If you happen to own a Galaxy S III, it might be useful to get it out of your pocket or handbag and rest it on some surface beside you -- now, if that's possible. For a lot of what we are about to describe will otherwise seem eerily familiar. But, rather than labor the GS3 comparisons right from the off, we'll give the Galaxy S III mini the individual attention it's entitled to, and then we'll see how (and maybe why) it differs.
Previous Galaxy phones have typically been pretty subdued when it comes to the design flair. They've been relatively nondescript oblongs of plastic, furnished with the requisite details to let you, the user, make calls, browse the web and otherwise get on with your mobile life. The third iteration of the Galaxy S line was the first major departure from this comfortable, familiar arrangement, but one that was welcome. This same design language -- the curved top and bottom, the metal-look accents, et cetera -- is in full effect here.
It's handsome enough.
All told, the Galaxy S III mini is a handsome enough device. Our review model was the marble white version (pebble blue is also available), which looks bright and modern in person. The smooth lines along the top and bottom make the whole thing feel like one continuous shape, almost circle-like, which again makes it feel much more like part of Samsung's 2012 lineup than, say, the Galaxy Beam. Dimensions-wise, it's 2.4 inches wide by 4.7 inches tall, and just a touch over a third of an inch deep. A large device -- unsurprisingly -- this is not. Those measurements are what frame this phone's defining feature -- a 4-inch Super AMOLED PenTile display, which we'll talk about in more detail later on.
Above this screen is the grille for the earpiece, the front-facing (VGA) camera and a couple of sensors. Below it, the familiar Samsung "home" button, as well as two capacitive buttons: one for "menu," the other for back. Neither are visible until the screen is activated, at which point their backlighting will bring them to your attention. The rest of the device's personality comes from the metallic detail around the home button, and around the outermost part of the bezel.
The flanks have the familiar configuration of volume rocker on the left-hand side, and the dual-function power and standby control over on the right. Down at the bottom is a micro-USB port and mic hole, while at the opposite end you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and indentation for popping open the back. Which, kinda brings us neatly on to that very section of the phone. By and large, it's an ocean of white plastic around here, with only the 5-megapixel camera, speaker grille, LED flash and corporate branding serving to break up those otherwise calm, white battery-cover waters. Underneath which is where you'll find the full-sized SIM slot, 1,500 mAh battery, and, beneath that again, the microSD card slot for expanding the onboard (8GB or 16GB) memory by up to another 32GB.
Deeper inside, and fortunately not exposed to eager eyes and fingers, are the 1GHz dual-core NovaThor processor, 1GB of RAM and GSM / EDGE (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900MHZ) radios with support for HSPA 14.4 (900 / 1900 / 2100). Other radios include dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5GHz), GPS and GLONASS and Bluetooth 4.0. The Android version running the show is Jelly Bean 4.1.1. This all results in a typical Samsung phone in terms of current design language and quality of build. It feels solid, without feeling too precious that it might scuff or scratch at the first buttery-fingered indiscretion.
If you skipped straight to this section, well, we don't blame you. Releasing a product that bears the same name as your flagship, whatever the suffix, will certainly guarantee -- for better or worse -- a high level of expectation. And, while there's certainly reason not to compare the Galaxy SIII mini with its larger sibling, many of you are surely here for the smack-down, and we wouldn't want to disappoint.
We'll start with some superficial exterior differences before moving onto some of the more significant, internal traits that the mini-version may or may not have inherited. Firstly, starting toward the top of both devices, the mini has a slightly more rounded appearance. Certainly, this is a side effect of its narrower shape, meaning those same curved shoulders come together more quickly, leaving less flat space between them. Below this, you'll note that the sensors and camera have moved from the right on the original Galaxy S III to the left this time around. Beneath these, the Samsung logo is actually larger than before, as is the total distance from the top of the screen to the top of the device, making the bezel taller at the extremes of the newer phone. This also gives the device a slightly more elongated feel overall when placed side by side. Curiously, it seems that Samsung also thinks smaller hands want bigger input options, as the home button is notably larger on the mini than the one on the standard GS III. Likewise, the power button on the right-hand side is slightly taller and squarer than the one on the original, which is more symmetrical.
Around back, the only notable difference is the positioning of the LED flash, which now sits below the camera lens. Also, the speaker hole is now located to the left of the camera, rather than to right, as it did the first time around. Also, while not instantly noticeable as a physical feature, the OG GS III sports a notification light -- something that seems to have gotten lost during the miniaturization process. A definite shame, we think. That takes care of the more cosmetic differences, leaving us to examine the various interior discrepancies (and yes, these are much more plentiful).
