Review: Samsung Galaxy S3 mini
Samsung’s Galaxy S3 mini sounds like it’s the handset for fans of Samsung’s flagship Android smartphone who don’t like full S3’s large screen size. It’s not. By Craig Wilson.
You have to hand it to Samsung’s marketing department. Not only does it have its finger on the pulse, but it appears to have a sharp sense of humour to boot. Only Samsung could launch a device with a 4-inch display, one of the selling points of the iPhone 5, and call it the “mini”. Well played Samsung, well played.
The implication is that the Korean company’s pared-down version of its flagship Galaxy S3 is in the same league as Apple’s poster child. While this simply isn’t the case, it’s smart marketing. But there is little similar between the iPhone and the S3 mini.
Although the Samsung device shares the same screen dimensions as the iPhone 5, it’s 800×480-pixel resolution pales in comparison. The same can be said of most of the S3 mini’s specifications, whether comparing it to its larger sibling or Apple’s latest offering.
Rather than being pitched as a high-end smartphone for those who don’t want the 4,8-inch display of the S3, the S3 mini is actually a midrange smartphone (but with a fairly premium price). With its 1GHz processor, 5-megapixel rear camera and 8GB of internal storage (on the entry level model), the S3 mini simply is nowhere nearly in the same league as the best that Samsung and its rivals offer.
Nevertheless, it’s a superbly equipped device. The S3 mini runs version Android 4. 1 — known as Jelly Bean — and although it’s a little sluggish when compared to the bigger S3, it still offers an intuitive and elegant user interface.
Like the S3, the build quality of the mini suffers from Samsung’s excessive use of glossy plastic. Aside from feeling slippery in the hand, especially once it’s accumulated some dirt, the rear cover doesn’t offer the user confidence that it would survive a fall.
The unlock button and volume rocker have the same cheap feel as the rear cover, but are responsive and well positioned. Both are within a thumb’s reach, situated three quarters of the way up the right- and left-hand sides of the handset respectively.
From a styling perspective, the S3 mini does look distinctly like a smaller version of the S3. It shares the same curved top, bottom and edges, along with faux metal trim around the edge of the face and a single, oblong home button beneath the display. There are capacitive option and back buttons flanking the central home button that are illuminated only when the device is in use.
The S3 mini’s screen, however, is a far cry from the lush 720p offering on the S3. Offering 800×480 pixels, the S3 mini’s display is average, regardless of its Amoled pedigree. If you’re used to the resolution of any of the major manufacturers’ flagship handsets, the S3 mini’s display will disappoint. If you’re a first-time smartphone user, you’re less likely to notice – until you compare it to someone else’s top-end device.
Similarly, while the camera is capable, it doesn’t hold a candle to the 8-megapixel offerings that have become de rigeur, and for many that may be too big of a sacrifice to endure. However, it’s also worth remembering that the iPhone 4 only had a 5-megapixel shooter, and it was considered the best mobile phone for shutterbugs at the time. The results from the S3 mini are certainly in the same league as the iPhone 4, and that’s not to be sneezed at.
Of course, the lesser camera and display mean that the 1 500mAh battery is perfectly sufficient for a full day’s use, even from demanding users, and that wins the S3 mini some points.
Samsung’s TouchWiz Android overlay isn’t any more pleasing than it was when we reviewed the S3. The ability to set shortcuts to applications by swiping an icon on the lock screen is a pleasing inclusion and it’s just as easy to ignore functions like S-Voice, Samsung’s equivalent of Apple’s Siri.
One of the benefits of the S3 mini running Jelly Bean is that it includes Google Now – accessible by means of a long press of the home button. Google Now allows Google to offer information based on what it can glean from your mail, calendar and other services. This could mean warning you of a traffic jam that might delay your prompt arrival at your next meeting or reminding you of an important birthday. It’s one of our favourite features of Jelly Bean.
There’s no support for 4G/LTE networks or near-field communications like there is on the full-sized S3, but given its positioning this isn’t surprising.
Priced at R4 599 for the 8GB model and R4 999 for the 16GB model, though, we can’t help wondering why anyone would bother with this model over the bigger S3 given that the price difference is so small. You can now get the full-sized Galaxy S3 from some online retailers for less than six grand, so we also have to wonder why someone willing to spend R5 000 on a phone wouldn’t be willing to spend R6 000 on a far better one.
That’s really the problem with the S3 mini. It’s a perfectly excellent midrange smartphone, and were it billed and priced as such it would garner more of our praise. Its name, appearance and price all suggest it’s merely a diminutive S3, which it simply isn’t. The S3 mini is too expensive for what it is. It’s capable, but why settle for that when for an extra R1 000 you can have brilliance? — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Update: Soon after publishing this review, Samsung announced it was cutting the price of the 8GB Galaxy mini from R4 599 to R3 999. It also said it no longer had plans to make the 16GB version available in South Africa. The new price is more reasonable, but given this is a midrange device it still seems a little overpriced given its specifications.
- See also: Samsung Galaxy S3 reviewed