We put Samsung’s 2012 & 2013 miniature flagships through their paces
Samsung have been putting out device after device for the last couple of years so whatever your particular niche, it’s likely they’ve catered for it. Among all their devices each year has to be a Galaxy S handset; considered the flagship model, expected to show the best of what Samsung can do each year and designed to appeal to as many of us as possible. For some though, the size or cost is just a little too much and starting last year, the Mini range was launched.
For a lower price, the Mini range offers the same design and many of the same features in a smaller sized device. There is of course a trade off for the size and price – neither device is quite up to the levels of their bigger counterparts. The S3 Mini took a bit of criticism last year for not being particularly close to the standard S3 specification but the final word was that as a cheaper mid-range device, it was more than capable. So how well does it stand up today against it’s natural successor? Read on to find out!
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini vs Galaxy S3 Mini Video
Specs aren’t everything but in a budget device you want as much bang for your buck as possible! At a glance:
- Processor – Both are dual core processors, the S4 Mini clocking in at 1.7 GHZ over the older 1GHz in the S3 Mini
- RAM – S4 Mini has an extra half a gigabyte of RAM
- Memory – Both devices are equal at 8GB of internal storage
- Display – S4 Mini is slightly higher resolution and a bit bigger
- 4G – S4 Mini has 6 band LTE support, 3G only on the S3 Mini
- Camera – 8 MP on the S4 Mini against S3 Mini’s 5 MP
- Battery – 1900 mAh for S4 Mini, 1500 mAh for the S3 Mini
- Size & weight – S4 Mini is a few grams lighter and the tiniest bit slimmer
- Software – S4 Mini runs 4.2.2 out of the box, S3 Mini has recently received an update to 4.1.2, may not receive further updates.
Even with this quick look, the S4 Mini looks to be the far superior device, which a year on we would expect. At the time of writing however, the S3 Mini is currently available at a cut price bargain (£125 cheaper than the S4 Mini ex VAT). At such a cheap price, it’s worth disregarding the snap judgement and looking at the differences in more detail to see the device on its own merit.
Please note – Different models/variants of each device are released globally and may impact your decision. This comparison is based on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini GT-I9195 and the Galaxy S3 Mini GT-I8190 which are the most popular within the UK market.
If you want to watch this comparison, rather than read, head to the bottom of the post.
Neither the S3 Mini nor the S4 Mini comes close to matching their bigger counterparts – both of the larger devices have quad-core processors whilst these 2 smaller handsets feature dual core chips.
The S3 Mini clocks in at 1GHz (a NovaThor U8420 Cortex A9 chip) and the S4 Mini at 1.7 GHz (Krait Qualcomm MSM8930 Snapdragon 400). The clock speed alone is enough to convince most users that the S4 Mini will be the faster device in real time.
Those with more tech knowledge will understand the importance of using Snapdragon in the S4 Mini. The CPU is much more advanced and contains the ability as standard to decode high definition video, perform much better in terms of graphics acceleration for gaming and includes cellular radios on chip (including LTE support).
There’s no doubt about this one: the S4 Mini’s processor is by far the better option. It is a modern design and relatively well future proofed. Whilst the S3 Mini’s processor will support the use of lightweight users and reflects the power one could expect of a device now at this price, it may well struggle in a year or so if attempting to run powerful applications or games.
The S4 Mini has an extra .5GB of RAM included, to a total of 1.5GB. Personally I would have liked to have seen it keep the 2GB of its bigger brother but I suppose Samsung were trying to shave production costs wherever they can. For the average user this will hardly affect day to day use. The 1GB included on the S3 Mini is more than enough for a device in it’s range and quite standard for the time of its release.
Whilst the combination of processor and RAM leave no doubt as to the S4 Mini’s superiority over the older device, the S3 Mini’s configuration is by no means bad. It is a little outdated for this year but still capable of driving enough performance for a lightweight user.
Internal storage is becoming a big talking point in the industry now – with stock Android slowly getting larger and day to day apps creeping up in size, we need as much space as possible.
Both devices include 8GB of internal storage; actual usable space is of course going to be less as well due to the Android installation and Samsung’s own applications.
