The announcement that Samsung has sold the most phones, and in particular more than double the amount of iPhones, will no doubt be of little shock.
- Samsung Galaxy S4: what we know so far
One of the secrets of Samsung’s success has to be the quality of its devices, but another is that it has targeted every corner of the market. The Samsung Galaxy range has hit every price point, from the super-budget Galaxy Y to the highest end phablet Galaxy Note 2, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini here falls somewhere in the middle.
Samsung will look to the success of the Galaxy S3, as the Galaxy S3 Mini – also referred to as the Galaxy SIII Mini – comes up against the newly launched LG made Google Nexus 4, that has completely rewritten the book for mid-priced smartphones.
It also faces some stiff competition from more established handsets such as the HTC One S, and the ageing yet still very popular Samsung Galaxy S2.
Remarkably, like the Nexus 4, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini comes in with a similar spec sheet as the iPhone 5. But it hits the price point of the two years older iPhone 4, at £315 (around AU$460/US$480) SIM-free, or free on monthly contracts from around £25 (around AU$38/US$40) per month in the UK.
Design and feel
After a quick glance at the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for its larger, higher end brother, and that is in no way a bad thing. The plastic feeling that we mentioned wouldn’t appeal to all on the S3 feels right at home on the S3 Mini.
It even comes in the same Pebble blue and Marble white variants that the Samsung Galaxy S3 launched with.
Measuring 122.55 x 63 x 9.9mm (4.82 x 2.48 x 0.39 inches), the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is by no means the largest phone, and it sits very comfortably in the hand. The 120g (4.23oz) weight also means it’s not very noticeable in the pocket, even if it is a whole 1.3mm thicker.
There’s no doubting that the Galaxy S3 Mini looks superb, its size being the only initial indication that it wasn’t intended to be a market-leading phone. In fact, we are left wondering where the compromises have been made.
The two main areas are the processor and the screen, with the dual-core 1GHz chipset and a 4-inch WVGA resolution screen being a lot less spectacular than the Samsung Galaxy S3.
We can forgive minor details like this, but given the 1.5GHz dual chip in the HTC One S, and the quad core power behind the Google Nexus 4, we’re a little more sceptical.
Elsewhere, Samsung has provided the Galaxy S3 Mini with the Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean operating system, as well as a 5MP rear camera with flash, and a VGA front camera.
As we mentioned, the Galaxy S3 Mini sits very well in the hand, its smaller size meaning that it is a lot more comfortable to hold than the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The lock/power button sits on the right side, with the volume key directly opposite on the left. The phone’s small size makes them all very easy to hit one handed.
The capacitive soft keys are out in traditional Samsung style, the Back and Menu buttons sitting either side of an elongated Home button just under the screen. Samsung has kept this layout since the original Galaxy S, and we are big fans, since it means that unlike the newer Nexus phones – the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 4 – there is no searching for the on-screen keys.
Elsewhere on the front of the Galaxy S3 Mini are the speaker and the front-facing VGA camera for Facebook profile pictures, as well as video chats through the likes of Skype.
The two main ports sit at opposite ends of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, with the micro USB sat at the bottom (next to the microphone), and the 3.5mm headphone port on the top. This again follows the standard Samsung layout shown on other Galaxy devices, and we’ve never had a problem with it.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini comes with an advantage over other mid-range devices, since it has a removable battery cover, the Google Nexus 4 being the most notable exception. The battery cover makes up the entirety of the back of the Galaxy S3 Mini, and sits tightly on the back, so there’s no chance of it popping off accidentally.
The back of the phone is a smart white (or blue) affair, housing the 5MP camera sensor, a small flash, the loud speaker and the obligatory Samsung branding.
Hidden behind the cover is the 1500mAh removable battery, which many heavy users will consider essential. Elsewhere is the SIM port (standard, not microSIM), and the microSD slot.
Unfortunately the microSD isn’t hot-swappable, which was a little frustrating. It’s located behind the battery, and isn’t a pop-in slot. This means needing to lay the microSD card flat against the Galaxy S3 Mini, and pushing it in, which can get a bit fiddly.
In all we were very impressed with the design of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, but we were more impressed with its more powerful predecessor, the Galaxy S3. The curved design sits very comfortably in the hand, and the smaller stature makes it easier to hold, with every part of the phone accessible one handed.
For those looking for a stylish phone, who don’t want a massive screen, a massive weight or a massive price tag, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini makes a more than promising first impression.
Building the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s interface upon the Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean operating system means that Samsung has tweaked its Touchwiz overlay yet again.
We’ve always been fans of Touchwiz, and anybody that has any experience of previous Samsung phones will feel almost immediately at home.
Starting from the lock screen, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini has continued the ‘inspired by nature’ theme that was present on the Galaxy S3.
Taking cues from other custom UIs such as HTC Sense, the lock screen provides quick access to up to three applications.
By default these are ChatOn – Samsung’s answer to BBM and iMessage – as well as the Google Now search engine, and the Camera app. If you’d prefer other options, these can be customised.
Interestingly, it is possible to access the camera app by holding the lock screen and rotating the Galaxy S3 Mini to landscape. We found this a little difficult to work out initially, but we soon got the hang of it.
Touching the screen brings ripple effects, and swiping across to unlock brings small ripples akin to skimming a stone.
This is accompanied by an annoying water drop sound, which you also get when pressing the varying buttons on the Galaxy S3 Mini. Thankfully these can be turned off within the settings.
It could well be the Project Butter of Jelly Bean, but after our initial concerns over the Galaxy S3 unlock and wake up speed, we didn’t find any slow down on the less powerful Galaxy S3 Mini.
