Review by Sunetra Chakravati,8/27/2014 11:55:05 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Compact size | Many features borrowed from S5 | Waterproof | Expandable storage
Price far too close to S5 to be worth buying | Screen not Full-HD | Average camera
Taking a flagship smartphone and photocopying it at 75% has become the must-do strategy for most phone makers this year. We have the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, the LG G3 Beat, the HTC One Mini 2 and now this, the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini.
The third Mini variant of Samsung’s S range, the S5 Mini is the closest yet to its bigger brother, packing an HD screen, quad-core processor, fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor.
Should you consider the S5 Mini instead of the larger and more expensive S5? Let’s find out.
That photocopier analogy really isn’t far from the truth. The S5 Mini has the same glossy white and glass-covered front, the same chrome/plastic frame and the same dimpled plastic back which resembles the look and feel of an Elastoplast. The S5 Mini also has the same chrome frame around the rear camera, flash and heart rate monitor, the same rear-mounted speaker, and the same control arrangement of a central home button (with fingerprint scanner), power button on the right, and volume rocker on the left.
But of course this phone is smaller than its flagship namesake. The S5 Mini has a footprint of 131 x 65mm, is 9.1mm thick and weighs 120g. By contrast, the Galaxy S5 has a footprint of 142 x 73mm, is 8.1mm thick and weighs 145g.
It may only be a tiny difference, but the extra 1mm of thickness makes the S5 Mini feel ever-so-slightly more chunky than I’d like it to be. I guess it’s a game of perception, where of two devices with near-identical thicknesses, the one with the larger footprint will always feel thinner.
The S5 Mini seems well-made and as if it would survive a fall or two, but it suffers from the same design drawbacks shared by all other Samsung phones and tablets - its plastic construction looks and feels cheap. Hopefully the partially metal Galaxy Alpha, due in September, can herald a new start for Samsung where premium design is concerned.
Despite there being no flap covering the microUSB port, the S5 Mini is waterproof - it’ll survive a drop into up to one meter of fresh water for up to 30 minutes.
A 4.5-inch display with a resolution of 720 x 1280 means a small step down from the regular S5’s five inches and 1080 x 1920, but the Mini retains the same Super AMOLED technology meaning colours are bold and vibrant.
Image quality is mostly excellent, but whites and pale colours tend to appear slightly too warm and with a yellow tint, whereas darker colours appear overly saturated and richer than they do on other handsets. These are small complaints though, and only really make themselves known when the S5 Mini is compared side-by-side with a rival; viewed in isolation it looks great, and at this size the lack of a Full HD resolution and the regular S5’s pixel count isn’t a problem. Brightness is excellent and on par with its pint-sized rival, the HTC One mini 2.
Continuing the theme of mimicking its bigger brother, the S5 Mini’s Android software and Samsung TouchWiz user interface copy the S5 pixel for pixel. From unlocking the handset with a swipe of your finger (a process I found to be reliable, unlike other reviewers), to the home screen, notifications, settings, phonebook, dialer, and bundled apps like S Health, it’s all the same.
This is, of course, great news for anyone assuming the Mini would be a lesser, stripped back version of Samsung’s flagship.
Power comes from a quad-core, 1.4GHz processor with 1.5GB of RAM and, while this is down significantly on the S5’s 2.5GHz speed and extra 0.5GB of RAM, the S5 Mini speeds along nicely, with just a slight hesitation when opening some apps compared to the S5.
The Mini never feels slow, but it doesn’t quite share the S5’s sense of effortless when flicking between applications; where the S5 convinces you it could open apps and multitask in its sleep, the Mini feels like it’s actually having to work to keep you happy. Storage is 16GB, but peel away the plastic back and you’ll find a microSD card slot to increase this by up to 64GB.
Again copying the regular S5, the Mini is waterproof and dustproof to the same IP67 rating - only this time there’s no need for a plastic flap covering the microUSB port, which is a very welcome improvement.
The S5 Mini has a 2,100mAh battery which is smaller than the S5’s 2,800mAh but larger than the 2110mAh cell found in the new (and much thinner) Galaxy Alpha. Despite the lower capacity, a processor less powerful than the regular S5 and a screen with few pixels means battery life is good. As with most smartphones, a day of average use isn’t a problem, but without an overnight charge you could well be reaching for the USB cable before the end of the second afternoon.
Finally, 4G web surfing on this handset provided by Three was top-notch when we tested it in and around London.
The 8-megapixel rear camera is where Samsung has most obviously made cutbacks compared to the full-size S5. Not only is the megapixel count down by 50%, but the software is also stripped back to the basics. Where the S5 has a huge range of shooting options (some of them gimmicks, in our opinion), the S5 Mini has just six: Beauty face, Shot & more, Panorama, Virtual tour, Continuous shot and HDR. There are also seven Instagram-style filters to make your images unique, and Full-HD video recording.
Results are decent enough - not a patch on the S5 or other flagships - but perfectly suited to sharing on Facebook or Twitter. The camera struggles a bit in low light (without the flash) and produces grainy images with excess noise as a result, but shots taken outside are fine. The front camera is 2.1-megapixel, which is the perfect size for selfies.
Without knowing the prices of he S5 Mini and the S5, I’d say the former is a strong option for those wanting a high-end handset with a pocket-friendly size. But the price of both phones is cause for concern. The Galaxy S5 can be had on contract - with no upfront cost - for £28 per month; the S5 Mini, with its smaller screen and lower specs, is free on many contracts from around £26.
SIM-free, the S5 is around £420 (down from its original price of £600 in April), while the S5 Mini is £390 - and take it from us, the S5 is absolutely worth the extra £30.
Is the S5 Mini a good phone? Yes, absolutely; it brings much of the S5 to a smaller size without making you feel like you’ve downgraded to a lesser phone.
But should you buy it? No. Unless you absolutely cannot live with the larger size of the S5, there is no reason to buy the Mini. Spend slightly more money and get a much, much better phone.
This handset was provided for review by the Three mobile network.