Sadly, this doesn't translate to a pixel-packed HD display, because with those smaller dimensions comes a lower resolution: 800 x 480.
Starting from the top again, is that display. We don't want to cast its size as an inferior spec, when the whole point was to build a smaller phone. The OG's 4.8 inches will have teetered a little too close to phablet territory for some, so the idea of a more manageable 4-inch version will likely appeal to many shoppers. Sadly, though, this doesn't translate to a pixel-packed HD display, because with those smaller dimensions comes a lower resolution: 800 x 480. This definitely is an inferior specification, and puts it in the same class as HTC's Desire X, which incidentally, is comparable in many other ways too (same clock speed, camera resolution, et cetera). The PenTile matrix won't win it many fans, either. On the GS III's 4.8-inch screen, meanwhile, that 1,280 x 720 resolution translates to 305 pixels-per-inch. Dropping down to WVGA and losing 0.8 of an inch sees that PPI slip to 233, which, while far from the worst we've seen, does make for a notable difference. You won't have to look hard to spot pixels with the naked eye, and bright text on a dark background can have a visible pixelized edge, whereas on the full-sized Galaxy S III you have to bring the screen much closer before you start to see such details.
The next -- and possibly most significant -- difference is what's in the engine room. While Samsung's quad-core Exynos chip caused our usually serious faces to go slack at the jaw, the company evidently felt that such power (or even the Snapdragon S4 LTE chip) was just too tasty for a handset of this size, opting for a more modest ST-Ericsson-made dual-core 1GHz NovaThor U8500 processor (the same found in the Galaxy Beam, no less). While the performance is hardly a travesty, if you were hoping the mini would be the ultimate pocket-rocket, well, it's not.
Okay, so, they eased off the gas a little with the processor. Fair enough, you say -- it probably evens out somewhere else, right? If it does, then it's not in the camera department. The megapixel count has been slashed from eight to five on the main shooter, with the front camera dropping from 1.9 megapixels down to VGA resolution. One last number that shrunk was the battery capacity -- 1,500mAh, down from 2,100. This, of course, was a more expected change, and -- as we'll explore later -- not one you should be concerned about.
This rather more mediocre internal specification will likely be the center of much discussion regarding the Galaxy S III mini. It could do almost anything else from here on out, and we imagine that it wouldn't matter all that much for some. Aside from a teleportation feature, a hologram creator or supporting 5G, the fact is, many will read the above and dismiss the phone almost right away. They'd be entitled to do that, of course, and if you were looking for a Samsung flagship -- just smaller -- then we wouldn't blame you, either. If, however, you're of a more forgiving nature, join us and read on to get to know it a little bit better, and perhaps you might not have such a damning view of this little fella after all.
As we revert back into review -- rather than comparison -- mode, we'll be going over some of the same numbers. This is particularly true with the display. We'll reiterate again: it measures four inches across diagonally, with a WVGA (800 x 480) resolution and a density of 233 ppi. Samsung's sticking to its Super AMOLED PenTile guns whether you like it or not, but if you're the kind of person who finds that a turn-off, you likely already lost interest somewhere in the last section. In reality, the display is adequate, and still delivers a pleasant enough experience. What it lacks in pixel density, it makes up for in brightness and color representation. It might not be quite as brilliant as some of the laminated screens we've seen recently (HTC's Desire X, or Acer's CloudMobile for example), but images display faithfully, with no glaring contrast issues, and if you're into watching lots of video, again, we found it perfectly acceptable for the casual viewing that we performed during our time with it.
While it's no longer 2010, the iPhone 4 showed what you can do with five megapixels pretty well. Its time in the sun may has since passed, but it might start to give you a better sense of where the Galaxy S III mini sits in terms of intended market (hint: not at the top). So, five megapixels it is (plus aperture of f/2.6, focal length of 3.54mm), but it's what it does with them that really counts, and we're happy to say that it actually does a pretty good job. Colors look solid and clear, even if the great British autumn made finding bright examples worth shooting a little more difficult. Low-light performance varies, with dimly lit rooms being the camera's particular nemesis, producing much more washed-out colors. But even then, with a steady hand and use of the built-in low-light modes you can still eke out some decent nocturnal pictures.
With a steady hand and use of the built-in low-light modes you can still eke out some decent nocturnal pictures.
As we're not on stock Android, the camera has a few extra options that you don't get with Google's unskinned OS. If you've used any other recent TouchWiz phones from Samsung, you'll know you get a decent spread of additional camera modes, including Panorama, Burst and HDR. There are, of course, the other regular tricks, such as tap-to-focus, face detection and geotagging. All of these work just as well as they did on the original Galaxy S III, which is to say they're useful tools that succeed in enhancing the experience.