The whole device wasn’t lightning fast, the compromise of having less cores, but only once did we find any real hindrance, during initial set up as all our apps downloaded and synced from Google’s cloud.
The latest Touchwiz brings across the same icons and the same feel that we found on the Samsung Galaxy S3, and we were happy to say that it felt a lot more simplified than it had on older Samsung devices.
To make it even simpler, the settings menu enables you to change the Home screen mode, between Basic and Easy mode.
We were a little bemused as there was no Advanced mode, but the idea behind Easy mode is that it makes it easier for first time users. We don’t think even the most inexperienced should need it though.
Touchwiz also brings along Samsung’s vast array of widgets to the Galaxy S3 Mini.
From Android Honeycomb, the widgets can be accessed via a tab in the app drawer, enabling you to preview the widgets, as well as providing the widget size so you know whether it’ll fit on your selected screen.
The main widget, as for just about every modern smartphone, is the clock widget. Samsung’s clock is a very smart offering, with a landscaped background reflecting the time and weather conditions of your position.
Some widgets are resizable, however there is no indication as to which these are, which is more than a little frustrating.
We might have mentioned it before, but we’re glad that the latest Touchwiz dock has been expanded.
Android has long had the ability to have five icons in the dock, yet previous iterations of Touchwiz only allowed for four, and that included the app drawer itself.
Another useful feature is the ability to put folders in the dock, freeing up more room. Folders can be made throughout the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, although they don’t have the same intuitive feel that has become prevalent on other devices, most notably in iOS.
On a Home screen, pressing the menu button or long-pressing a blank spot on the screen gives you the option to create an empty folder, and from there you can drag and drop apps into it.
Thankfully, it is a similar experience in the app drawer, and means that you can be very organised; we’ve managed to get all our apps onto one screen.
Another feature we’re pleased to see is the ability to hide apps, done by accessing the app drawer menu.
We’re big fans of this as often there are preinstalled apps that can’t be removed without rooting your device, and we know this isn’t for everyone. Having them hidden helps make the app drawer seem a lot more organised.
To display your many folders and widgets, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini permits up to seven home screens. This is a big plus in our eyes, especially as the Google Nexus 4 infamously allows only five.
Moving around home screens was smooth, no hint of any slowdown from the less powerful processor.
The infinite scroll loop is something we’re fans of, as is the scroll bar.
It’s one of Touchwiz’s less obvious features, but the dotted screen indicator on the home screens and app drawer turns into a scroll bar for even faster screen switching.
The app drawer has also had some customisation, with the ability to sort apps in any way you choose, so you can dedicate certain screens to certain apps, alphabetically or in a list.
We’re not massive fans of the custom screen, mainly because uninstalling apps then leaves a gap.
One of the key features of any Android experience, emulated on later iOS versions, is the notifications bar.
We liked the notifications experience on the Galaxy S3, but having Jelly Bean behind the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini means it has had another lick of paint.
Surprisingly, it is accessible from the lock screen.
Swiping the bar down gives access to the notifications screen, complete with the quick settings that Samsung has put in every Touchwiz iteration.
There are a lot more options than you may previously be used to, and as we mentioned before, it moves across every time you open the bar.
We could list all the available power saving options, but needless to say they cover GPS and Wi-Fi, as well as the Mobile Data and an interesting setting known as Blocking Mode.
Blocking Mode disables notifications, including calls from people other than on a set list. It can also be set to a timer, making it ideal for when you’re asleep.
Elsewhere in the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini notifications bar is a brightness toggle, as well as the very smartly laid out clock and date in the top left, opposite access to the phone’s settings.
We’re extremely disappointed that Samsung has included a brightness toggle, mainly because it is their compensation for the lack of an auto brightness setting, something we cannot get our heads around.
We really like the contrast of the greens, blues and blacks, giving a very professional finish, and the fact that the little bar at the bottom only lights up when you are swiping the bar up and down show Samsung has given it a lot of thought.
The Jelly Bean experience with swiping away notifications, and expanding notifications is also present making it easy to dismiss the spam emails, or a Facebook message that you "don’t want" when you’re at work…
The S3 Mini also has Android’s superb multi-tasking pane, accessed by long pressing the home button. From there you can open, or swipe away, all your recently opened apps, the Google Now engine or the ‘Recycle Bin’ that removes all recent apps.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini also includes Samsung’s Smart alert feature; pick up the phone with a missed call or text and it vibrates gently to let you know.
Samsung has also included a whole set of other features, such as the ability to have the battery percentage in the notifications bar, and the Smart stay eye-tracker.
While we’re sure this helps the battery life, we found it a little inconsistent.
Maybe it was the poor sensor on the front of the device, but we found that even while looking at the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini head on, the little Smart Stay Icon didn’t always appear, yet it sometimes appeared while it was sat a few feet away on the table.
The Korean firm has also upped its motion control throughout certain apps, which we will go into more detail later, but the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini enables you to mute calls or music just by flipping the phone over. It’s not a new feature, yet is very handy.
In all, Samsung has really paid attention to the UI, in order to differentiate itself from the other Android manufacturers. The customisation has always helped Samsung stand out, and the dual core processor coupled with Android Jellybean rarely suffered.
Contacts and calling
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini follows on in the same way that the Samsung Galaxy S3 did for its contacts, and we weren’t massive fans.
This was mainly because Samsung provided a fairly standard list of contacts drawn in from varying social networks, such as Facebook and Google+.
We commented on its lack of appearance on the Galaxy S3, so we’re not entirely shocked.
Each contact is adorned with a profile picture, taken from either the Google assigned image or their Facebook profile picture.