Our S3 Mini reports having 4.23 GB available to the user following a complete factory data reset. Memory usage is reported slightly differently in Samsung’s upgraded software on the S4 Mini but we can clearly see 5.07 GB free. At approximately 840 MB, the S4 Mini has nearly 10% more of the advertised storage available. Samsung have clearly listened to critics and optimised their Android installation since last year. Considering that underneath the TouchWiz skin there is a bigger stock Android to work from this is quite impressive.
In practice though, 840 MB could be eaten up quite quickly. Depending on your use, managing memory applications is going to be similar on both handsets. You could argue however that as the S4 Mini is the more powerful device, it will be capable for longer of running large and more demanding apps and that those who purchase are more likely to install these.
By considering the type of user who may buy each of these devices then, the S3 Mini is actually better suited to its target audience. The S4 Mini really should have had a minimum of 16GB (and the same can be said of the bigger S4 having a minimum configuration of 32…).
Any Mini by nature is going to have a smaller screen than its counterpart and both devices slim their bigger brother’s window by about the same amount proportionally.
Samsung have opted for their Super AMOLED technology on both handsets so colour depth should be similar, the S4 Mini has jumped in resolution to qHD (960 x 540), an improvement on the S4 Mini with WVGA (800 x 480). The S4 Mini screen size has also jumped to 4.3 inches from 4. The handsets are of an almost identical size so Samsung have squeezed a decent bit of extra real estate into the S4 Mini by cutting down on the bezels.
Samsung have future proofed the S4 Mini by providing 4G LTE support on 6 international bands. These are: 800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 MHz (Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20).
Please note we have the international version GT-I9195. LTE support may vary on local variants. None of the listed bands are compatible with carriers in the USA. 3G compatibility is available worldwide.
4G LTE was in its infancy worldwide when the S3 Mini was released and depending on your uses may not be a requirement for you. If you happen to be an area covered by LTE though, or would like the opportunity to utilise it then the S4 Mini will have to be your choice with these two handsets.
Both devices include the Bluetooth 4.0 specification and so can benefit from the use of compatible low power BT accessories.
Samsung have continued the limitations of video out on the S4 Mini like they did in the S3 Mini. To many people’s surprise, Samsung crippled the S3 Mini by not just removing the MHL capability from the micro USB port but also not making it compatible with Samsung AllShare (now Samsung Link). This left the S3 Mini completely incapable of displaying content on anything but its own screen.
Samsung have not rectified this with the S4 Mini. Samsung Link is supported for DLNA file transfer and streaming with compatible devices. WiFi direct can also be used for Screen Mirroring with compatible devices – expect Samsung’s Smart HDTV’s to feature support for this soon. NFC also makes an appearance, as is becoming standard on many devices now.
As both of these devices are in the respective mid-range for their generation, the camera quality on both is not going to blow anyone away. Before we dig a little deeper though, both are quite competent. The S4 Mini has the natural upgrade to an 8 MP sensor. The S3 Mini sports a still relatively standard 5 MP unit that will happily go toe-to-toe with many mid range devices that have been released since. In fact 5MP cameras are still common on devices being released now.
A bigger difference lies in the front-facing cameras. Last year’s S3 Mini only has a VGA camera, so video calls and any selfies from this module are going to be at a significantly lower resolution than the S4 Mini. With a 1.9 MP FFC, the newer device is up there with the big boys in this regard so Skype and any other use you gain here will be dramatically improved and at a similar level to much more expensive devices.
The aspect ratio you shoot in will make a difference to the final result on the S4 Mini. Due to the way the camera module has been implemented, you can either shoot in full 16:9 widescreen at a maximum of 6 megapixels or to get the full 8 megapixels, restrict yourself to squarer 4:3 shots. The choice is in fine detail of content so for swooping landscape images or group shots you may prefer the 6MP widescreen option and then turn up the resolution to 8MP for portraits and close ups. The S3 Mini only has the option for 4:3 within the settings from the maximum 5MP down.
Both cameras feature a decent amount of settings and options, although the S4 Mini has clearly benefited from Samsung’s software updates in the 4.2.2 build of TouchWiz. As well as providing a more user-friendly UI within the camera app, there are a number of extra shooting modes for specific use-cases from the usual sports and night options to the newer Samsung only Sound & Shot, Best Face, Best Photo, Beauty Face and Continuous Shot. Although the S3 Mini has a few extra options such as burst shot and panorama, Samsung’s updates in the S4 Mini are quite extensive once you start to peruse all the available settings.
