Samsung was among the pioneers in creating mini versions of flagship phones. Now the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini, representing the handset's third generation, is here to cram more features than ever into the smaller smartphone form.
With a 4.5-inch screen the S5 mini isn't exactly what everyone would call small, but compared to the trend of smartphone screen growth it remains more pocket-friendly than most. This isn't simply a smaller version of the Galaxy S5 though, it's a little watered-down with a 1280 x 720 resolution screen and a less powerful processer too.
Now that top-end smartphones are available for less cash, such as the Motorola Moto X, does this mini version of Samsung's flagship have a worthy place any more?
Design and build
The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is not a premium quality handset compared to the flagship S5. It feels plastic as is typical of many Samsung phones - but more the Samsung phones of old. Unlike the more modern efforts in the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Alpha there is no metal to be seen in the S5 mini's exterior. In fact the finish is more hard and rounded than the flagship S5's faux leather plastic, in spite of a dotted hole pattern that offers some more grip. It feels budget, even with the new fancy-looking pattern on the front face.
But there are some cool features on board. It's both water- and dust-proof for starters, thanks to an IP67 rating, which for a mid-range handset at this price is a big plus point. That can only really be compared to the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, a prime competitor.
The Galaxy S5 mini is thicker and heavier than its S4 mini predecessor by a little, measuring 131.1 x 64.8 x 9.1 mm. The phone actually looks and feels reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S2 which goes to show how the smartphone screen-size gap has evolved, given that was a "normal" size just three years ago.
For fancy extras the Galaxy S5 mini is certainly not lacking. Everything that made the Galaxy S4 and flagship S5 trendsetters has managed to filter down to this mini model.
The fingerprint sensor on the front home key makes an appearance and works just the same as it does on the flagship S5 model, with a swipe (or several). This can also be used with PayPal to validate payments as well as providing a simple lock layer into accessing the phone. We must admit we stopped using it to unlock our review device, though, as it doesn't work every time which gets annoying.
On the rear of the handset is the camera, along a flash unit that also houses a heart-rate monitor in the same space. This sensor uses light to read the pulse of a well-placed finger and is both fast and accurate and but, since you can only use it when standing still for a single read, it's not that helpful. It's certainly not of benefit for real-time tracking.
The top of the S5 mini features an IR blaster, allowing you to use the phone as a remote control for your TV. The Smart Remote app comes pre-installed, enabling you to control devices from the off, although if you already have a TV remote that you're used to you may not find much use for it.
Unlike the Galaxy S5 the mini's charger port does not have a cover despite being waterproof. So no faffing around trying to remove a flap before plugging a cable in to charge - which is great. Although we did feel some trepidation about dunking the S5 mini into water, as the handset is apparently submergible for up to half an hour. A few splashes of rain or even a downpour certainly won't cause you any problems.
On the whole the S5 mini's extras are plentiful for the price. But in all honesty we'd prefer to sacrifice these extras, which we didn't use all too often, and have more focus on the handset's build quality.
The display is where Samsung hasn't put in a top-spec panel in order to deliver a more affordable handset. The 4.5-inch Super AMOLED panel has a 1280 x 720 resolution, delivering a 326ppi density. As we said with the slightly larger Galaxy Alpha, we thought the screen would be the S5 mini's downfall too, but that's not really the case.
Sure, it's not as stunning compared to some of the competition, but AMOLED means there's enough brightness and colour saturation to make up for the lack of top-end resolution. When it comes to outdoor use it's the brightness and vibrancy of those colours that make a real difference on a screen. In daylight the screen is almost as clear as it is indoors, which a lot of lesser displays can't claim.
The resolution isn't as noticeably sharp as in the flagship SGS5, though, where font and edge definition can be seen more clearly. On the S5 mini there is a certain level of softness by comparison that can be detected around letters when looking at text, for example.
Power and performance
Just because the S5 mini is small in size does not mean it's small in power terms. There is still 1.5GB of RAM which was only found in top end phones just a year or so ago. The processor itself is an Exynos quad-core A7 running at 1.4GHz and backed by Mali-400 graphics. On paper those specs aren't mind blowing and they are behind the flagship S5, but in real-world use they deliver an experience that can't really be faulted at this price-point.
One example of the phone's power was when we were using it on a train. The 4G connectivity combined with internal processing meant loading a high-quality YouTube video was near instant. As fast as we could type and click it all loaded-up ready.
Our gaming experiences were equally smooth, so not having the very best processor on the market doesn't mean the S5 mini lacks capability. On paper the spec isn't the fastest, but it is ahead of the HTC One mini 2, and just behind the 2014 Moto X. Overall it does enough to keep you happy for the price.
READ: HTC One mini 2 review
The battery life of the device is good too, especially considering the relatively small 2,100mAh battery capacity. Since the screen isn't massive or crammed full of pixels that limits how much power is pulled from the battery, and the Exynos chip is efficient too. With screen brightness set to automatic and with 4G running in the background with data flying in and out we still got a full day of use with some battery power remaining.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini features an 8-megapixel camera to the rear and a 2.1-megapixel snapper on the front. Considering the older Samsung Galaxy S2 also had an 8-megapixel camera this might sound outdated. But Apple sees 8-megapixels as good enough for its latest iPhone 6, while HTC's flagship One (M8) has mere 4-megapixels, so it's not all about the megapixel count. There's a lot more to a camera.
Cameras are one area a company can save money on more budget handsets. For the mid-range price, the S5 mini's camera performs well enough thanks to autofocus that's swift to kick in when you hit the shutter button.
There are some interesting Samsung camera smarts that are standard on a Galaxy handset too. HTC might have stolen a few headlines with its Ufocus Duo Camera feature, but Samsung is also offering a Selective focus mode. The difference is that on the HTC One (M8) you can apply the effect to any photo, whereas with the Samsung - just like with Lumia handsets - you have to select that shooting mode before taking the shot.
The top-end 8-megapixel snaps are shot in a 4:3 ratio, so if you want the 16:9 widescreen format you'll have to settle on a 6-megapixel resolution because of the ratio's crop of the sensor. The results are reasonable, but as our snaps of London show the detail at full scale isn't the best out there.
Video is captured at 1080p at 30fps and results are smooth enough for most situations, even if the S5 mini misses the future-proofed 4K resolution. But on a mini phone we're not surprised by lack of Ultra-HD resolution.
Software and extras
The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini comes with Samsung's usual TouchWiz interface laid over the top of the Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system. It's similar to that in the flagship S5 with one or two exclusions making a difference.
TouchWiz brings things like Samsung's smart keyboard which learns your way of typing to speed up interactions and cuts down on errors in the long run. The fingerprint reader and heart-rate monitor can also be used in conjunction with Samsung's S Health application - one app of many Samsung specials that you'll find on board - that we detailed extensively in our original Samsung Galaxy S5 review.
READ: Samsung Galaxy S5 review
That said, Samsung hasn't filled the S5 Mini with loads of bloatware this time around, only some. There's the normal switch to S Planner instead of the regular calendar, its own browser, and S Voice, but many of the other Samsung apps you're now prompted to download if you want them. Keeps it smarter.
One feature that's missing from this mini handset, which appears in the Galaxy S5, is the Multi Window option. This mode, which allows you to open two windows side-by-side, must use up too much processing power for the mini to handle. Although on this smaller screen such as this it's a feature that you might not always want either. Air browser, which lets you scroll without touching the screen, has also been omitted - although how well that works or how often its used the world over is debatable anyway.
Thanks to Three for the loan unit.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini is a respectable handset that offers ample speed, a bright and colorful screen and good battery life. What lets it down is the build quality, which is chunky and plastic.
A year ago this phone would have been a really impressive mid-range handset, but now with more competition on the market - notably the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and, for a bit more money, the larger Motorola Moto X - it struggles to appeal as much.
Sure, Samsung has crammed the S5 mini with impressive features such as waterproofing, a fingerprint reader and heart-rate monitor - but how often will those actually get used? The heart-rate monitor in particular is no stand-in for the likes of Samsung's Gear Live or Gear Fit, one of which you'll likely want to get the most out of the built-in S Health feature.
The S5 mini is a more affordable way to get Samsung's latest features and, of course, offers those in a more portable package than the larger-screen direction most of the flagships are headed. It's mini, but with the build quality and changing marketplace it's not as mighty this time around.