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Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini review - An attractive phone at a hefty price

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The Samsung Galaxy S3 is an impressive piece of kit. With a dazzling display and enough raw power under the hood to light up a small town, the Android behemoth has made a hefty impact on the smartphone sector.

The Korean tech giant's flagship device was the bestselling handset during the third quarter of 2012, but unlike its great rival Apple, Samsung's business strategy involves targeting every corner of the market. The firm is well aware that high-end price tags don't sit well with some, and others have little need for cutting-edge technology.

Enter the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini; the platform holder's attempt to capture everything that's great about its top-of-the-range phone in a smaller, more affordable package. This scaled-down Android device is a tidy, mid-range offering that's easy on the eye and light in the pocket; but is it capable of making a sizeable splash in an increasingly crowded part of the market?

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung



Specs and design

The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini boasts some reasonably impressive specs for a mid-range piece of hardware. With a dual-core 1GHz processor and Google's Jelly Bean operating system on board, it's capable of holding its own against its competitors at this end of the spectrum, with the notable exception of the quad-core packing LG Nexus 4.

Measuring in at 122.55 x 63 x 9.9mm and weighing just 120g, it's a sleek and stylish device that's comfortable to grip or carry around in your pocket. The plastic casing does have an air of cheapness about it and is unlikely to respond well to being dropped, but aesthetically speaking, we've seen much shabbier.

A power button resides on the left hand side of the phone, with volume controls on the right. There's a physical home button at the foot of the device alongside Back and Menu soft keys. Samsung has favoured this layout since the Galaxy line first launched, and we see no reason why they should ever change it, however popular virtual buttons become.

A micro USB and microphone occupy the underside of the handset, with a headphone port on the top. There's a 5-megapixel camera on the rear, and a VGA snapper on the front for capturing grainy profile pictures or holding Skype video conversations.

The 4-inch WVGA Super AMOLED display is quite a step down from the eye-popping screen on the standard Galaxy S3, yet the smaller size makes this less apparent. Colours appear vibrant and crisp, and the shrunken display even compensates for the lesser camera specs.

When viewed on the handset itself, photos and video footage could almost be passed off as having been captured on its larger sibling. Of course, the gulf is there for all to see when media is uploaded to a computer screen, but you get what you pay for.

The 1500mAh removable battery, which covers a SIM port and micro-SD slot, offers an impressive amount of run time. We found the phone got through an entire day's worth of standard usage without requiring additional charge, and made it to late evening with the screen brightness on high throughout a day of intense media, data and WiFi consumption.

Best of all, this can be extended significantly through the range of power saving options on offer. Users can disable features such as WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth and other battery drainers directly from the notifications and put the phone into power saver mode via this menu.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung



Camera capabilities and hardware features

As we've already touched on, the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini's main camera is a 5-megapixel snapper. This ranks it a few megapixels behind the previous-generation Galaxy S2, as well as main rival, the Nexus 4. The quality of a handset's camera comes down to more than just numbers, though, and this one just about measures up when put to the test.

The camera app appears bland and unappealing, but is rich in features nonetheless. There are auto and selective focus options, a flash, various shooting modes and other adjustable variables. One of our favourite features was Smile Mode, which sets the camera to automatically go off when the subject cracks a smile.

The flash performs reasonably well and reproduces colours nicely, but expect some glare if there are any shiny surfaces in range. The 4x optical zoom produces very mixed results with photos often grainy and blurred around the edges, though the contrast fares as well as on most compact camera devices.

Samsung's Galaxy S3 Mini also offers video recording up to 30fps, with many of the same drawbacks and plus points as its photography capabilities. There are a range of resolutions on offer, so you can scale them down for sharing over MMS, though the lack of automated YouTube optimisation is disappointing.

Given that the preloaded software hogs around 3GB of the phone's on-board memory, users are left with 5GB internal storage to play around with. That's not a great deal if you are planning on keeping your music collection on there, so the inclusion of microSD support is a big bonus. Memory cards are fiddly to insert into that minutiae slot located beneath the battery, but that's a small price to pay for such an essential feature.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung



Operating system and software

The inclusion of the Android Jelly Bean operating system out of the box is a big selling point for the S3 Mini. Granted, the likes of the Nexus 4 comes with the more recent 4.2 version, but we can think of dozens of mid-range handsets still stuck in the Ice Cream Sandwich era.

Samsung's Touchwiz technology has been overlayed, so anyone familiar with the firm's previous handsets will feel right at home here. Despite the added kick Jelly Bean's Project Butter brings, we found the dual-core processor struggles with some high-end apps, particularly games, though the menu navigation is by no means slow.

Like any modern smartphone, the device comes populated with plenty of pre-installed apps. There are Google's first-party services such as Gmail, Gtalk, and Google+ (for anyone who actually uses it), as well as the ever reliable Google Maps and Jelly Bean's brilliant voice search.

Other pre-loaded software is little more than a waste of space. S Voice is a fairly unreliable Siri rival, while Samsung's Hubs are superfluous considered Google Play has all of your app, gaming and media needs thoroughly well catered for.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini phone

© Samsung



The verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is by no means a bad phone. It is competent in virtually every area and impresses where battery life and portability are concerned, plus the sleek and curvy design is sure to strike a chord with fashion-conscious consumers.

The handset successfully captures some of the best features of its bigger brother, but with a price tag of around £300, it might be a hard sell. If you shop around, it is possible to find the full-fat Samsung Galaxy S3 for little more than this, and it's a vastly superior phone.

Moreover, the Google Nexus 4 is more competitively priced and significantly more powerful; so it's difficult to recommend the S3 Mini over its LG-made rival when the only significant advantage it offers is microSD support.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini is available now from around £300 from Carphone Warehouse and other retailers, or free on contract from around £20 per month.

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