The images are small and low resolution, another disappointment given the larger images found on the Google Nexus 4. The contact list also shows you which accounts are linked to each contact.
Opening up the contact provides that contact’s details. The tiny low-res picture is still out in full force, leaving a massive gap to the side.
We said it on the Galaxy S3, and now again on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, but we’re disappointed not to have a longer image, with the gap being left to Google+ updates (for those who have Google+ contacts).
We’re big fans of the ability to choose the contacts image, though. Well, to an extent anyway.
By default the image is the Google image, meaning should you find that John from Accounting’s Facebook picture is actually his cat, it is entirely possible to change that to choosing the Google image.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini does suffer a little in the social integration side, compared the HTC One S, as status updates aren’t shown within the contacts details. HTC Sense seems to have nailed contact social integration.
We could bemoan the Samsung’s contact list for being a bit poorer than other offerings, but it is a very functional app and based upon the fantastic Android offering.
This means that contacts can be sorted into groups, have favourites or widgets, or go so far as to assigning different contacts their own individual ringtone and vibration pattern.
Contacts from different accounts can all be merged, however there aren’t any link suggestions unless you go via each contact manually. Again this is something that HTC has perfected with each Sense iteration
Samsung has also introduced a certain level of motion control to its Contacts app, with a side swipe to the left or right initiating a call or message to the chosen contact.
It is also possible to call a contact, simply by placing the phone to the ear when the contact details are on screen, although we found this to be a little erratic.
Samsung wouldn’t be able to call the Galaxy S3 Mini a smartphone if there were no calling options. It would just be a smart, and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Thankfully the Korean firm seemed to have given it a decent amount of attention.
We made a few calls, and while we might not have been blown away by the call quality, there were very few problems.
Within the call are the standard Android options – Headset, Keypad, Speaker, Mute and End Call.
The contact’s image is large, and right in the centre, meaning a quick glance at the screen is often more than enough to help you decide whether you want to answer or not.
And with Samsung’s motion control, call rejection is as easy as turning the phone over.
Unfortunately, again, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s call screen has no social network interactivity.
The status updates that we have often used as conversation starters weren’t present, so we actually had to think of stuff to say. Daunting.
Just about the biggest problem we seemed to have was the signal, while not always being as high as we might have expected (on Orange/EE), we noticed that we had signal more times than we had expected, and we never suffered from dropped calls.
Within the Phone app, the smart Jelly Bean dialler screen is in effect, meaning a smart blue and white T9 pad, that supports smart dialling.
Typing 323 bringing up both ‘Dad’, as well as any contacts with 323 within the contact number.
While many would consider it a staple of the smartphone diet, its inclusion on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is well received given that it doesn’t appear on iOS or Windows Phone devices, and not even on the oft referenced Google Nexus 4.
We were also impressed by the inclusion of a dialler widget. We can’t really see any major need for one, given that the phone icon is something that is likely to be on the ever present dock, but it was a nice touch.
The front facing camera is a massive clue that the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini supports video calls.
We’d suggest that the majority of video conversations will take place over apps such as Skype, but can be made direct from the dialler screen, and over 3G. The VGA camera isn’t exactly the sharpest, but given the tiny screen size we doubt that will be too much of a problem.
Messaging has to be one of the key aspects of any modern smartphone experience, if only because it now comes in more shapes and sizes than the smartphones it appears on. The standard SMS and MMS of old is now joined by its IM and Email compatriots.
In much the same way that the Galaxy S3 was one of the best messaging devices around, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini follows in close pursuit.
All the messaging forms we mentioned earlier are available, with ChatON and GTalk being the IM options, as well as a well integrated Email, and of course Gmail, app.
Despite there once being rumours of a launch, there is no BBM on Android, and obviously no iMessage.
We envision that most messaging will take place through Samsung’s SMS messaging app. It will never win the Miss SMS World title, but the blue and yellow bubbles against the black background are back. There are also a limited number of bubble and background customisation options, should you so desire.
Sending group messages is also very easy – selecting the small icon that looks a little like the contacts icon brings up your contact list, meaning you can choose to text multiple people, even from favourites and recently contacted people.
Samsung obviously hopes that ChatON takes off, but at this moment we struggled to find any ChatON contacts, even though we know many people using other Samsung Galaxy devices. It also comes in direct competition with cross OS apps such as WhatsApp and Kik, so we wonder if we’ll ever use it.
Android’s GTalk is also available through the Gmail site, and as a standalone PC app, so we found that there were a few more people online, signified by a small green dot within the contacts page, or via the dedicated app.
Google+, should you use it, is also built in, with its own separate Messenger app. It’s a very smart looking, well designed app but we were unsure as to whether our contacts were online.
We’re also a little bemused as to the inclusion of two Google messaging apps, but maybe as Google+ takes off, the two apps will be integrated.
To bash out all your messages on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, you will need a keyboard, and if you’re looking to type out masses and masses of texts and emails, you’ll want a decent one. This is where Samsung has let its Galaxy devices down before, and it continues to do so here.
The Samsung keyboard is highly usable, and generally rather accurate, but it lacks the almost exact accuracy and autocorrect options found on the HTC One S and other HTC devices. It’s also disappointing to note that there were no third party offerings, especially seeing as there are some superb offerings from the likes of SwiftKey.
Samsung’s offering does have all the features you might expect from a higher end device, such as predictive text, continuous input (the Korean firm’s answer to Swype) and handwriting recognition to name but a few. We were also impressed with the ability to swipe the entire keyboard to the side, in order to switch between different keyboard aspects; it’s a slightly easier option than finding the tiny button in the corner.
