still impressive. The main camera on the back is 8MP, compared to the S4’s camera which is 13MP. The front-facing camera is 1.9MP, but unfortunately there is no flash feature for the front-facing camera.

The camera has an automatic mode, with settings adjusted automatically. You can have the settings set up for ‘anti shake’ and face detection, as well as autofocus. If you are technically capable, you may want to change the settings to try and improve the quality of your photos.

There are a number of modes you can choose from if you do not want the standard one: sports, panorama, night, continuous shot, beauty face, best photo, sound and shot, rich tone (HDR) and best face. These are all nice additions to increase the options you can do with the camera.

The video camera quality is fairly good too, shooting 1080p full HD video, at 30 frames per second. In the photo and video gallery you can then share your files or upload them to the cloud to prevent them from being lost if you lose your phone, which is a useful ability to have.

Battery

The S4 Mini has a 1,900mAh battery, allowing 12 hours of talk time or 300 hours of standby time according to Samsung. However, this doesn’t factor in having apps downloaded which will drain the battery more, or if you have Wi-Fi or 3G enabled (you can use 4G with this phone too).

If you have a number of apps downloaded, and even just use the phone moderately throughout the day, you will most likely need to charge it before you leave work if you want it to last until you get home.

Luckily it does seem to charge quite quickly at least, meaning if you have a low battery you won’t have to wait too long for it to charge back up. To charge it, you plug the USB cable into the bottom of the phone, and then into either a plug socket or a USB port on a computer (although it takes longer to charge this way).

You can open the back of this phone up and access the battery, so if the battery did stop working then you may be able to replace it. The Micro SIM card and MicroSD card are located at the back of the phone underneath the battery, so to access them you need to take the battery out.

Memory and Processing

The S4 Mini is only available with 8Gb memory at the time of writing, it seems, which frankly is the absolute minimum you need for a smartphone. This memory capacity is a big drawback for the phone even despite if you insert a MicroSD card to add more memory space. On release there was an option for 16Gb memory but this does not appear to be an option anymore.

Frustratingly, you don’t even get the advertised 8Gb of space really, as Samsung’s software takes up 3Gb, leaving you with just 5Gb of storage.

We found the phone’s memory was almost full just with some of the most popular social media and music streaming apps on it, as well as a number of images. This was quite disappointing, so if you know you want quite a number of apps etc. on your phone, we would recommend you look for a phone with at least 16Gb capacity, as this phone struggled.

The phone has a 1.7GHz dual-core CPU processor with 1.5Gb of RAM. It performs smoothly, quickly manoeuvring between homescreens and apps generally, with no real issues.

Price

The price of the phone when it first went on release would have to be classed as overpriced, especially as it was just a scaled down, less powerful version of the S4. It started off with a launch price of £350.

However, with its more recent price of £150, it can now be classed as a budget smartphone, and it performs well for this price. Originally there was a 16Gb version of the phone as well as the 8Gb, but this larger memory size does not seem to be available any more. Therefore, the only variable when buying the phone is the colour you select.

Conclusion

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini is a good phone. It is definitely not outstanding, but for its price it is certainly worth considering. We feel its design is better than its actual performance, which can sometimes lag and be buggy, but not enough to put us off buying it.

This is probably due to the basic operating system it uses. With a better operating system, this phone would be one of the best, if not the best, budget smartphones available.

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