Both Harriers have backside-illuminated sensors. The big brother handles low-lit situations slightly better than the Mini, but only marginally so. Focal range is a problem for both devices. Neither can be trusted to lock on to objects close to the lens and you're lucky if the Harrier Mini manages to focus on anything regardless of distance. Quite often it doesn't focus at all, resulting in a blurry mess of an image. Video quality (1080p) is comparable across the pair. Both have slightly fidgety autofocus and exposure settings, which I find is true with most smartphones, but the image and audio quality of clips is just fine otherwise.
As I said, the Harrier's camera is without a doubt the better of the two, but keen smartphone photographers will probably want to steer clear of both devices, even if they edit their snaps with Instagram most of the time.
Performance and battery life
You've probably guessed already that of the two EE handsets, the Harrier is packing the bigger engine under the hood. A 1.5GHz octa-core Snapdragon 615, to be exact, compared with the Mini's 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410. Before I get into specifics, I want to vent a particular frustration I have with Android 5.0 Lollipop: It's slow. There's a lot to like, but it's lost that snap I so enjoyed on KitKat. Even on devices running some of the best mobile processors around, it feels slightly heavy and resource-intensive -- the contrast in responsiveness between KitKat and Lollipop on the YotaPhone 2, for instance, is marked. Now, that's not as much of an issue when you're running seriously expensive hardware, but more affordable phones suffer.
The Harrier is powerful enough that this is more an observation, not a major gripe. In fact, whiz through a couple of tracks on Asphalt 8: Airborne, one of my go-to resource-hogging 3D games, and all will appear well. It loads relatively quickly and playing on the highest graphics setting is no trouble for the Harrier. But, why then do core experiences like Chrome, Google Maps and even the stock dialer take a second to boot up? Flicking through your home screen or the app drawer is as slick as ever, but the transitions between "desktop" and apps are no longer smooth and immediate. Browsing performance, too, has an extra, thin layer of lag in Lollipop, and whether using the Harrier or Mini, I found the duplicate "Browser" app to be quicker on the draw than Chrome.
The Harrier Mini actually suffers considerably at the hands of Lollipop. Ever since I reviewed the original Moto G, I've been a champion of budget smartphones -- my argument being, why pay the best part of your monthly wage for a feature-obese, top-tier smartphone when you can get something for a fraction of the price that has an excellent user experience? Lollipop has basically thrown this back in my face, and the Harrier Mini is proof. I'd honestly much rather have a Kestrel, with KitKat running dreamily on the lesser Snapdragon 400.
Every slowdown on the Harrier feels exaggerated on its smaller sibling. Those core experiences take that little bit longer to load, and browsing is just a bit clunkier. I wrestled with crashes and extremely slow menu navigation when testing out Asphalt 8 on the device, even if it played well at the medium graphics setting when I was actually on the track. Multitasking is pretty much out of the question, too. If you're downloading an app, for example, forget about doing anything else without the whole phone grinding to a halt. This isn't going to be a problem for mum or dad, but it's a far cry from what I usually expect out of affordable devices these days. I thought we were past this. Perhaps the Mini only having 1GB of RAM compared to the Harrier's 2GB is partly to blame too, even if it shouldn't be.
Another problem I have with the Mini is lack of storage. It's advertised as having 8GB of internal memory, but the reality is you get less than 4GB to work with while Lollipop takes up the rest. There's a microSD slot to supplement that, but if I can't download large apps in the first place, how can I move them over to the SD card (if indeed, that app supports it)? I've even had to format the phone once after corrupting the memory with downloads and updates that didn't complete, but clogged up available storage space all the same. You're a little better off with the Harrier, which affords you just over 10GB of its 16GB total.