One of the major bonuses of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s screen size is that it means the keyboard can be used one handed. Unfortunately the compromise is that it makes it slightly more squashed, which given the poorer autocorrect, meant we had to type a little slower.
Google has been offering voice typing and search long before Apple’s Siri software, and the advent of Android Jelly Bean means that voice typing is supported without a data connection, so we found it confusing that after disabling data, the Galaxy S3 Mini told us that it couldn’t communicate with Google. This was very disappointing.
The keyboard unsurprisingly comes with a landscape mode, which is easier to operate two handed, and means that the screen size isn’t so much of an issue. We found though, that like its bigger brother, the Galaxy S3, the S3 Mini was still a little uncomfortable to use.
If you hadn’t guessed it yet, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is very much an Android device, meaning it comes with the superb built in Email features that Google has to offer. These are in the form of the well formed Email app, and the Gmail app for all your Google-y stuff.
We’ll start with the latter, as it is a far better app. Google has put a lot of thought into it, and there is support for everything that you get on your desktop, including the superb Google labelling system. You can sideswipe between messages, and mark unread to remind you to read later.
One gripe we have is that HTML formatted emails don’t display automatically, it’s great if you’re on a severely limited data allowance, but on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini we don’t foresee that, and the ‘problem’ persists over Wi-Fi.
As for the inbuilt Email app, there is just about everything that you could want, including an aggregated inbox, folders, varying font sizes…
The message layout is a simple affair, showing who they’re from, the subject line and first line of the email. We don’t need much from an email client, and this will more than suffice.
The ability to group messages as conversations is one that has been present on Google’s mail app for a while, and we’re glad to see it makes its way over. You can also swipe between messages just like in Gmail.
The HTML issue we mentioned earlier is also prevalent in the standard Email app, and while not a major issue, it can still get a tiny bit frustrating.
Overall the Email app is clean and well put together, but there are much better offerings on other devices, namely on the iOS and HTC devices we’ve mentioned once or twice.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, first toted on the Google Nexus 7, became the first Android iteration that came with the mobile version of Google’s much loved Chrome browser, and while there has been support for it since ICS, we’re a little dismayed to see that it isn’t the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s native browser.
That’s not to say that Samsung’s browser is a poor affair. We’ve long been mentioning how impressive the stock Android browser is, and Samsung’s tweaks have made it even better. For starters, the browser signs into your Google account and syncs across your bookmarks.
This is a major bonus, as it means that you no longer have to manually add all your bookmarks across. You can also access the device history and save pages for offline browsing, great if you have less data on offer with your contract, or PAYG.
The UI is clean, with the URL bar disappearing when you scroll down the page, and reappearing when you reach the top of the page. We were a little disappointed to see Samsung’s "double tap the top of the phone" feature doesn’t work within the browser.
We were also disappointed with the text reflow, simply because it doesn’t exist. Pinch to zoom works great, but unlike other devices we have tried, namely HTC devices, the text doesn’t automatically fit to screen. We even found that the double tap that usually worked on Samsung devices doesn’t work either.
The minor downside to the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini when it comes to web browsing isn’t the lack of 4G (it does come packed with 3G and HSPA 14.4), it’s the screen. The pin sharpness of higher end devices, including the Google Nexus 4, isn’t evident on the Galaxy S3 Mini.
It’s a little disappointing really, the Super AMOLED screen is bright, but the WVGA resolution means its loses a little clarity, especially when text and images are zoomed in. Strangely, the browser has a built in brightness toggle, which apes the toggle in the notifications bar. Needless to say we’re a little bemused by its inclusion.
The browser plugged along nicely, with the lesser powered dual-core processor not seeming to struggle with loading pages, and they loaded fast over both Wi-Fi and 3G connections. Loading the full desktop TechRadar page over Wi-Fi took around seven seconds, so while not blistering pace, we didn’t find ourselves wishing it along either.
Offline viewing is another feature that has gained some prominence recently, especially for those travelling on underground trains, or even over-ground trains that are famous for unreliable data connections.
Initially the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini didn’t want to save pages, but we persevered and it got there eventually. Unfortunately it only saves the pages as images, meaning there is no ability to open links within the page, even when your data connection returns.
Tabbed browsing is also supported on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, even if we didn’t realise it at first. It’s not immediately obvious, as in Google Chrome, but pinching in, the opposite of pinching to zoom, brings up a shot of the page that enables you to swipe between tabs, and close with the little red minus symbol.
As for Flash, we know it’s dying throughout the web, and most people these days are unlikely to miss it, but there is no support.
In all, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini provides a more than adequate internet experience. For a mid-ranged phone we weren’t expecting our socks to be blown out of the water, or however you say it.
The browser does a very good job, but it’s missing key features, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend trying out Google’s mobile Chrome browser.
The question we asked ourselves with the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini was whether the 5MP camera offering was expected or not. Generally we’re not surprised, given the fact that the Galaxy S3 had 8MP, but then so does the Galaxy S2. Maybe that says more about the Galaxy S3 than its Mini brother.
Decent cameras aren’t measured on the size of their sensors though, so we were curious to see how much damage, if any, 3 missing megapixels would do.
Before we go any further on reviewing the camera, and getting into its finer details, we have to mentioned a slight niggle we had.
We can be a bit all fingers and thumbs sometimes, so maybe it was that, but the camera placement, coupled with the size and shape of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, meant that occasionally we caught a snap of our digits.
We also scared ourselves on more than one occasion. The camera app has an amazing ability to remember whether you had the front or rear sensor engaged, meaning we often opened the app to find the screen plastered with a lower resolution screen filled with our ‘beautiful’ face.
