As it turns out, there aren't any major surprises when it comes to image quality, either. Pictures tend to be slightly oversaturated, though most of the shots we took were at least detailed. Often, the camera had difficulty reconciling areas of low and high exposure within the same shot, so we had to rely on HDR to balance the two -- fortunately, images looked great in this mode, and we didn't hesitate to use it in multiple situations. We were a bit disappointed that the Mini has a shutter lag of roughly two seconds, which becomes a problem when you're trying to take pictures of moving objects -- or children. (This was also a concern with the GS4.)
Low-light pictures look pretty dark on auto settings, but Night Mode enhances images by grabbing more errant light while also reproducing colors in an accurate way. There's still a lot of noise, although we believe the performance in that regard is on par for a device in this class.
We were also impressed by the quality of our sample video footage. The rear camcorder records movies at a max resolution of 1080p with 30 fps frame rate and 17.1 Mbps bit rate. When we played our masterpieces on a computer, it appeared much closer to actual HD quality than what we've seen from comparable devices. Touch focus is an option here, though continuous autofocus is the default setting. We were also incredibly happy with how well the audio turned out (recorded at 128 Kbps with 48 kHz sampling rate); in the sample video embedded above, we were situated right next to the loudspeakers, yet the recorded sound was clear and not at all overbearing.
Performance and battery life
The Galaxy S4 Mini uses a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 (MSM8930AB), which is the same 28nm Krait 300 chipset used in the Galaxy Mega, and comes with Adreno 305 GPU and 1.5GB RAM. It's a responsive handset that comes with few hiccups, though we did see it sputter on occasion when we pushed it with processor-intensive tasks. Otherwise, most people will get the type of mid-range performance expected of a device like the Mini. In fact, this should be right on par with the HTC One mini, though it benefits from having an extra bit of RAM at its disposal. Take a look at the full suite of benchmark tests below, all of which confirm what we suspected: this is very much a mid-range device, and one that will hold up against most things you throw at it, even if it doesn't come anywhere close to its namesake.
We had no problem making it through a full day on a charge; we typically had a small amount of the 1,900mAh battery left when it was time to plug the Mini in for bedtime. This was with moderate usage, though, so those of you who are hard on your devices may find that you'll need to give your phone an electric pickup shortly after arriving home at the end of your shift. Our video-looping test, which involves running a 1080p video continuously at 50 percent brightness (with a smattering of other standardized settings), yielded seven hours and 16 minutes of life before the phone died.
Call quality was clear, and we had no problem hearing voices on the other end, thanks to the loud speakerphone and above-average earpiece. The GPS tracked our position in a matter of seconds; videos and music played smoothly; and we enjoyed our time listening to media through headphones. On a random note, the vibrate function on the Mini was one of the strongest we've used in recent memory; turn it on and there'll be no mistaking when a new notification has arrived.
Pricing and comparison
The GS4 brand is one of the best-known on the market, and as a result you're paying a bit of a premium for the privilege. The Mini is geared toward mid-range buyers, but with its cost hovering around the $500 mark, it's a bit more spendy than other phones with similar specs. The Galaxy S III
, for instance, offers the same rear camera, a better display (albeit a larger screen, but just for sake of comparison), more internal storage, North American LTE options and retails for around $430 to $450. The HTC First
, meanwhile, can be found for around $250 on Amazon and takes advantage of a Snapdragon 400 chipset, 4.3-inch 720p display, stock Android and more internal storage; the compromise here is the lack of microSD support, an older version of Google's mobile OS and lower-res camera. These aren't the only options: the list goes on and less expensive alternatives are numerous, and in most cases we find it difficult to recommend the Mini's higher cost to consumers who are in the market for a mid-range device.
As much as we'd like to see a device that fits the literal description of the Galaxy S4 Mini -- you know, a phone that's all but identical to the original GS4, just smaller -- Samsung clearly had something else in mind. Instead, the Mini is meant for those who love the GS4 design and firmware but are looking for a lower price point. To that end, the company has mostly succeeded, with the exception of that poor display. Indeed, our experience with the device was on par with most other mid-range handsets we've tested. Sadly, the cost is a little too steep when compared to similar devices, so definitely weigh your options closely before plunking down the cash.