Android Jelly Bean OS is brilliant, sturdier build than the S III
A bit expensive particularly as it has no standout feature, imperfect virtual keyboard
What’s in a name? Everything, apparently. Samsung’s latest mid-ranger is a miniature of its flagship powerhouse, the Galaxy S III – appropriately named the Galaxy S III mini, it’s hoping to hop abroad the train of glory pulled by its bigger, badder bro.
Where the S III sported a sky-high quad-core chip and 4.8-inch display, the mini comes with a sensible 1GHz dual-core processor in a palm-friendly four-inch screen. So far, so good for anyone who thinks current superphones are just a bit much. It’s only its price that hasn’t really gotten the mini treatment – S III mini comes in at a cool £300 SIM-free to the original’s current £382. Is the compromise worth the frankly tiny price drop?
The S III mni is built just like the S III, with a glossy polycarbonate body and rounded corners. Perhaps because it’s stouter and denser, there’s a reassuring heft to it, while its curvy chassis makes for a good grip. In classic Samsung style, there’s a single, hard home button with touch-sensitive areas for Back and Menu. A five megapixel camera with an LED flash sits in the center of the back cover, while a 1.9-megapixel front-facer sits next to the two teeny lenses that track your eye movement for Samsung novelties like ‘Smart Stay’ that stops the screen from turning off if you’re looking at it.
If you have the slightest affinity for Samsung phones, the mini will be like an old, familiar friend. In hardware terms, it’s a repackaged Galaxy S Advance; a Galaxy S II with newer software. Which brings us to the real reason you might want to take a gander at this marvel of marketing...
The S III mini is one of the first – and cheapest – phones to launch with the nearly-newest version of Android, its dual-core chip neatly handling the slick transitions and high-res visuals. Navigation is smooth and fast, while multitasking apps like Maps and YouTube give it no trouble.
The touch-screen is slick and responsive, though the virtual keyboard takes a while to get used to. A four-inch screen feels a bit cramped compared to even the slightly larger 4.3-incher that’s becoming the standard, and that coupled with an imperfect autocorrect system meant we often mistyped our missives.
The notifications system is just brilliant on Jelly Bean, with all alerts from any app popping up in the top toolbar, easily dragged down to reveal more info. Emails display the first paragraph, while texts are shown in full. We loved the calendar alert, which showed the event details, and even lets you email any confirmed attendees direct from the notification bar to let them know you’ll be late.
Naturally, Facebook, Twitter and any other apps you download integrate seamlessly into the OS, while the preloaded Flipboard compiles all your social feeds and favourite types of news into a slick, scrollable magazine-esque windows.
Samsung has loaded the Mini with as many efficient little tweaks as the S III, with the double-tap assigned to shortcuts such as returning to the top of your contacts list and inbox in the Mail app. In a call log, you can swipe right to call a contact, and left to text them. If you’re in the middle of texting someone, picking up the phone to your ear automatically calls them. It’s all creative, useful stuff that other manufacturers have yet to mimic.
Setting up for the first time is also beginner-friendly, with lots of handy pop-ups explaining the various shortcuts.
Like the S Advance, the S III mini packs a five-megapixel camera, which takes pretty good snaps in daylight, with a reasonably quick shutter and some preset modes including the very cute Cartoon. Our snaps were clear with good colours, though with a surprising lack of the post-production extras Samsung generally likes to cram into its phones.
Tap on the menu button when viewing a photo though, and you can hit Edit, to be prompted to download the Samsung-recommended Photo Editor, which is preloaded on higher-end handsets. It’s a bit of a chore to set it up though, as you’ll have to set up a Samsung Apps account alongside your Google one, so you’ll probably prefer to download alternatives like Picsay or of course, Instagram.
The front-facing camera takes decent photos too, though there’s a slight softening filter automatically applied.
The Galaxy S III mini is an adequate phone, with a sturdy build, decent display and capable camera – but for £300 these days, there are options with outright brilliant cameras, say from HTC and Nokia. Its true USP is Android Jelly Bean and sophisticated extras like advanced notifications and Samsung’s well-designed shortcuts – but overall, the compromise in hardware makes this feel like a slightly uninspired handset, built mainly to capitalise on the runaway success of its more impressive predecessor.