Joking aside, we can envisage this being a real problem if you need to take a quick snap, yet had left the camera in the wrong mode.
The camera app itself is, visually, slightly disappointing. We were hoping for the same dark colours and high contrasts that graces the Galaxy S3 Mini’s dialler app and notifications bar, but the app has a much less exciting dark grey colour.
That said, the app is pretty well stocked feature wise. It has both autofocus, as well as selective focus should you wish to focus off centre.
This is a feature we’ve always liked on touchscreen smartphones, and is generally included, however we do occasionally stumble across the odd device without it, which makes us more thankful for its inclusion.
As for features, Samsung has a habit of throwing in a decent amount of them, and the Galaxy S3 Mini isn’t the exception that proves this rule.
There’s the flash (we’ll get to that later), shooting mode (and we’ll get to that as well), colour effects (the usual), as well as scene modes, auto/macro focus, timer, white balance, ISO, GPS tagging and guidelines.
In all, there are a lot of features that grace every compact camera. The shooting modes are Single Shot, Continuous, Panorama, Buddy Photo Share, Smile Shot and Cartoon. Single Shot and Continuous are fairly self explanatory, as is the Panorama mode. Cartoon Mode makes the image seem almost hand drawn.
The two most interesting modes are Smile Shot and Buddy Photo Share. Smile Shot is for those who, well, don’t smile so much. This mode sets the camera to automatically capture an image when the subject smiles, which is great if you need to spend your time and energy making them smile. Buddy mode is very similar in that it shoots when it detects faces, and allows for photo tagging.
There’s by no means the same level of photo options are there are on the Galaxy S3, but as this isn’t Samsung’s flagship device, we can accept that.
We did like the quick access from the lock screen – holding the screen while rotating the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini opened the camera app, freeing up a space for another app on the screen.
Overall we were very impressed with the camera. The three missing megapixels we mentioned earlier aren’t missed, as all our test shots turned out clear, and dare we say it, are good enough that you wouldn’t worry had you left your compact camera at home.
Maybe worry if you’ve left a DSLR at home, though.
Happily, Samsung has taken the majority of the stills camera settings across to the Galaxy S3 Mini’s video recorder, including the flash. Well, it would have been silly not to. Recording up to 30fps, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s video camera is no slouch.
Samsung knows that when you create videos on your Galaxy S3 Mini, chances are you are probably going to then forward that video on to friends, so it provides the ability to limit your videos in recording mode, making a very useful way of optimising for MMS.
YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/embed/lKyE9hGqnro
We’re not so sure people still use MMS to share videos these days, especially since the rise of YouTube, Facebook and other social networking sites. Sadly there is no setting to optimise for these sites, but you can choose video resolution from 1280 x 720, 720 x 480, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240.
In all honesty we can’t see why you would want the lower resolution videos, unless you were trying to hide something.
Samsung has also proved the Galaxy S3 Mini with the same colour effects, and again while they provide no real use to the recording, playing with the effects put a smile on our face and made things seem a little otherworldly.
The more useful settings include timers, exposure, white balance and guidelines. We know that the majority of users, like us, probably won’t really use these functions, but we like tweaking them to make ourselves sound more professional when we show off to our three friends.
Samsung is famed for its media phones, the Galaxy S2 being its first major success, now being capitalised upon by the Galaxy S3 and the massive (and massively superb) Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Samsung has got a lot to live up to then.
Initially we were a tiny bit sceptical, the lower specs of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini not lending itself to a phone that can create and consume media.
Obviously the big disappointment here, when comparing to its high end brethren, is the poorer screen. Thankfully it is still bright enough, with a superb viewing angle, that it doesn’t detract from the entire experience.
A quick note to the internal storage, we mentioned on our Samsung Galaxy S3 review that the OS took up 5GB of space.
Thanks to the optimisation of Jelly Bean and other measures, this has been cut to ‘just’ 3GB on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, but that does mean the 8GB version only sports 5GB internal storage.
Storage has always been where Samsung has beaten Apple, and now HTC and Google. Yes, we know that the Cupertino brand has up to 64GB of storage, if you can afford it, but the Koreans have taken the microSD route, enabling you to throw oodles more space its way.
As for the free headset, Samsung has also managed to create a perfectly decent set of earphones. They sit comfortably and come with varying sized ear buds, and sound clear without having to reinvent the experience.
The first thing to notice is that as soon as you connect your headphones to the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, the preinstalled media options all pop up in the notifications bar, providing very easy access to YouTube, Music Player, Video Player, Video Hub or FM Radio.
It’s a little touch, but one that we’re pleased Samsung has thrown in, as it helps make the media experience seem a lot smarter, a lot more intuitive. Firing up the music player and you are greeted with a rather attractive piece of software, albeit just a fancy stock Android player.
This also brings up a little bar in the notifications area, as it has on Samsung Galaxy phones for years. From here you can Play/Pause and skip tracks. There is also a widget to accompany it, which again we were glad to see. Our only slight disappointment was the inability to control directly from the lock screen.
Within the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini’s music player are the usual shuffle, repeat and something very strange known as the Music Square. We’ve seen it before, and basically it ranks your music by its tone, so that if you’re after something Calm and Joyful, the Galaxy S3 Mini will pull up the song you want. It’s a little hit and miss at the moment, but we’ll keep an eye on it.
The music player also offers an impressive array of equalizer settings, in an area Samsung has termed Sound Alive. There are quite a long list of settings, such as Pop, Rock, Jazz through to Virtual 7.1 and Concert Hall. There’s even a custom setting, should you really feel the need to go to town with it.
