Quad-core devices are all the rage nowadays, but the mid-range smartphones are the lynchpin of a company’s long-term success. Samsung has, to a certain extent, dominated this space with a multitude of offerings over the years. The Samsung Galaxy Ace and Ace Plus were both heavy hitters and announced last year, and the Galaxy S III Mini looks to continue the tradition. The smartphone was announced in October 2012 but hasn’t been officially launched in India. However, our sources in the grey market have revealed that it is indeed available for Rs 18,500. That is a great price for the phone, especially looking at the specs sheet. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the specifications of the S3 Mini.
OS – Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
All of Samsung’s recent phones, including low-end phones, are launching with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. That’s great news as JB brings a spot of smoothness to the UI in terms of animation and general navigation, and also opens up the world of Google Now. The S3 Mini will have Samsung’s Nature UX on top though, which despite taking away a lot of the polish of stock Android, brings to the table some neat features like S Voice, Samsung's natural language recognition software; Smart Stay, which doesn’t dim the phone's display while browsing a webpage or book by tracking the user’s eyes; Direct Call to automatically call a contact by lifting the phone to their ear while reading their SMS and Smart Alert, which alerts users to missed calls or messages when the phone is picked up.
It has a 5MP camera on the back
Cellular network – Dual SIM GSM and 3G
The Galaxy S3 Mini uses a Mini-SIM and supports GSM (GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900) and 3G (HSDPA 900 / 1900 / 2100) networks. That means it should play nicely with the existing 3G infrastructure in India and is not entirely limited when it comes to latching on to international 3G bands when roaming. However, the HSDPA is restricted to 14.4 Mbps, which could debilitate the 3G speed in some crowded areas.
Display – 4-inch Super AMOLED
While the S3 Mini has its big brother’s name, Samsung has endowed it with a smaller screen and a lower-resolution display. In this respect, this phone is truly mini. It would have been nice if Samsung had engineered a display with more than the WVGA resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. As things stand, this would be the same type of display that was used in the Samsung Galaxy S, a 2010 smartphone. Similarly priced as the Galaxy S3 Mini, the LG Optimus L9 (official price of around Rs 18,000) has a much larger IPS LCD at 4.7 inches diagonal and qHD resolution. However, Samsung’s display has a pixel density of 233 PPI and the LG handset bests it by just one, with a pixel density of 234 PPI. So in real world terms, there shouldn’t be much difference in crispness of the devices. Another handset that has seen its grey market price fall an inch closer to the S3 Mini is the Sony Xperia S. The Xperia handset, which is available for around Rs 18,000, has a 1280 x 720 display on a 4.3-inch display, easily the best option when looking at just the display.
Form factor and weight – Old hat, a bit fat but not heavy
We are not big fans of the way Samsung has stuck to the same design language for all its phones launched since mid-2012. Boring doesn’t even begin to cover it. Of course, with a name like S3 Mini, one wouldn’t have expected too much of a departure from the S3’s design anyway. At 9.9 mm thickness, the phone is not exactly slim, especially when pitted against the aforementioned L9 (9.1 mm). However, the weight of the phone is an impressive 111.5 g, which should not put any strain on users. The phone is available in six colours.
The S3 Mini has a 4-inch display with WVGA resolution
Wi-Fi – Packed to the rafters
In this department, Samsung has thrown in the kitchen sink. The S3 Mini supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n bands. It also has support for dual-band Wi-Fi. Multimedia content can be sent to your TV or HTPC thanks to the DLNA support and Wi-Fi Direct can be used to share files with other phones on the same WLAN connection. It also has the Wi-Fi hotspot capability to share the phone’s Wi-Fi connection with other devices.
SoC – NovaThor U8420 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 with Mali-400 GPU
It may seem like an underpowered CPU, but should be enough to give most users a smooth experience. Cortex-A9 based CPUs are still being used by phones launching this year. The NovaThor U8420 is a low-power high-efficiency processor and uses a 45nm manufacturing process. It is used in devices like Samsung’s own Galaxy Ace 2, Galaxy Beam, Galaxy S Advance and in Sony's Xperia lineup including the Xperia go, P, Sola and U handsets. It is by no means a slouch and 1GB of RAM should come in handy too. The Mali-400 GPU, which is also used in other Samsung phones like the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2, should be enough for playing HD games as well as multimedia. We found that that the CPU supports video recording up to 1080p, but Samsung has capped this at 720p as we will soon see.
Storage – 16 or 32GB onboard with space for expansion
Samsung has given a choice of 16 or 32GB of NANDFlash storage in the phone with a microSD card slot. This should support cards of up to 32GB capacity. So technically, one could get a phone with 64GB of onboard storage.
The phone is 9.9 mm thick
Primary camera – 5 megapixels with LED flash
Samsung has gone with a 5MP camera on the back, which is slightly baffling considering 8MP sensors are used in many other mid-range phones. However, it does have an LED Flash, so low-light photography shouldn’t be an issue. How the pictures turn out is another matter altogether. Video recording is capped at 720p, but, like we said above, the processor is capable of recording till 1080p. Whether Samsung has capped it on the software end or the camera itself isn’t capable of full HD videos is not known. If the former is true, then we can expect a future update to unlock HD video recording, which would be a nice touch indeed.
Front-facing camera – VGA resolution
The front facing camera is only VGA, so don’t expect a whole lot of magic when snapping self-portraits. But it should be good enough for video calls.
Sensors – Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Nothing new here, but even if some of them were missing, the phone’s capabilities would have been highly affected.
GPS – Comes with A-GPS and GLONASS
Of course, Samsung has included GLONASS support as well as Assisted GPS. Most modern phones come with these and it would have been a glaring omission.
This one is a surprise as most mid-range phones are skipped over when the talk of NFC comes around. The NFC chip is what makes S-Beam work and it will help Galaxy S3 Mini play nicely with speakers that have this feature. You can buy programmable tags or chips and assign actions like enabling Wi-Fi or putting the phone in silent mode, which will get activated when the phone comes in contact with the tags.
Battery – 1500mAh battery
Given the specs of the phone, this battery should be enough, but if you are a power email user or are constantly getting pinged on GTalk, then getting through the day might be an issue. We would have ideally liked to see Samsung push the envelope a bit more when it comes to this department. It’s not like the phone is so thin that a bigger capacity battery could not have been crammed in.
The bottom line
There is nothing that is really bad about the Galaxy S3 Mini. For the grey market price, the phone absolutely gets our recommendation. However, (you could see it coming, no?) there is the small matter of competition. In that regard, the S3 Mini is slightly overpriced. For example, the LG Optimus L9 has a qHD screen, a bigger display, support for HSDPA up to 21Mbps and has a bigger battery (2150 MaH). It also has a similar CPU – TI OMAP 4430 1GHz Cortex-A9 dual-core processor – and has a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. However, the price is slightly higher and LG is not really in the same league as Samsung in terms of software updates and the likes.
The Sony Xperia S, another phone close to the Rs 18,000 mark, is a very capable device and the price drop seems to have given it a new dimension. It has a 720p screen, a Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon dual-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, Adreno 220 GPU and a 12 megapixel camera with all the bangs-and-whistles (3D sweep panorama, face detection, image stabilisation) that normally come with a Sony smartphone camera. However, it is currently awaiting a Jelly Bean update and the grey market price of Rs 18,000 is also slightly higher than that of the Galaxy S3 Mini.
Samsung’s offering is great for its price and at the moment, only an early-2012 phone can best it, and only in certain aspects. For a price tag of Rs 18,500 and its late-2012 vintage, the S3 Mini has very few real rivals.