A few sample images are below:
Galaxy S3 Mini at 5 megapixels (4:3):
Galaxy S4 Mini at 8 megapixels (4:3):
Galaxy S4 Mini at 6 megapixels (16:9):
Looking at these we can see that although the S4 Mini is capturing more detail and appears sharper around the edges on both 6MP widescreen and 8MP 4:3 shots, the automatic setting is definitely overexposing. The Light in the top-right corner is coming through much brighter after post processing and the general colour tone is more muted.The processing algorithms have definitely been adjusted along with a change to the sensor module.
We can get rid of some of this by using the HDR mode on the S4 Mini. This takes a series of shots at different exposure level then merges them into one for a supposedly more natural colour depth:
Galaxy S4 Mini at 6 megapixels (16:9) with HDR:
HDR definitely has an effect, cleaning up the horrible bleeding light. It takes a split second longer to take an HDR shot due to the multiple exposures, however the results speak for themselves. It also saves you the hassle of trying to work out the best exposure settings (of which the S4 Mini turns up to ISO 800 against the S3 Mini’s ISO 400).
Zoom is largely a moot point on any smartphone that isn’t the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Using digital Zoom utilises the ‘crop and expand’ technique that invariably results in horribly pixelated images. Both devices have a 4x digital zoom and if you absolutely have to zoom in then you’re better off doing so on the S4 Mini. The added resolution at 8MP 4:3 makes all the difference, although you’re unlikely to be pleased with the results from any handset’s digital zoom.
S3 Mini 5MP at 4x Digital Zoom:
S4 Mini 8MP (4:3) at 4x Digital Zoom:
S4 Mini 6MP (16:9) at 4x Digital Zoom:
After taking a few shots and playing with the settings it’s actually quite difficult to pick the two cameras apart. Whilst the S4 Mini provides you with more options, this can actually make the point-and-shoot process more confusing. After several test shots I also can’t deny that the automatic setting overexposes quite badly, even after changing exposures and light settings. If I had to put this down to anything it would have to be the sensor used in the S4 Mini. It goes to show that no amount of end user software options can save a poor post processing algorithm.
The S4 Mini can use S Voice commands for taking pictures, so simply speaking the words “Shoot”, “Capture”, “Smile” or “Cheese” will take a picture without touching the screen or assigning a dedicated button. This has it’s uses, especially if you have trouble keeping your camera steady but in the end is only a minor plus. Overall it’s a shame because the camera should be where the S4 Mini really trumps over its older brother and yet there’s very little discernable difference. In fact, without making adjustments, you may find yourself taking worse pictures on the S4 Mini. All in all, both devices take decent images when compared to everything else on the market, but definitely don’t mark the camera alone as a reason to choose the S4 Mini.
Straight up there is almost no difference in discernible battery life between the two Minis in real terms. All though the S4 Mini has a larger cell (1900 mAh over 1500 mAh), the faster processor and slightly larger, higher resolution screen clearly go their way to draining this faster. The end result is one of cancelling out and in the end both devices do a pretty decent job of getting to the end of the day on a full charge.
The usual rules in managing you battery apply really, turn off unnecessary connections, background apps and try not to overcharge. Neither device does a stand out job of lasting significantly longer than the other or the market as a whole. Both include a Samsung power saving option in the settings and have removable batteries with the option to purchase spares and charging kits so in the end – not much to report.
Size, weight and design
A surprise when I put the two devices side by side is that they are almost identical. I was expecting the S4 Mini to be a fair bit bigger, although smaller than the standard S4. This isn’t the case though and reflective of how the S4 is itself almost exactly the same in dimensions to the original S3.
At a true measurement the S3 Mini is 121.55 x 63 x 9.85 mm and the S4 Mini 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.94 mm. The difference is so small as to be almost negligible but for numbers fans this means that the S4 Mini, whilst being 3mm taller, actually manages to be 1.7 mm slimmer and 0.21mm thinner. Someone in a Samsung design room somewhere deserves a beer for managing to improve screen size, resolution, include more hardware AND make the device marginally smaller. It’s shaved 4.5 grams down to 107 too. Good work.
