Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – intro
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is sitting pretty at the top of Stuff's Top 10 Smartphone list thanks to its blazing fast quad-core processor, superb camera and innovative software, so it's no surprise to see Samsung aping it with the Galaxy S3 Mini – the S3's younger brother aimed at anyone looking for the Galaxy experience at a price and screen size that won't break the bank or stretch any fingers. But with Google changing the game once again with its ridiculously priced Nexus 4, can the Galaxy S3 Mini compete?
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – design and build
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Galaxy S3 Mini is a regular S3 that's shrunk in the dryer. With the same rounded design and slippery polycarbonate body, the two look nearly identical, bar the size difference. Despite its smaller footprint the Galaxy S3 Mini is only 20g lighter than its older brother and the two feel equally as weighty in the hand, although not uncomfortably so.
The Galaxy S3 Mini is actually slightly fatter than the regular sized S3 too, and measures in at 9.9mm. We'd put this down to having less room to play around with internally, but in all honesty, unless you're a spandex-wearing crime fighter, the S3 Mini will go unnoticed in your pocket with no problem at all.
Its miniature size makes it much easier to manage with a single thumb and it should fit comfortably in most hands. Sweaty-handed gadgeteers should still watch out for that slippery plastic though which could result in the dreaded concrete floor dance of death.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – ports and connectivity
Aside from the standard headphone jack and micro USB port, the Galaxy S3 Mini is sporting a regular-sized SIM slot and – to the joy of media hoarders – an honest-to-goodness SD card slot, which will help negate the 8/16GB of internal storage options on offer.
The latter is becoming more of a rarity as the benefits of the cloud are being pushed onto consumers, with even Google's flagship Nexus 4 and the HTC One X+ both lacking expandable storage options, so it's a nice surprise to see SD support in this mid-range offering. NFC, as with the iPhone 5, is absent – a reminder of the S3 Mini's budget status.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – screen
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini's screen lies at the heart of its miniaturisation. It shares the same pentile SUPER AMOLED display as the Galaxy S3, but has been cut down to an iPhone 5-matching 4 inches, with a rather meagre 800x400 resolution.
That's not enough to give the S3 Mini a Retina Display membership card and – coupled with its pentile display technology – means that text and icons just aren’t as sharp as those found on higher end devices. In regular use this doesn't cause much of an issue, but load up a web page and you'll be hard pressed to read small text without having to zoom in.
Still, thanks to its AMOLED DNA the Galaxy S3 Mini dishes out deep, richer blacks than those found on LCD displays as well as a little more colour saturation, which for some people is preferable. Side-by-side comparisons with the Galaxy S3 do show that the S3 Mini's colours are more washed out however.
So Samsung has gifted its mid-range phone with a more than serviceable display. But the LG-made Google Nexus 4 with its brighter 1280x768 True IPS Plus display, coupled with its game-changing £240 price tag means that you'd be settling for a less capable display for more cash by choosing the S3 Mini. Not exactly a great sell.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – camera
The Galaxy S3 Mini might only be carrying a 5MP camera, but it produces decent shots in good lighting conditions without too much noise. The white balance could do with a little tweaking as we found the regular S3's snapper produced truer whites, but overall the S3 Mini should serve your Facebook/Twitter/casual photo needs very well.
Low light shots came out with more noise than the S3's camera, but weren't completely disastrous. 720p video recording (no full HD here folks) isn't too shabby either, though we did notice the odd flicker every now and then during playback. Again though, compared to the Google Nexus 4's 8MP camera with (admittedly below par) full 1080p video recording, the S3 Mini falls more than a little short.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – OS and power
The Galaxy S3 Mini packs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean straight out of the box. No, that's not the latest, shiniest version that graces the likes of the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 or Nexus 10, but it's still recent enough to prevent you from feeling like you're missing out on a tonne of new features, especially as you're still getting Google Now.
And thanks to Samsung's TouchWiz overlay, you'll be getting a few neat tricks that not even the latest stock Android OS can provide. That's right, the Galaxy S3 Mini packs in the same extras as its larger sibling, such as the Smart Stay feature which keeps the display on if you're looking at it, and the Pop up Play window which overlays a mini video window over any open app. Which brings us on to...
... Power. The Galaxy S3 Mini is rocking a 1GHz dual-core processor which, on paper, offers substantially less fire-power than its S3 sibling and the Google Nexus 4, both of which harness mighty quad-core processors.
In regular usage however we weren't often left wanting for more grunt. True, there are a few UI lags and stutters here and there, but overall Jelly Bean is perfectly useable, bolstered by the S3 Mini's 1GB of RAM.
HD titles like The Bard's Tale were able to run at full settings, even with an episode of Futurama playing over our character's ramblings in Pop up Play mode, albeit not as smoothly as on the S3.
Can you guess what's coming next? That's right, another Nexus 4 comparison. It's 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor is an absolute beast, and will provide a much smoother experience down the line with more demanding HD titles and movies, not to mention multi-tasking.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – battery life
Battery life is an area that the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini performs well in. Our standard video test (looping a video at 50 per cent brightness with Wi-Fi and email sync on) resulted in 9 hours and 12 minutes of battery life, besting the Galaxy S3, HTC One X+ and Nexus 4 by an hour or more. Smaller screens and less grunt under the hood do have some benefits, after all.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review – verdict
The Galaxy S3 Mini is Samsung's way of providing the best-selling S3 experience to consumers on a budget and without the need for blistering specs. With its familiar design, Super AMOLED display, Jelly Bean features and decent camera, it's safe to say it's done just that.
But at £300, there's simply no way that we can recommend picking up the Galaxy S3 Mini over the Google Nexus 4, which can be picked up for £240 and £280 for the 8GB and 16GB versions respectively.
For less than the price of an S3 Mini, that'll nab you the fastest mobile processor around, a pin-sharp 4.7in display, superior 8MP camera with 1080p video recording, and of course the latest and greatest versions of uncluttered Android updates before anyone else. It's a no brainer – unless you've got freakishly small elf hands that is.
Review by Esat Dedezade.
- 121.6 x 63 x 9.9mm
- Main camera resolution
- 5MP with LED flash, 720p video, VGA (front)
- Operating system
- Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
- Screen resolution
- 800x400 233ppi
- Screen size
- 4in Super AMOLED
- 8GB/16GB with microSD slot