Another area we were taken with was the DLNA options. Opening the music app to begin, you are faced with the standard Android options of all your music, playlists, albums, artists, the aforementioned music square, folders, and nearby devices.
It’s the nearby devices tab we’ve found most interesting, as it can access the media folders of DLNA enabled devices on your network. Again we found it easier to stream content from the Samsung Galaxy S2 to other devices, but streaming was superb.
From within the settings screen, you can set the play speed from 0.5x to 2x speed, which doesn’t add a whole lot of functionality, but is a nice hark back to the days of vinyl records. It also shows that should your tracks have embedded lyrics, these can be called up (not from an online database like on Motorola devices).
Samsung has also provided the ability to have the music turn off automatically, ideal if you need something to just help you drift off to slumber-land.
In all we’re really impressed by Samsung’s efforts here. Yes there are tricks that maybe we have seen on other devices that we would love to see here, but then we don’t want another round of patent wars.
FM Radios are now becoming an almost standard feature on modern smartphones, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is no exception. As always, you need some headphones plugged in, though that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t play music through the rear speaker.
In terms of functionality, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini found every station we expected it to. The app interface is also well designed, and we loved the ability to record the station, for playback later.
We mentioned in our Samsung Galaxy S3 review that the stock video player was by far one of the best we have seen around, so we weren’t surprised to see that carried over to the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
It comes with support for H.264, MPEG-4, H.263, VC-1, WMV7, WMV8, Sorenson Spark, MP43 and VP8 straight out of the box.
The layout of the video player on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is very sleek and futuristic.
The round buttons are large enough on the smaller screen and the slider is easy to use. Despite the lower resolution, the sAMOLED screen is bright and reproduces colours very well.
True movie aficionados will want the high end devices, but we didn’t find the screen detracted from the movie experience.
One of Samsung’s biggest selling points on all newer Galaxy devices, which is present on the Galaxy S3 Mini, is the Pop Up Player, accessed by the small button in the bottom right.
This means that you can continue watching your video while you browse the phone.
In all honesty we can’t see it being used a lot on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, it seems to be a feature that would be more at home on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, where the screen size is large enough to cope.
That said, it was handy on the off chance that one of our three friends had texted us when we were halfway through watching Eastenders.
DLNA streaming is also present in the video player, providing a much slicker experience than the music player.
Overall, despite not being a flagship, market leading device, Samsung has put a lot of attention into the little details that make the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini a joy to use.
Given that HTC has Watch, Apple has iTunes, and the Play Store now has a movies section, we can see why Samsung wants to get in on the movie download and streaming market. In all though, we don’t see why.
Movies aren’t cheap, around £8 to buy, and they’re generally more expensive than their Play Store counterparts. If Samsung really wants to make a lot of money from Video, we’d have to say that it’s going to have to do a bit more work.
DLNA is a massive part of the high end Samsung Galaxy experience these days.
It was once a dedicated app on the Samsung Galaxy S2. In many ways, we preferred that approach. It kept it all the streaming options bundled together, and seemed a little tidier.
Being able to stream music wirelessly to or from a PC, TV, or other DLNA enabled device is a fancy feature, and one that we envision could one day prove to be a big hit (start writing your sci-fi novels now and in 10 years we’ll look back like we do with Back to the Future. Now where’s our hoverboard?)
Battery life and connectivity
Finding only a 1500mAh battery with the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini left us a little confused. We double checked, and the Galaxy S2 came with a bigger, 1650mAh battery. We couldn’t fathom why Samsung wouldn’t have just kept that in.
However, our initial concerns were quickly allayed. The dual-core innards and the smaller screen, coupled with Samsung’s battery-saving tech, meant that it lasted during a day’s use, and we did find ourselves sending messages on the Wi-Fi for a considerable period.
When we say considerable period, we had the screen on full brightness when we took the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini off charge, and with mobile data enabled, we checked our emails and disappeared.
After around six hours of leaving it, we then proceeded to take a few photos, and send IM messages over Wi-Fi, and texts every minute or so (those three friends we have are very clingy). We didn’t adjust the screen brightness, mainly because we were so used to having an auto-brightness feature. No, we still can’t get our heads around that one.
We were left impressed, as the phone didn’t show any signs of dying until around 9pm, despite the relatively heavy afternoon use (we’ve done less on the aforementioned S2 and had that die on us by 6pm). Android Jelly Bean, Samsung’s tech and the innards really do the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini a favour.
Again we’re going to mention the screen brightness issue. We’re big fans of auto-brightness features, as they can really help the battery life. Having total control over the brightness meant that we generally left the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini at its brightest setting. We can get a bit lazy.
Having the power toggles in the notifications window is something we are seeing more and more on newer handsets, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is no exception, having been present in Galaxy devices as long as we can remember.
From here disabling Wi-Fi, mobile data, GPS, Bluetooth, account syncing and the like put power management right in your hands.
We were also pleased to see the ability to put the phone into power saving mode right from the notifications window too. Within the power saving mode are a variety of standard features, and more interestingly the ability to limit the CPU power to eke out the last few drops of battery juice.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini could be described as lacking in the connectivity department, as there is no 4G availability, but at least a new version of the phone, which is now available and doesn’t cost any more, contains NFC.
This means things like S Beam, making it easy to share content super quickly between Galaxy devices, is possible, as well as programmable TecTiles allowing you to tap to enable music, workout mode or more.
There are a variety of other options though, such as Wi-Fi Direct, that unsurprisingly uses Wi-Fi to transfer files. Unfortunately there are a limited range of devices that support this at the present time, although they are most notably on other Samsung Galaxy phones, including the two-year-old Galaxy S2.