In terms of connectivity, both phones have all the basics: 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and, of course, Cat 4 LTE. The Harrier has NFC, too, which is welcome given that EE has its own Cash on Tap contactless payments app for small transactions. Battery life is formidable on both handsets. The Harrier carries a 2,500mAh nonremovable battery, while the Mini makes do with a 2,000mAh cell. Nevertheless, in our standard 720p looping-video battery-rundown test, the Harrier lasted nine hours, while the Harrier Mini squeezed out an extra 28 minutes on top of that.
Those results aren't close to, say, the LG G4 and its 11-hour stint, but you've got plenty of juice to work with all the same. On one particular day of light usage, where the Harrier sat on my desk and I checked the odd notification, picked up a few calls and took a few pictures in the evening, I only used around 25 percent of battery life from dawn 'til dusk. Increase your screen time, though, and you're still gonna get at least a full day of heavy usage out of either handset. Probably a full two days if you're not trying to drain it for the sake of it.
Since both the Harrier and Harrier Mini are only available on EE's network, it's best to start with other options the carrier has. And it's no real surprise that in terms of EE's handset roster, they work out to be pretty competitive. The larger Harrier is available for free on contracts from £22 per month, or for £200 on pay-as-you-go (in-store only). It's by far the most expensive pay-as-you-go handset EE offers, but then it's the best-specced, too. The only device on contract worth mentioning that has an identical monthly spend is the HTC One mini 2. It's fair to say the Harrier bests it on paper, but I do have a soft spot for the One mini 2, as its premium metal exterior is much easier on the eye.
The Harrier Mini is free on contracts from £17 per month, or £100 on pay-as-you-go. There isn't much in terms of notable competition in the same price range, apart from EE's own Kestrel. It, too, is £17 per month on contract, and only £50 on pay-as-you-go while stocks last. It might be older hardware, but given the performance issues I've experienced with the Harrier Mini, I'd argue the Kestrel is the more attractive option, especially on a pay-as-you-go tariff where it's half the price.
O2, being the "premium" provider it is, doesn't have much in the way of direct competition to either handset, apart from the HTC Desire 620, which is free on contracts from £16.50 per month. It's better specced than the Harrier Mini in a couple of areas, has a funkier design and carries a well-known brand name that some consumers might take comfort in. Vodafone's got a couple of handsets free on contracts from £22 per month that might give the Harrier something to worry about. Granted, they are getting on a bit, but Samsung's Galaxy S4 and LG's G2 were flagships of their time, and are both excellent phones despite their age.
Vodafone also has an own-brand handset that goes toe to toe with the Harrier Mini. The recently released Smart prime 6 is almost identical to the Harrier Mini apart from having a larger, 5-inch screen, and it's also free on contracts from £17 per month. It's only £79 on pay-as-you-go, however, so even if it does have the same performance issues as the Mini, you'll be £20 better off.
Finally, Three doesn't have any particularly compelling competitors in its pay-as-you-go lineup. On contract, though, it has the LG Spirit 4G free from £13 per month, and the Desire 620 free from £17 per month, both of which are eye-catching alternatives to the Harrier Mini. For £21 per month, you can also get a free, colourful iPhone 5c if you think you might prefer iOS over Android Lollipop.
With last year's Kestrel, EE delivered a phone with a great user experience and 4G connectivity at a reasonable price. The Harrier Mini might be the spiritual successor to the Kestrel, but it's the bigger, higher-spec Harrier that's better placed to carry on the Kestrel's legacy. Its 13MP camera might not be the best around; it's more laden with bloatware than it should be; and small hands might struggle with its... healthy dimensions. But, it's packing a great full HD display, all the processing power you realistically need, and long battery life to get you through those busy days. More importantly, it's competitively priced.
The Harrier Mini shares a few of these traits. It, too, sports a solid panel (with a slightly lower 720p resolution), and is no slouch in terms of battery endurance. Its 8MP camera is verging on terrible, however; you don't have a great deal of storage to work with; and performance can be frustratingly sluggish. Furthermore, there are plenty of viable alternatives in the same price range or below. I'd even consider the Kestrel a better option at this point, which is pretty much all you need to know about the Harrier Mini.