Overall, the design language of the Galaxy S4 range is a mild improvement on the S3 range. The flat backs make the handsets rest better on a surface and removing the curvature slims them down in profile. Trimming the bezel to fit a larger screen in almost the same height also gives the impression of slimming the handset down, as does making angle of the rounded corners shallower.
When you get really close, its clear the S4 design language is an optical illusion to give the impression of a smaller handset over the older S3 handsets. Once they’re in the hand though, you can be forgiven for truly believing the S4 Mini is significantly smaller and lighter than the S3 Mini. This is also true of the flagship devices.
Currently the S4 Mini is priced at £314 + VAT (£376.80 inc.) against the £189 + VAT (£226.80 inc) of the S3 Mini.
That’s a huge £125 (£150 inc) difference between the two. At the time of writing the S3 Mini is currently on a special offer price, however this price may continue until the end of its lifespan due to the age of the handset and new range being available.
As always judging value based on price alone is difficult – as we have seen there are various improvements to the S4 Mini that justify the extra costs and reductions to the S3 Mini since launch. One thing is for sure though, if you consider the specification of the S3 Mini to be suitable for your uses then there has never been a better time or price to pick one up.
The basic story here is that the S3 Mini is running Android 4.1 out of the box (can be upgraded to 4.1.2). The S4 Mini has Samsung’s most recent 4.2.2 build. Nothing is confirmed but it may well be eligible for a new build of 4.3 when ready.
It can be difficult to keep abreast of each device specific build of Android/TouchWiz that Samsung have in the wild, the S4 Mini 4.2.2 build for instance doesn’t have all of the features available on the standard S4 4.2.2 build. It does however have a number of features not available on the original 4.1 S3 Mini build, or the recent 4.1.2 update.
Using the toggle bar available in the notification panel for the S4 Mini, we can see options for: Driving Mode, Screen Mirroring, S-Beam, S-Voice and Smart Stay.
Driving Mode is a useful addition if you happen to have your device in a cradle or dock in the car and can be used read out caller and sender information for calls and messages as well as alarm details.
Screen mirroring is part of the Android 4.2 specification and builds on the new addition to WiFi, WiFi direct. This allows for compatible devices to share screen content directly over an ad-hoc network without having to first connect to a shared router or network node.
The remaining ‘S’ features are Samsung’s own implementations that have been marketed heavily since they were first available on the original S3. S-Beam builds on WiFi direct and NFC to share large files between compatible devices (WiFi direct handles the actual transfer as most files are too large to transfer using NFC, which in this case is used only for the connection and authentication). Smart Stay utilises facial recognition to keep the device screen on whilst being looked at. Finally, some S Voice commands are available on the S4 Mini. You can fine tune where you want the commands to be active between camera, music player, alarms and calls.
There couldn’t really be a better example of an upgrade than with the S3 Mini to the S4 Mini. Whilst many are pondering the move from an S3 to S4 and wondering whether they will see enough of a benefit, the decision is almost being made for you with these smaller devices. If you are looking at a mid range device and have the money to spend on the S4 Mini then get one. It’s as simple as that.
The S3 Mini can’t really be defined as mid range now. It’s closer to low end, or perhaps low-middle if you want to be pedantic. It’s a capable device given the limitations of the hardware but remember that’s what the S3 Mini has – limitations. As long as you approach the S3 Mini with this in mind, it performs admirably but I honestly couldn’t recommend it as a daily driver to anyone serious about upgrading.
You can definitely do worse for a budget handset though. There are literally hundreds of cheap Android devices out there that don’t come close to the S3 Mini specification, so if you are looking for a secondary/backup handset or something for the kids/teenagers then at this price the S3 Mini is likely one of your better bets.
Many of Samsung’s features in the standard S4 are decried as gimmicks but here in the S4 Mini they have the kept the implementation quite slimlined and only included the best. Given the difference in price, the software alone may not be enough to tempt some from the cheaper S3 Mini but definitely justifies inclusion and makes up for the extra cost. Plus if you’re looking at something in this price range to begin with then the added features are worth taking into consideration.
Find out more about the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini HERE.
Find out more about the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini HERE.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini vs Galaxy S4 Mini Graphic