For Wi-Fi bases connections, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini has 802.11a/b/g/n 2.4 + 5GHz support, which meant that the Wi-Fi signal was incredibly stable, a lot more so than we’ve detected on other devices. Although 4G isn’t on offer, Samsung has provided full 3G support, right up to HSPA 14.4.
Connecting your Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini to the PC is done either through the provided microUSB cable, or via KIES Air, Samsung’s proprietary software that enables wireless file transfer. USB support is only available to USB 2.0 so don’t expect superfast transfers.
While connected via USB, you can put the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini into either MTP or Camera mode. The former provides a standard mass storage device approach, with the latter enabling you to use any camera software you have to pull images off the device.
The microUSB port also offers other functionality that we first saw Samsung debut on its Galaxy S2. These come in the form of HD mirroring through an MHL lead to your TV, which is ideal for playing your movies on a big screen.
Elsewhere, you can also connect USB flash drives to the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, meaning unlimited data storage if you so choose.
Downsides to this are that both require additional hardware, which doesn’t come bundled in the box. We managed to find them easy enough online though, and they’re relatively cheap, with the more expensive MHL lead being around £20, or cheaper if you buy an unofficial version.
For the travellers among us, you’ll be pleased to hear that GPS and GLONASS support is available. We’ve heard that GLONASS – a Russian developed, a slightly less accurate but similar to GPS, system – is necessary to avoid import taxes to Russia, but it means that location tracking is even faster.
We’ve already mentioned DLNA capabilities, but for media streaming the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini also comes equipped with Bluetooth to 4.0 as standard.
The phone can even be turned into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, but we guess you might have already presumed that, given the impressive connectivity so far.
Apps and maps
We’re often left disappointed with the amount of preinstalled software being shipped with not just phones and tablets, but all manners of tech hardware these days.
We’re all for cost saving, but not if it comes at the expense of other features. Thankfully the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini isn’t over populated.
There are the standard Google applications, such as the insanely popular (yes, sarcasm) Google+, GTalk, Gmail, various Play apps and the Android Voice search and recorder.
Samsung has put its own toys in, such as the Game Hub, Video Hub, ChatON, Samsung Hub, S Planner, S Suggest and S Voice.
Each of the hubs provides you with access to Samsung operated stores, where you can download music or games.
Honestly, we don’t see you venturing from the Play Store, as it is very well populated these days.
As for ChatON, we mentioned that earlier, and as we concluded, we don’t see it being a major rival for BBM or iMessage as we don’t know many people – even with Samsung phones – who use it.
S Suggest is yet another Samsung operated store, that takes its app suggestions from social networking sites.
Enabling you to log in via Facebook means that it can aggregate data from what your friends are playing, and suggest games that you might like.
The more interesting Samsung offerings are the S Planner and S Voice.
S Planner is Samsung’s own calendar app, syncing in calendars from your Google accounts as well as Facebook, local calendars and contacts’ birthdays.
S Voice is the Korean answer to Siri. We found it a little less responsive than the Apple offering, but it has come on in leaps and bounds since we first used it on the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The alarm clock is an attractive app, with a large clock at the top to set the time, set against a background that shows whether it’s set for night or day. Night appears to be between 6pm and 6am.
The alarm comes with all the features you’d expect, including Smart Alarm, which starts the alarm a few minutes early, increasing in volume to wake you up gently.
Google’s offerings are a fairly standard affair, being available on every Android device, not just the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
Google offers the Play Store, as well as Play Movies and Play Books, both of which take you to downloadable content.
Arguably the most important Google app to make its way to any Android device is Google Maps.
Given that iOS mapping has taken a massive hit recently, and Nokia has now purchased Here, we were hoping for a decent service here.
Unfortunately – for Apple and Nokia – the Google based mapping service on the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is the fantastic affair that has graced many an Android device before.
We’re not going to talk in great detail about what the mapping service provides, but it covers local information on bars and restaurants, supports 3D mapping, traffic, and comes with its own built in sat nav app, Navigation.
GPS, coupled with GLONASS and Google’s other location services meant that we were never lacking for location based signal, even when sat in the depths of our panic room. OK, it’s more just a cupboard under the stairs.
As for the Navigation software, we’ve always been impressed by Google’s effort, not least because it’s free. The influx of other sat nav apps, including some free apps, on the Play Store do provide some stiff competition, but for when you’re in a spot of bother, Google will easily sort you out.
For driving, it taps into traffic data, and can tell you how long your route is set to take. This means if you pull to the side of the road – we’re safe drivers – you can easily reroute. We’d have liked active rerouting, but for free we’re not arguing.
One of the other major bonuses of the Google software is that you can ask it to plan routes for driving, walking and cycling. Since the app is technically still in Beta, though, it advises caution.
Samsung Galaxy S3 mini vs Samsung Galaxy S3
They may look similar, but there’s a whole host of differences between the Galaxy S3 mini and its bigger, more powerful brother – the Samsung Galaxy S3.
A quick glance at the handsets and there’s very little to choose between the two, apart from the obvious size difference.
See them on their own though and you may struggle to tell which handset a person has in their hand without some closer inspection.
One of the key ways to distinguish which handset you’re ogling is the location of the front facing camera and sensors. On the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini there are to the left of the ear piece, while on the Galaxy S3 you’ll find them on the right.
Flip them over and you’ll note there is a subtle layout change on the Galaxy S3 mini, with the speaker grill swapping with single LED flash to sit on the left of the camera, while the flash finds a new home below the lens.
