Samsung Galaxy S III Mini (AT&T) review

The AT&T Samsung Galaxy S III Mini is a decent entry-level Android smartphone with an affordable price, but it doesn't come close to matching its full-sized namesake.
Photo of Samsung Galaxy S III Mini (AT&T)

While it makes obvious concessions for size and price, the HTC One Mini is, at the very least, a faithful miniaturization of the company’s flagship One. The same cannot be said for the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini, which shares little DNA with its namesake aside from its pebble-like shape. The Mini also made its international debut last year, but AT&T is only now bringing it to U.S. shores. It’s not necessarily a bad phone, especially at this price point—it’s just a misleading name.  The S III Mini (99 cents with 2-year contract), is decidedly low-end and is not in the same class as the HTC One Mini. It also struggles to keep up with the same-price HTC One VX and the Pantech Flex.

Design, Display, and Connectivity
Does the S III Mini resemble the original Galaxy S III? Most definitely, but so do a whole bevy of midrange Samsung devices at this point. The pebble-inspired silhouette remains, but at 4.79 by 2.48 by 0.39 inches (HWD) it’s thicker and far less impressive in its shrunken down form. The key advantage here is ergonomics—the S III Mini is easy to hold and use with a single hand. The physical Home, Volume, and Power buttons are all in same configuration as on the S III. The Mini is available in the same pebble blue color, as well.

The 4-inch display uses the same Super AMOLED technology as its full-sized sibling, but sports a far lower 800-by-480 pixel resolution. That works out 233 pixels per inch, which on paper isn’t all that bad, but the display uses a PenTile subpixel arrangement. It was a minor problem that not many people noticed on the 720p display of the S III, but on this lower resolution panel, the stippled text looks noticeably dull. Colors are as vivid and oversaturated as you’d expect, and contrast is superb with AMOLED displays. The display doesn’t get all that bright, though, and it’s hard to see outdoors in bright sunlight. The HTC One VX has a sharper and brighter 960-by-540-pixel LCD.

The S III Mini supports quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS (850/1900/2100MHz), HSPA+ 14.4, and 4G LTE on bands 2, 4, 5, and 17. In my tests, transmissions through the phone sounded muffled and overly digitized with a hint of static in the background. Noise cancellation worked well to block out ambient noise, but I detected voices through the mic dropping in and out at times in excessively noisy environments. Voices sound warm and full through the earpiece, and volume gets sufficiently loud. The rear-ported speakerphone is on the quiet side, but is relatively free of distortion even at maximum volume. You get the same option to tune the S III Mini’s audio to your own liking, but that does little for call quality through the phone’s microphone. Reception was good in my tests and LTE speeds were on par with other AT&T devices I tested at the same time. The S III Mini lasted for 12 hours, 27 minutes of continuous talk time, which is good but not quite on par with the One VX’s 14 hours, 21 minutes.

You get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi on both 2.4 and 5GHz bands, GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0. The Mini easily connected with a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, and voice dialing worked smoothly. Popping off the plastic back panel reveals a microSD card slot that worked fine with our 64GB SanDisk card.

Performance and Android
The S III Mini is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm MSM8930 processor with 1GB RAM. It’s the same setup used in the One VX and overall performance is pretty similar, with a slight edge going to the S III Mini, which is understandable since it’s running a more recent Android 4.2.2 to the One VX’s outdated 4.0.4. Neither of these is particularly fast though, as is to be expected from midrange devices running on nearly year-old hardware. The Pantech Flex runs on the same platform as the full-sized Samsung Galaxy S III and beat the S III Mini in most of our synthetic benchmarks, though gaming performance was more even due to the Mini’s lower screen resolution.

The aforementioned Android 4.2.2 is hidden under Samsung’s heavy TouchWiz skin. It’s still cartoonish and chock full of modifications, but many of them are useful and it doesn’t feel as bogged down as it has in the past. Things run relatively smoothly on the S III Mini, though there was some lag when opening apps and switching through multiple running apps—this was corroborated by a low program startup subscore in the Basemark system benchmark.

Of the 8GB of internal storage, only 4.48GB is available out of the box. A deluge of bloatware and preloads from both AT&T and Samsung are largely to blame for the sparse storage—I counted 14 AT&T branded apps, three Samsung apps, and two third-party apps. None are particularly compelling and in typical AT&T fashion, none are removable.

Multimedia and Conclusions
The S III Mini was able to play all of our music test files, including FLAC, WAV, and OGG. For video, the Mini played back H.264, MPEG4, AVI, and Xvid files at up to 1080p resolution, but it doesn’t support DivX video. In my tests, audio quality was good through wired and wireless Bluetooth headphones.

The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera delivers uninspiring, but useable shots in both good and low-light conditions. In fact, the sensor did just as well in our low-light test as it did under studio lighting—images were relatively low on noise and retained as much detail as under good light. Shots overall look bland, though, with routinely washed out colors and not much in the way of fine detail. Video tops out at 720p with a steady 30 frames per second indoors and out. Quality isn’t very good here, as exposure is slow to adjust and image stabilization is nonexistent. The VGA front-facing camera shouldn’t be relied on for anything other than video chat.

The Samsung Galaxy S III Mini is something of a misnomer. It shares some obvious lineage with its full-sized counterpart, but where the original was innovative and chock full of features, the Mini is bland, and uninspiring. It’s a letdown to the Galaxy S III name, but not an entirely bad entry-level smartphone. Still, the HTC One VX shares a similar hand friendly design, but arguably better aesthetics and a sharper LCD at the same $1 price on contract. The Pantech Flex is also available for $1 on contract, and features a faster processor and sharper AMOLED display. Unless you’re a Samsung diehard, I’d recommend one of these other options before the S III Mini.

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network GPRS, GSM, UMTS, LTE
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 4.77 x 2.46 x 0.34 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720P Rear
Battery Life (As Tested) 12 hours, 27 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 4.84 GB
Processor Speed 1.2 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8930 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider AT&T
Total Integrated Storage 8 GB
High-Speed Data GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, LTE, HSPA 14.4
Weight 3.96 oz
Screen Type Super AMOLED HD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.2.2
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 5 MP Rear-Facing
VGA Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 233 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1900, 2100
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The AT&T Samsung Galaxy S III Mini is a decent entry-level Android smartphone with an affordable price, but it doesn't come close to matching its full-sized namesake.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc