Given the look of this handset, its product reference and all the marketing information that surrounds it, it's hard not to see this phone as a more compact version of the Galaxy S3. While this handset is smaller than the full-sized Galaxy S3 (although it is thicker) its overall design is very similar. However, its tech specs have been scaled down considerably. The evocative name may therefore prove a little misleading in this instance.
So let's take a look at a few of those key tech specs. The Galaxy S3 Mini has a 4" AMOLED screen (800 x 480 pixels), a 1 GHz dual-core ST-Ericsson NovaThor U8420 processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 5-Megapixel camera and an 8 GB internal memory (but only half of that is actually available to users as storage space).
So for around £300 SIM-free, what exactly do you get with the GS3 Mini? Can it out-perform the Galaxy S2, an older handset that now sells for around the same price, but which comes with a better processor and camera? How does the Mini compare with entry-level smartphones? Answers below.
DESIGN & HANDLING
While this phone is thicker than a full-sized Galaxy S3, the Mini is, as its name suggests, a smaller, lighter handset. And it's rather nice to hold and handle. Plus, the smaller format obviously makes it easier to use in one hand. Like the bigger version—and like many Samsung handsets—this mobile's casing is made entirely from plastic, which you may or may not like. But in spite of the fact that it's made from materials that feel a little cheap, the general product finish is perfectly fine.
Unlike the original GS3, there's no LED notification light in the Mini mobile, which is a bit of a shame, as this can be handy when you need to be discreetly alerted to new text messages and e-mails.
The GS3 Mini has a 4" screen, compared with 4.8" in the Galaxy S3 and 4.2" in the Galaxy S2. Samsung has been a bit stingy with screen resolution for a device at this price point, as the AMOLED screen has 800 x 400 pixels. That's the same resolution as the GS2—which came out a good while ago—and is similar to the pixel count in the cheaper, entry-level Galaxy Ace 2.
Pixels are visible to the naked eye—and anyone who's used to higher-res screens will have no trouble picking them out. This clearly clashes with the GS3 Mini's reputation as a compact equivalent of the GS3, which boasts a high-definition screen with 1280 x 720 pixels.
Otherwise, the screen has a good "infinite" contrast level (5000:1), as often seen in AMOLED screens, but the 284 cd/m² brightness is a little on the low side compared with current market standards. On this front, the Google Nexus 4 and Sony Xperia S do a much better job (400 cd/m²). In general, the higher the screen brightness, the more the onscreen image will stay readable in strong sunlight.
In terms of colour fidelity, the GS3 Mini is no show-stopper, with an average Delta E of 6.7. Delta E measures colour fidelity—the closer it is to zero, the more accurate the onscreen colours. The best smartphones these days have a Delta E of five or less (iPhone 5: Delta E = 3.4 / HTC 8X: Delta E = 3.2).
One good thing, however, is that the viewing angles are wide enough to ensure you can always see what's going on onscreen, even when looking at the display from an angle.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
The Galaxy S3 Mini runs on Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) embellished with Samsung's practical and nicely designed TouchWiz interface. For more information on how the interface handles and what intuitive new features are on offer, head over to our review of the full-sized Galaxy S3.
With its 1 GHz dual-core ST-Ericsson NovaThor U8420 processor and 1 GB of RAM, the GS3 Mini isn't as power-packed as the big GS3 with its 1.4 GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor. Raw benchmark test data show this handset clearly lagging behind plenty of its rivals at similar levels in the market (entry-level/mid-range), scoring a feeble 2.1/5. In comparison, the original Galaxy S3 scores 4/5 in the same tests, with graphics processing performances in particular that are miles ahead. Even the 1.2 GHz dual-core Exynos processor in the GS2 does a better job, and that phone came out over a year and a half ago!
However, in practice, it's generally quite a responsive phone to use, staying smooth when surfing the web and navigating around the internal menus. Applications are a bit slower to load than in the Nexus 4 or the HTC One S, although not enough to be truly problematic. The handset's limits are felt the most in games that use loads of graphics processing power. Still, for a spot of casual gaming with the likes of Angry Birds, the Galaxy S3 Mini does the job just fine.
Far from the current market standard of 8 Megapixels, the GS3 Mini has a 5-Megapixel camera. Again, this seems like a strange choice for a phone that's supposed to be on par with the full-sized GS3. Even the GS2—which came out in 2011—has an 8-Megapixel camera, as do some entry-level handsets! Thankfully, the number of pixels alone doesn't necessarily determine image quality—but still—Samsung hasn't exactly kept things consistent among Galaxy S handsets.
The camera in the Galaxy S3 Mini actually isn't bad, giving decent results that are consistent in quality over the frame (some smartphone cameras take photos that are sharp in the middle and blurred around the edges, including the Galaxy S3). There's a decent level of detail and noise is handled well enough for this kind of device. The GS3 Mini camera isn't far from the GS2 camera in quality, and it generally does a better job than the HTC One S and the Google Nexus 4.
We did notice that the Galaxy S3 Mini camera is a bit slow to focus, though. Is often struggles to focus and can take a while to lock on. The autofocus is nowhere near as fast or as precise as in the Galaxy S3. Plus, the Mini doesn't inherit the full range of camera functions seen in the GS3 (like the HDR mode), which seems quite inexplicable.
Video quality is fine for a smartphone, although here you're limited to 720p while the Galaxy S2 manages 1080p. That's a bit of downer for the GS3 Mini, especially seeing as it's a more recent handset and that it's almost on par with the GS2 price-wise!
The Galaxy S3 Mini does a relatively good job of audio. The headphones socket delivers an accurate output with a good dynamic range and a good volume level with no interference. The speaker should only really be used from time to time as its audio performances are quite limited. Plus, even at the maximum volume setting, it'll soon be drowned out by noise in the surrounding environment.
The Galaxy S3 Mini has a 1500 mAh battery. From both benchmark test results (Battery BenchMark: a mobile stress-test which usually falls in line with our impressions from actual use) and real-life experience, we found that the GS3 Mini runs for around 12 hours non-stop before needing to recharge, which earns it a very good score of four out of five in this part of the review.
In comparison, the Google Nexus 4 holds out for 10 hours, the Motorola Razr i for 13 hours, the Galaxy Note 2 for 15 hours and the HTC One S for 11 hours.