A smaller version of the current flagship makes all kinds of sense. More compact and easier to handle, and - at the end of the day - more affordable, is what many people will gladly consider. The fact that a year ago the Galaxy Mini S III turned out to be a mild disappointment doesn't mean there's something wrong with the mini formula. Not if rumors of an HTC One mini are anything to go by.
Anyway, the Galaxy S4 mini is our main story today and, as usual, we're trying to point out what it gets right and where it could've done better.
To begin with, it's a mini version and the compact, lightweight package sounds like good news for people who are less than impressed by the idea of carrying a five-incher. A high-res display - well, close enough at least - with 720p screens around, qHD isn't the best you can get but still looking reasonably sharp on a 4.3" diagonal. And AMOLED at that.
Even if this is bluntly the budget-friendly alternative, the hardware must be capable of ensuring fluid, lag-free handling equal to that of the flagship and the S4 mini has no trouble delivering there. Good stills and video are among the last things users are willing to compromise on and the 8MP camera doesn't disappoint either. The software version is important too and the latest Android and TouchWiz are the combo you get with this one.
So far, so good. But there're things on the wrong side of the balance sheet too. Inevitable in packages like the Galaxy S4 mini. The Air View and Air Gestures were the first things to get the axe. Multi-window didn't make the cut either. Smart scroll and smart pause are missing too, but Smart Stay could be a consolation.
The design being an exact replica of the bigger S4 is something we're not completely convinced by either. True, Samsung wanted to use the flagship's momentum but a little personal touch to set the mini apart instead of using the same played out shape over and over again could've done wonders.
Anyway, design is a subjective matter and not everyone needs all those gestures and fancy features, especially when they get a solid display and above average camera performance, LTE and NFC connectivity, and the latest Android OS.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini has just hit the shelves and currently it costs around €380 - maybe not exactly the price that will drive crowds to the stores - in some markets the original S4 can be had for less than a hundred more. This isn't a particularly comfortable margin for the mini.
But the downsized version is just about launching and the fact that the other modified versions of the flagship are fetching even higher prices may help. That said, we don't think the Galaxy S4 zoom or the Active are any sort of competition.
The Sony Xperia SP sounds more like it. It offers a slightly bigger 720p display, more GPU power, while the processor and imaging capabilities are largely on par. The Xperia SP runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which isn't ideal, but Sony's skin is quite minimalist compared to TouchWiz, which may actually be a good thing for some. The Xperia SP is slightly cheaper and looks better, but it's much bigger too, so it's mostly about picking your priorities when choosing between those two.
The Windows Phone 8-powered Nokia Lumia 820 is a viable alternative that's dirt cheap compared to the S4 mini. Of course it's got a slightly less powerful chipset ticking inside and only a WVGA AMOLED screen but the free offline-available SatNav and office package may as well tip the scales in its favor for those that aren't worried by the apps that WP8 still misses.
The fact that even the Lumia 920 is currently slightly cheaper is a bit of bad news for the Galaxy S4 mini - provided of course that Android is not an absolute must. LTE, the HD screen and the PureView camera tech are very tempting specs on top of the other value-adding Microsoft and Nokia features. It's a great offer, especially for the camera buffs, but the sheer size and weight may be a major turn-off, which is something for the mini to exploit.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is doing most things right. It's probably not everyone's dream version of a flagship in miniature but definitely closer than the S III mini got last year. It's by no means a super-mini but one that can be a pleasant ride.