Samsung has no qualms with bandying about the Galaxy S4 name. The S4 Mini ($49.99 with two-year contract) is the latest permutation in a line that includes the ruggedized S4 Active and the odd S4 Zoom. It’s the most diminutive and ultimately the most pedestrian S4 to date, but that doesn’t mean you should write this phone off. Like its namesake, the S4 Mini offers fantastic call quality and solid battery life. It’s also so much more manageable for one-handed use, which can soften the transition for anyone coming from smaller devices. This is a midrange phone through and through, but it’s a good value and well-suited for first-time Android users who don’t obsess over specs and features.
Design, Features, and Call Quality
As you might have guessed, the S4 Mini is simply a shrunken down version of the full-sized S4, measuring 4.9 by 2.41 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.77 ounces. It mimics the button, port, and camera placements down to a tee, but comes with the same glossy plastic caveats of its full-sized counterpart—a premium device, this is not. There’s also one glaringly ugly piece of carrier customization here, as a Verizon logo is inexplicably stamped on the physical Home button.
The 4.3-inch, 960-by-540-pixel AMOLED display looks punchy, but is low on pure pixel count (256ppi). Text can look fuzzy, especially if you start venturing into websites in desktop mode, and the difference is obvious when compared with higher-end HD displays. The Kyocera Hydro Elite packs a 720p display into the same 4.3-inch frame, making for a much sharper experience.
The S4 Mini runs on Verizon’s CDMA (800/1900MHz) and LTE (700/1700MHz) networks, with global support for EDGE/GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz) and UMTS/HSPA/ HPSA+ ( 850/900/1900/2100MHz) networks. I performed call quality tests in New York City. Volume in the earpiece gets surprisingly loud without causing distortion at the top end. Voices sound full and easy to understand, and like the full-sized S4, the Mini has an option to tune call audio to your liking. Transmissions through the mic were clear as well, though noise cancellation could be better. The S4 Mini lasted for 11 hours, 55 minutes of continuous talk time, which is a very solid showing.
Also onboard is 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi that connects on both the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, as well as Bluetooth 4.0 that worked fine with a wireless headset.
Performance and Android
The dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor inside the Mini is a far cry from the full-sized S4′s Snapdragon 600 processor, but it gets the job done here. Benchmark performance was very middle of the road, with decent Web browsing speeds and some capacity for less graphically intensive games. Running Asphalt 8 results in dropped frames and unresponsiveness, but that’s to be expected here. Apps can be a bit slow to load at times, especially when quickly switching between multiple running apps.
Samsung’s polarizing TouchWiz skin is here, running atop Android 4.2.2, which is now two versions old. If you’ve handled any Samsung phone in the past year, then you’ll be right at home on the S4 Mini. Luckily, the heavy handed skin doesn’t really seem to slow things down here. It’s not all the same as the full-sized S4, though, as you’re missing out on features like split screen multitasking.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a good deal of bloatware pre-loaded onto the S4 Mini. Even worse, none of it is uninstallable. This includes apps from Amazon, IMDb, TripAdvisor, and, of course, a healthy selection of Verizon branded apps.
Multimedia and Conclusions
Of the 16GB of total storage, 11.03GB are available out of the box, but our 64GB microSD card worked without issue, so you’ll be able to expand the storage capacity if desired. The S4 Mini supports a wide range of media formats, including DivX and AVI for video and OGG and FLAC for audio.
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera takes pretty average shots, ranging from sharp and rich photos in good lighting to terribly grainy shots in low light. It’s more than enough camera phone for sharing online, but upon close inspection you’ll quickly be able to see the deficiencies. Video tops out at 1080p and frame rates were solid, even though footage tended to look pretty soft and noisy indoors and out. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is fine for Skype or Google Hangouts, but not much beyond that.
Samsung’s making a phone for every taste. The S4 Mini is a pint-sized, watered-down phone compared with its namesake, but just because it’s boring doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not everyone can stomach the full-sized S4′s price or palm-busting dimensions. For the same price you could also get the Hydro Elite, which is fully waterproof and packs a noticeably sharper display, but the S4 Mini wins out on performance, call quality, and battery life. Like any midrange device, the S4 Mini makes compromises, but it gets the core features down, making it a smart choice for a first time smartphone user.
|Phone Capability / Network||GPRS, GSM, CDMA, UMTS, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||960 x 540 pixels|
|Dimensions||4.9 x 2.41 x 0.35 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||11 hours, 55 minutes|
|Available Integrated Storage||11 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.7 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Total Integrated Storage||16 GB|
|High-Speed Data||EVDO Rev A, LTE, HSPA|
|Screen Type||Super AMOLED HD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.2.2|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP Rear|
|2 MP Front-Facing|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||256 ppi|
|Bands||800, 850, 900, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4.3 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc