For every Arnold Schwarzenegger, there’s a Danny DeVito. For every Hardy, there’s a Laurel.
We knew the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini was coming, and it’s the dinky alternative to the Galaxy S5. The question is whether it’s a slightly embarrassing poor relation, or if – like Asterix and Obelix – they each have their strengths, and make an unbeatable team.
Now that we’ve run out of slightly dated and/or naff duo comparisons, we can start talking about the actual phone. The truth: the Galaxy S5 Mini is a less capable phone than its bigger brother. Less capable in so many areas that at around the £390 mark it does seem pretty expensive for what it is.
However, it is far from an embarrassment. While not totally top-end, it’s very easy to live with – a joy to use, for the most part.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Design
Look at a photo of the Galaxy S5 Mini in-hand and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a Galaxy S5 in the hand of someone with a mild case of gigantism. It looks an awful lot like Samsung’s Android king.
Apart from casting a smaller shadow, of course. Those with smaller hands, or kids with far too much cash, should be able to get on with the Galaxy S5 Mini perfectly.
It’s not smaller in every dimension, though. The Galaxy S5 Mini is a millimetre thicker than its bigger sibling. However, at 120g and 9.1mm thick it’s still pretty slim, and very lightweight.
The slightly questionable style of the Galaxy S5 is back, and it both looks and feels the same once again. The dimpled back, the slightly flimsy-feeling plastic, the fake metal sides. Everything that initially made you raise an eyebrow upon first seeing the Galaxy S5 makes a return in the S5 Mini.
And that’s just as it should be, given this phone is meant to be a mini version of the flagship. Of course, it also means the S5 Mini doesn’t feel like it lives up to its rather expensive price tag.
Shrunken down to a similar size as some of the world’s cheaper smartphones, though, the Galaxy S5 Mini absolutely doesn’t feel like a budget mobile. Using things like Gorilla Glass 3 for the top screen layer, and with a construction that doesn’t feel a though it’s held together with spit and Blu-tack, it does feel a cut above much cheaper phones. As you’d hope. And while we love the Moto G, the S5 Mini does feel higher-end than that similar-size (and cheaper) mobile.
There’s a real hardware benefit to the extra expense too. The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini is water resistant. Stumble drunkenly into a canal with this phone in your pocket and you might drown, but your phone won’t.
It’s rated with an IP67 certification, which means it’s dustproof and can be submerged in water for a short time (30 mins) officially, however, that's just as far as the manufacturer is prepared to guarantee, and in all likelihood it will survive longer than that. The best bit, though, is that there are no socket seals to worry about. The headphone jack and microUSB ports are designed not to let in water without needing fiddly covers.
The idea of not having to reseal a little plastic flap every time I charge the bloody thing (that’s every day) fills me with the sort of joy that reduces blood pressure and adds years to life expectancy.
It does mean the waterproofing is a bit harder for Carphone Warehouse junior sales assistant Dave to show off to the hapless sheep flocking in to see the latest £500 phone upgrade they don’t really need, but it’s the way forward.
Aside from these special sockets, the S5 Mini uses much the same internal weatherproofing as the S5. There’s a rubbery seam that runs around the inside as part of the battery cover.
The actual socket used by the Galaxy S5 Mini is a normal microUSB port, where the bigger S5 uses a bigger (suitably enough) microUSB 3.0 one. These offer faster data transfer and faster charging over USB: things we didn’t miss for half a second during testing. As valid as it is in pure tech terms, adding USB 3.0 was basically a case of Samsung waving its wang at the world.
“My USB is bigger than yours,” it screams. Slight embarrassment is the response.
We’ll soon see USB 3.0-style speed in phones more widely, but it’ll be when it’s packed into a microUSB-size port as part of the USB 3.1 standard. I think it’s sensible that the S5 Mini doesn’t have the larger connector, but it is a bit unfortunate it’s not MHL-compliant either. MHL lets you plug your phone into a TV’s HDMI port with the right cable. There’s no hardware TV-out here, which is a shame.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini has a few other extras that you don’t generally see in smaller phones like this, though. There’s a fingerprint scanner under the home button, a heart rate sensor on the back and an IR blaster hidden in the silvery plastic screen surround.
So, has Samsung improved the fingerprint sensor since we first saw it in the Galaxy S5? Not really, no. It’s still used primarily to unlock the phone or authorise PayPal payments, and it’s still a bit fiddly.
Some people swear the Samsung finger scanner works every time, but I found it quite frustrating. You need to be quite careful about how you swipe your finger across the sensor, and as a result my hit rate was pretty low, when out and about in particular. It’s just not as simple and fool-proof as the iPhone 5S TouchID.
Yes, I just labelled myself a fool, but do you really want to have to think and actively try just to unlock your phone? The heart rate sensor isn’t much cop either, simply because you can get the same sort of results from any old phone camera and LED flash.
Having an IR blaster is pretty neat, though. Hardly anyone uses one, but they let your phone act as a universal remote. Any other cuts? There’s no ac Wi-Fi, but unless you know off the top of your head whether your router supports this or not, just don’t worry about it.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Display
Some cuts I don’t care about, others I do. I'm torn on the Galaxy S5 Mini’s screen.
