Affordable, compact and good looking
Low-resolution screen and slow processor
How do you square the circle of high specifications and low prices? Or match big features with a small phone? Samsung's aiming to find a good balance with this affordable Android phone.
In some ways it's aiming to capture ground held until now by last year's HTC Wildfire: great features, decent speed and lowish price. Like the Wildfire, the Mini cuts corners by opting for a low-resolution screen. Both sport screens a little over 3ins with a 320 x 240 resolution. It doesn't look bad, exactly, but compared to the glorious displays on the Samsung Galaxy S II and the iPhone 4, say, it seems a bit down-at-heel. The screen, by the way, was the element of the Wildfire that came in for the most flack, and it's noticeable that the new Wildfire S has increased the screen quality substantially.
The phone's size is useful and will especially appeal to those who find the iPhone too big, let alone huge-screened hand-stretchers like the HTC Desire HD. The styling of the Mini is classic Samsung: big home button, flanked by Menu and Back rocker button beneath the screen, and power button on the right shoulder. In the colour described on the box as Chic White, it looks pretty cool. It's white on the back, too, with a raised pattern, like the Galaxy S II. And the edge looks neat in a brushed-metal effect finish. It even has the scooped-in back and sticky-out bottom of the Galaxy S II which gives the effect that the phone is slimmer than it is. Of course, it's far from plump and pretty light (105g) thanks to the plastic casing, though some may find this feels cheap.
Well, at least Samsung didn't save money on the Mini by opting for a resistive touchscreen. That would have looked worse and been harder to use. Some low-end smarties opt for an elderly version of Android, but this has version 2.2, so up-to-date enough to be highly usable. Access to Android Market, strong email support and so on, all are here.
But there are other cost-saving elements here, most noticeably the 600MHz processor. As phones go, that's not a bad CPU speed, but Android can be demanding, so I approached the phone with low expectations. In fact, Angry Birds Rio played flawlessly and at speed, so that was one mountain scaled, though it must be said that the low-res screen was particularly emphasised by the game's graphics. Other tasks performed well and at speed.
Oddly, the screen resolution is more evident in more mundane tasks like sweeping from one page on the apps screen to another - the white writing on black background shimmers as it moves, which doesn't look great. The camera also wilts under examination thanks to the screen and the three-megapixel sensor. Mind you, a year or so ago this resolution was more than acceptable – now it's mediocre.
Samsung's Android interface isn't the slick and all-encompassing overlay HTC offers but it doesn't get in the way either. The icons which sit at the base of every screen, Phone Contacts, Messages and Applications, aren't exactly high resolution, though this doesn't show up as much here, thanks to that display.
There are the unique Samsung apps, though there are frankly hardly any of these. Never mind, there's still the range of over 100,000 Android apps to choose from. Samsung's video and music player programs are pretty advanced and little things like the bar at the top of the notifications windowshade are excellent: there are toggle switches for wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS, ringer and orientation lock.
Messaging has neat extras: open a received message and you can call the sender by swiping to the right or replying by swiping left. The same gestures work in the phone book as well. There's lots to recommend the new Mini and it has a lot going for it - if you don't mind the screen you'll find it an affordable, useful and cute choice.
A small phone that's stuffed with features, the Mini is competent and even fun to use. But it's let down badly by the low resolution display that makes everything from games to menus disappointingly basic. The slow processor is less of a problem and the phone looks good, too. But that screen is hard to get past.