While this reduces the risk of the flash being accidentally covered in landscape mode, hold the Galaxy S3 mini in portrait and you may find your hand blocks the light.
The 4.8-inch screen on the Galaxy S3 wowed us, our Phones and Tablets Editor Gareth Beavis branded it "beautiful" during his review, but the HD display didn’t make it to the S3 mini.
Size takes a hit, but that’s to be expected, with the Galaxy S3 mini sporting a 4-inch display, but slightly disappointingly resolution is also downgraded with a WVGA offering, which means it’s less spectacular than the S3.
That said despite the lower resolution, the Super AMOLED screen is bright and reproduces colours very well which makes for a more than acceptable user experience.
When the Galaxy S3 was launched power was the name of the game, with the flagship handset boasting a punchy 1.4GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM.
Initial reports suggesting the Galaxy S3 mini would be similarly powered turned out to be false with a certain amount of dialling down occurring, leaving the handset with a 1GHz dual-core chip and 1GB of RAM.
While the Galaxy S3 mini may have a more modest offering under the hood it doesn’t detract from the overall experience as Android still runs smoothly – although it lacks the lightening pace of the S3.
Here the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini actually has the upper hand as it launched with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean already on board.
The original Galaxy S3 came to market running Ice Cream Sandwich, and while it can now be upgraded to Jelly Bean, the S3 mini is the winner.
Samsung has splashed its TouchWiz interface over Android on both handsets which gives a pretty much identical experience – although the Galaxy S3 mini misses out on some of the fancy features such as pop-up play and displaying two apps on screen at once.
The Galaxy S3 came with a pretty decent 8MP rear camera and front facing 1.9MP option, but neither were much of a step up from the Galaxy S2, and we sort of expected the Galaxy S3 mini to sport the same.
Sadly though Samsung decided to plump for the 5MP lens round the back for the dinky device, while the front option has a paltry VGA resolution.
Gone too is the full HD video recording, with the Galaxy S3 mini only managing 720p with its rear sensor, but at least it retains the single LED flash.
Quality of photos and videos therefore suffers and while results aren’t disastrous on the Galaxy S3 mini, we’re left feeling a little deflated as we imagine what could have been.
Samsung released a 4G variant of the Galaxy S3 allowing users to harness the superfast network, but it decided not to give the same treatment to the more affordable Galaxy S3 mini.
Perhaps the much rumoured Galaxy S4 mini will see the Korean firm finally dabble in affordable 4G handsets.
No surprise, the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini packs a smaller battery than it’s more powerful brother – with a 1,500mAh removable option hidden under the plastic rear.
What is surprising however is that Samsung didn’t just stick with the 1,650mAh option it rammed into the Galaxy S2 – luckily though the Galaxy S3 mini still manages to last a day.
Hands on gallery
Finally to the bit that we’ve all been waiting for, our final Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini verdict. If you’ve stayed with us throughout, thank you from the bottom of our heart, if you’ve skipped… well we might have done the same thing once upon a time.
We’ve put the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini through its paces, and we’re pleased to say that it has coped. We might have been a tad sceptical over certain issues – if you don’t know what we mean, you haven’t been paying enough attention – but we’re pleased to say that it manages to hold its own.
Given that the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is based upon the Galaxy S3, and we loved the design of that, we can safely say we really liked the design of the Galaxy S3 Mini. Its smaller stature than its bigger brother means it sits a lot more comfortably in the hand, and is more than operable one handed.
MicroSD support is something that we thought would be almost second nature to modern smartphones, but notably Apple and Google have omitted it from their latest devices – it’s one of the reasons the Google Nexus 4 failed to garner our coveted five-star rating.
Samsung has also worked its way through Touchwiz, with the UI now being of the most popular on the market. It more than holds its own against HTC’s Sense, which we have been known to wax lyrical about on more than one occasion.
We also love that the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini ships with Android Jelly Bean right out of the box. Yes we could mention that the Nexus 4 has a later version, but the HTC One S still ships with the older Ice Cream Sandwich. The S3 Mini is also one of the most connected devices we have ever tested.
Samsung has yet to create an amazing keyboard, with its current offering being functional, yet nothing spectacular. It might be to Samsung’s credit that the first thing that we thought of when writing this section was the keyboard, but the Korean firm should really take a few cues from HTC and SwiftKey.
We also disliked the Samsung Hubs. We can see why they would be put there, yet given that the Play Store is going from strength to strength, and is a fantastic alternative to iTunes, we don’t ever envision a time where you’d choose to open the Samsung Hub instead.
We’re also going to mention the screen resolution. Samsung has put a fantastic screen onboard, but the WVGA resolution is a downer in our eyes. It makes things seem a little less crisp, and while we’d usually gloss over this, the Nexus 4 has rewritten many books.
We really liked the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. It ticks all the right boxes, and comes in at a very decent price. The truth of the matter is, though, that it’s launching right smack bang against the Google phone, the Nexus 4.
Every time we looked at the Galaxy S3 Mini we were impressed. It beats the Nexus 4 in many areas, it has microSD support and a fantastic interface, but the Nexus has the impressive stock Android.
If you looked right at the score and thought that maybe we had scored it a little low, given that in many areas we looked and commented on how the Galaxy S3 Mini has done so well, we’ve had to put that in some kind of context.
Would we recommend buying one? Yes definitely. Would we recommend buying it over the Nexus? Not really. But it’s as powerful as the iPhone 5? True…
It’s very disappointing because, had this launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy S3, or had the Nexus 4 come in at the same price tag as other phones packed with the same tech inside, we could easily see this being one of the biggest hits of the year.