It’s smaller than the S5’s at 4.5 inches, and that’s kinda the whole point of the phone. That’s fine. However, it’s also significantly lower-res, using the same 720p screen resolution as the Motorola Moto G.
Does it matter? Yes, because the S5 Mini’s Diamond PenTile screen style makes the underlying pixel structure about as apparent as it is in a 960 x 540 pixel screen of this size.
It’s not as pristine-looking as the Galaxy S5 display, or even a normal LCD one of the same size. However, this is the sort of thing only people with screen OCD are really likely to notice.
And in other respects, it’s great.
It uses a Super AMOLED panel, and this brings contrast that piddles all over LCD screens of any grade. Put the Galaxy S5 Mini in a darkened room next to the HTC One Mini 2 and the HTC’s blacks will look a bit grey and washed out, where the S5 Mini’s will stay black as the soul of a serial killer.
You can also choose exactly how vivid you want the display to look. In the settings menu you have a choice between various screen settings – a bit like a TV. Some are vivid (too vivid for the screen OCD crowd), others are much more natural-looking.
This being a Super AMOLED screen, viewing angles are absolutely fantastic and outdoors visibility is top-notch too. The “Super” bit involves cutting out an extra layer in the screen’s structure, reducing reflections. Top brightness isn’t a patch on the Galaxy S5’s, making the bigger phone better for those bonafide summer days, but it’s sound.
So while the screen obsessive in me keeps on muttering “but it’s not 1080p”, and “look, if I get my eye 6mm from the screen I can see the pixels”, in actual use the S5 Mini still has a really quite excellent display.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Software & Performance
Looking beyond the surface, the Galaxy S5 Mini is a lot like its bigger brother in use. They use the same Samsung interface, and pretty much the same version of it as far as I can tell (there are minor differences).
It’s simplified compared to Samsung’s older versions, if still a little bit overblown in places. Like the gigantic settings menu.
There are also some little performance hitches at times. No consistent lag, but just a bit of glitchiness when the phone is trying to do a few things in the background as well as dealing with your current demands. Loads of Samsung mobile devices have this kind of geriatric stuttering.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini’s core specs may have a part to play too, though. It has a quad-core Exynos 3 3470 CPU, which only actually has about as much power as the Snapdragon 400 used in phones like the EE Kestrel and, admittedly, the similarly-priced HTC One Mini 2.
It’s a mid-range processor rather than a really high-end one, and we did notice that there are some little knock-in effects. The little laggy moments are things we’ll mostly blame on Samsung’s software, but some games leave out some additional graphical effects that you only get with a top-end phone. Looking at the price, it’s a shame the Galaxy S5 Mini doesn’t have a Snapdragon 800 or 801, given the Xperia Z1 Compact managed to maintain flagship muscle in a diminutive package.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Camera
Samsung has made the same sort of cutbacks to the camera. The Galaxy S5 Mini has an 8-megapixel main camera where the S5 has a more advanced 16-megapixel one.
You get less detail, slightly less contrast in photos, and colour tends to desaturate a bit when there are trickier lighting conditions, where the S5 holds onto colour and contrast like a particularly determined dog with a ball. However, that doesn’t mean it is not a good camera in its own right.
It’s pretty quick and reliable, with good metering and fast focusing. You do have to wait a little while between shots if you use the HDR mode, unlike the super-fast Galaxy S5, but then this is true of the majority of phones, big or small.
Extra modes on offer are pretty much the norm for a Samsung phone, although you miss out on some of the latest extras. You can’t shoot video at 4K resolution, and you don’t get some of the latest Samsung camera innovations, such as being able to blur out backgrounds. However, the background blur feature never works properly anyway so it’s no great loss in my book.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Battery Life
Looking at the specs in isolation it may seem like Samsung has done a number on the Mini’s battery life as well as core specs and camera. It has a 2,100mAh battery to the S5’s 2,800mAh unit.
However, in reality I found that this actually seems to be a sensible size reduction that’s in-line with the drop in processing power, and the screen size and resolution. You’ll get 12 hours of movies off a single charge if they’re 720p and MP4s, and you keep the screen brightness at indoors levels (around 50-60 per cent). General longevity is good too.
I tend to prefer using a phone without any overly intensive power-saving modes – the ones that put your mobile data on lockdown when the phone’s screen is off. And like this, the Galaxy S5 Mini still lasts for a good day and a half, with a few good stints of browsing the web on 3G in there to eat away at the battery.
It’s a good result, and one that makes the S5 Mini more enjoyable to live with in spite of some of those little snips and cuts it has been subjected to.
Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Conclusion
The Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini is a good phone despite all the bits that aren’t quite as good as its bigger cousin. Screen, camera and processor power are all significantly diminished here.
They don’t dramatically reduce the overall experience for the more casual user, but the more hardcore amongst you have a right to stick your nose up, at least a bit.
If the Galaxy S5 Mini was a little cheaper we’d have no issues with the alterations. However, now that the S5 isn’t hundreds more, I think Samsung could have priced this mobile phone a bit more competitively.
Why hasn’t it? You can blame the inclusion of fluffy extras like the heart rate sensor, the fingerprint scanner and IR blaster if you like. But the truth is that Samsung doesn’t really need to. Not with a brand like ‘Galaxy S5’ attached.