The idea of presenting a mini version of a leading smartphone model, Samsung introduced last year with the SIII mini model. Truth be told, even though it had a lot of positive characteristics in spite of smaller dimensions, that model wasn’t very well received due to its relatively high price, and weak hardware specifications. New year, new challenges, after S4 model, for testing we’ve received Galaxy S4 mini which should, at least on paper, present a better sidekick to the top model than was the case with the previous mini.
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Almost the same

These two smartphones have almost identical exterior, although the Mini is proportionally shorter and narrower, but also thicker. Front side is almost the same as its big brother’s, although it has a few less sensors. As the Samsung accustomed us with the Galaxy series, power button is on the right side, and on the lift side is the volume rocker. On the upper rim there’s the audio jack, and next it there’s an IR transmitter, a novelty taken from the S4 model. The only hardware button is located central part below the screen – home. The usual sensor buttons for menu and back are located left and right from it and are illuminated only when they’re used, and signal diode is located above the screen and hidden beneath the surface.

As it was to be expected, the Mini version is thicker than regular version, which we didn’t like, as was the case with previous Mini version. Smaller dimensions and weight had the effect of feeling comfortably in the palm of your hand, although the users that are accustomed to “beasts” with large screens will first have to get used to smaller workspace. The smartphone is once again made out of plastic with glossy coating, which didn’t proved very well, because despite intense care, very soon it got small scratches during careful, everyday use. That’s one of the reasons we can’t wait to test Galaxy S4 Activ or some other Samsung models with carbon fiber chassis, that aren’t presented as yet. On the back side there’s also a camera with a moderate resolution, paired with LED flash, as well as a speaker.

Under the lid, that’s removed very easily, an easily replaceable battery is located, with a solid capacity, which has to be removed to gain access to slits for micro SD and micro SIM cards. Since there’s been an influx of models with batteries that can’t be replaced and/or internal memories that can’t be expanded with micro SD cards, Samsung should be praised for this effort.

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But still very different

Front side is dominated by a screen of a much lower resolution and sharpness than S4 model’s screen. It’s clear that this screen doesn’t need a full HD display, but we wouldn’t have minded 720p resolution. At least the image is clear and contrast with live colors, which have a more natural look with the regular model.

As for the internal memory, the situation is similar. Data storage space is halved from 16 to 8 GB, which is even smaller due to the slice that’s reserved by the OS. Luckily, situation with this model isn’t as critical as is the case with S4, where out of the 16 GB, you only have less than 6,5 GB at your disposal, but you’re still left with barely 5 GB. Truth be told, for most of users, this can be enough, at least with regard to installation of new software, but if you want to have a lot of music, or if you’re taking a lot of pictures or making video clips, additional micro SD card is mandatory.

The most pleasant hardware surprise is the amount of working memory that S4 mini has at its disposal. With 1,5 GB it has barely less than S4 model, but more than SIII model which is just great. Samsung probably noticed in their testing that more and more users use multiple applications at the same time, and they are becoming more and more demanding, and because of that, they decided enable their customers a pleasant working experience.

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini (I9190) 
Processor Qualcomm dual core Snapdragon 400 1.7 GHz
GPU Adreno 305
Memory 1.5 GB RAM, 5 GB available, total 8 GB, microSD card support
Display 4.3'', 960x540 pix, Super AMOLED, Gorilla Glass
Interfaces microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi n, DC HSDPA, GPS, LTE
Camera Back: 8 MP with autofocus and LED flash; Front: 1.9 MP
Battery Li- Ion 1900 mAh
OS Android OS 4.2.2
Dimensions 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm
Weight 107 g with battery
Price US$ 450

The heart of the system is the dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor with a high working frequency. If you look at the test result pictures, it’s clear that it doesn’t come even close to S4, but on the other hand, it can be compared with SIII model. Much more important than the tests is how it performed during use, and the answer is – great. A weaker hardware base didn’t slow it down much, due to the lower resolution, what’s more, during the most demanding applications that we’ve tried, everything worked smoothly and correctly. We didn’t have any troubles with web page rendering, and even though it’s slower than with the most powerful models, the differences are small.

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Camera resolution is the same as with Galaxy SIII model, and we’re assuming they’re using the same hardware. Everything that we’ve said for SIII camera, we can freely repeat it here – both the images and videos are of excellent quality, as long as there’s good lighting. When that condition isn’t fulfilled, there’s grain and blurring, especially if you’re trying to take a picture of a moving object. It also has the IR (Infra-Red) sensor which enables the control over different devices that use remote controls, such as TV, AC or sound system. Therefore, this smartphone easily replaces an universal remote or multiple separate remotes, and it’s with you at all times anyway. Audio jack is excellent, as is Samsung’s tradition, loud enough and without back noise during reproduction. Music player is the same as with all of the models of S series, unlike the headphones which are identical to those of the SIII model, but also noticeably worse than with S4 model. Player is clear, functional, supports a large number of file types and has a wide range of track display options, as well as the volume control option.

User interface

All those who came in contact with TouchWiz interface, implemented on Galaxy series a few years ago, will feel at home. It’s commendable that it has Android OS 4.2.2 implemented. When compared to the S4, user interface looks almost the same, so for a lot less money you get a very similar user experience (if you don’t need the more advanced functions). Notifications area is still extremely functional and can be modified to show whatever shortcuts you want. It’s the same case with settings area, which is now separated into four different segments for easy manipulation. This similar environment has one flaw – it becomes boring and it’s not as visually pleasing as it was a few years ago. We would have strongly preferred to see a newer user interface that would have improved the visual identity of Samsung’s smartphones, but that’s not the case here. Note III will soon be coming out, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will bring some changes.

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Notifications, in accordance with newest version of Android, can display a lot of information, provided that the program in question supports this function. For that reason the lock screen is more informative, with a wider plethora of options for what you want it to display, so it’s worth to take time and tinker with it and set the display in accordance with your preferences. One of the capabilities that was lacking in SIII mini is auto-brightness, which has now been corrected, so this much-needed function exists. While we’re at the corrections, we found that going through menus, and all animations in general, were somewhat slow, which we’ve solved by visiting the Developer’s options section, where we’ve change all the transition speeds from 1.0x to 0.5, which solved the problem.

As for the more advanced functions that were reserved for S4 model, the list isn’t short, starting with Air View and Gestures, over Smart Pause, Smart Scroll and Smart Rotation and all to the Multi-Window. In our opinion, most of these functions are more for show, rather than being highly useful, but some, such as Multi-Window, don’t have a point with small screens, so we don’t feel like we’re missing something without their presence. The only thing we miss is the option of using the screen while wearing gloves, but that certainly isn’t a huge problem.

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Powerful Mini?

When compared to the last year’s mini model, S4 mini is a noticeably better smartphone, which bears its Galaxy S mark with more confidence. Due to its smaller size, it rests comfortably in the hand and it’s easy to handle. As for its sheer power, we didn’t expect it to match S4 model, but it has enough at its disposal. The only thing we didn’t like is the screen resolution because we’ve been spoiled by Full HD on larger models due to the image sharpness, so we wouldn’t have minded if it were 720p. Basically, if we disregard the screen size and resolution, everything else is just right, this is an excellent smartphone which offers almost the same user experience as with the more powerful models, at a lesser price. If you’re using phone functions that recquire a large screen and high resolution (such as opening web pages and documents) only occasionally, S4 mini may be just for you. Practical and fast enough, with a noticeably lesser price, it offers a great user experience.