Samsung Galaxy S4 mini review: Little droid that could
All-round connectivity options
The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini starts off with the basics - quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band 3G. An LTE-variant of the device is also be available in select markets.
The S4 mini uses Bluetooth 4.0 alongside Wi-Fi support which includes a/b/g/n with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz band compatibility.
The Galaxy S4 mini allows you to share all sorts of media via NFC by simply touching the S4 and other later-generation S devices back-to-back. You can share with other NFC devices as well, but functionality is limited to what is provided by the stock Android Beam.
The AllShare DLNA functionality, which used to be a standalone application, is now more tightly integrated into the respective Samsung applications. To share or access content from nearby DLNA-enabled devices, you do this directly from the My Video app and the Music Player.
There's also an IR-port, which allows you to control various TV's and other devices using Samsung's WatchON app, which we'll cover later.
And finally, for wired connectivity we have the USB 2.0 port. That handles data connectivity with a computer, but unlike the big Galaxy S4 lacks MHL and USB OTG support.
Stock Android browser and Google Chrome on board
The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini comes with two excellent web browsers - the stock Jelly Bean edition and Google Chrome. The stock browser UI is quite minimalistic - you get the URL bar with shortcuts to tabs and settings, and that's that. Hitting the Settings key reveals the rest of the controls - everything from searching on the page, saving to bookmarks to useful options like bypassing mobile sites, saving a page for offline reading and sharing a page.
The browser supports both double tap and pinch zooming along with the two-finger tilt zoom. There are niceties such as multiple tabs, text reflow, find on page and so on. A neat trick is to pinch zoom out beyond the minimum - that opens up the tabs view.
Flash is no longer welcome as even the stock browser has dropped support for plug-ins.
The Web browser comes with Incognito mode, which lets you surf the web without the browser keeping track of your history or storing cookies. The brightness and colors option gives you four different presets to adjust the display according to your preferences. Automatic brightness is an option too, and works only within the browser.
Unfortunately, there is no lab settings and you can't enable Quick Controls.
If you prefer, you can use the other preinstalled browser, Chrome, instead. It offers excellent cross-platform sync capabilities, and at times it seems faster.
S Apps and more
The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini features a wide array of advanced features and applications that really help it stand out from other smartphones.
One of the coolest apps is called Group Play. It shares various multimedia across multiple devices in the same room, but unlike DLNA it's interactive.
One use case is to play a music track on the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini and use multiple phones as speakers. You can pick the role of each phone (e.g. left channel, right) all the way up to surround sound. This way you can control the music from one phone but use the loudspeakers of all.
Of course, the other phones will need to support Group Play - the phones communicate over Wi-Fi (your Galaxy S4 mini becomes a hotspot that others connect to) and the pairing is done via NFC.
More useful are the options to share a picture or a document - you can have the same picture appear on everyone's phone and you can draw over it if you need to highlight a certain element of the image.
Finally, perhaps the coolest feature of Group Play is that it allows for multiplayer games to be played on several phones simultaneously. Of course, only supported games work - there weren't any games preloaded on our unit but you can grab some from the Play Store.
Moving on, there's Samsung Link, another way to share content between devices. Unlike Group Play, Samsung Link is intended for just your devices - you can link the phone to a computer that is synced with Dropbox, SkyDrive or SugarSync and remotely access content on that device.
S Translator will help travelers - it can translate between two languages using either typed text or speech recognition. It can read out the resulting translation too, if you don't think your Korean accent can cut it. S Translator supports all the widely-spoken languages - English, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and, of course, Korean.
Story Album can be really helpful in organizing your photos. After a shooting session it will prompt you to group all the new photos into an album. Albums can be created based on location, the people in the photo and when the shot was taken.
Samsung WatchON is the primary app used with the built-in IR emitter on the top of the phone. The app starts out by asking your zip code and pulls up a number of TV service providers in that area.
This is so that the app can show you a TV guide with shows currently on or upcoming on the channels offered by the service provider. You can read a description of the show, check out its popularity in up/down votes (and vote yourself, of course). You can also set reminders for shows you don't want to miss.
Anyway, the key element of the app is the IR remote control functionality. The app can control TVs, DVD and Blu-ray players and streaming media players. Devices are organized by rooms.
One thing we really liked about the app is that it knows some home setups are messy - some let you change channels with the TV remote, others require you to use the set-top box remote for that. Same for the audio, you might be using the TV to output the sound or an AV receiver. The app will ask about your setup and present a unified remote control interface even if you have multiple hardware remotes to control all the devices.
S Health is Samsung's home-brewed health and fitness tracking application. It didn't come pre-installed on our Galaxy S4 mini, but it is available for download in the Samsung Apps repository (region dependent). It starts off by getting you to create a profile which includes all your vital statistics, such as age/weight/gender and level of activity, plus your calorie consumption goals.
It offers a pleasant-looking interface and has walking, exercise, and fitness trackers. It will monitor environmental influences too, such as temperature. S Health also supports a number of optional accessories, which let it give even more detailed status.
Finally, the Galaxy S4 mini comes preloaded with a special "Samsung edition" of the TripAdvisor app. Besides the ability to have rotating lockscreen images, the Samsung-specific version of the app allows you to login with your Samsung account, use the S Travel widget for a quick peek at certain popular travel destinations, as well as automatically add relevant travel information to your photos.
Otherwise, the app lets you find interesting things to do if you're in a new city, as well as hotels, restaurants and even flight information. Most locations have reviews posted by other TripAdvisor users, so you can quickly see if a place is worth it or not.