Check out CNET UK's full review of the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
Today Samsung globally launched the rumored Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, a smaller version of the Samsung Galaxy S3 that has its initial debut in May, and arrived in the U.S. this summer on five separate carriers.
From the outside, the S3 Mini looks much look its larger sibling, but that's largely where the similarities end. It's not just that it has a more petite 4-inch screen and build, the S3 Mini also scales back the specs -- most notably, it packs a slower CPU and it lacks 4G LTE capability. And that makes its connection to Samsung's flagship model tenuous at best.
If you're looking for a smaller Galaxy S3, but with all the features intact, this is not the phone for you. Rather it's another midrange Android option in a crowded field. S Voice and DLNA sharing keep it from being totally common (event if we don't love S Voice completely), but we've seen some of this from Samsung before.
Samsung didn't announce pricing or availability with this worldwide announcement, but the S3 Mini is undoubtedly part of an effort to bring Samsung's design aesthetics and brand to emerging markets. At present, there are no plans to bring it to the United States, but if does, the asking price is sure to come in lower than its larger, more powerful predecessor.
Design and hardware
You know times have changed when a relatively high-powered smartphone with a 4-inch screen is known as "mini." The S3 Mini comes with a 4-inch Super AMOLED WVGA resolution display (800x480 pixels), and Samsung says the screen has a curved design.
While less pixel-dense than the 4.8-inch Galaxy S3 -- the Mini has 233 pixels per inch where the full-size S3 has 305.96 ppi -- the Mini's screen resolution is still well within range for a 4-inch screen.
The phone stands 4.8 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.39 inch and weighs 3.9 ounces, an equivalent to 121.55mm by 63mm by 9.85 mm, and 111.5 grams.
Beyond the screen size, though, the handset looks almost identical to the original Galaxy S3, a smart choice to advance the brand. I personally enjoy the look and feel of the original, which is glossy, but sleek. Although Samsung hasn't shared its color variations, we know it'll at least come in white, and we can probably expect a pebble-blue variation as well.
Under the hood, it's clear that the S3 Mini is a different phone. It deliberately sports a smaller 1GHz dual-core processor rather than the quad-core processor of the global S3 variety and the 1.5GHz dual-core LTE model in the U.S. The phone should still perform well for most users; it just won't clock at the tip-top speeds.
The same goes for the cameras. Samsung has replaced the 8-megapixel rear-facing shooter of the original Galaxy S3 with a 5-megapixel camera in the Mini. It'll still come with an LED flash and a VGA front-facing camera (down from the 1.9-megapixel camera in the S3 original.) Samsung has used some excellent 5-megapixel camera modules before, while others have been less than ideal. Let's hope they chose the former on this one.
Connectivity is one clue that the Galaxy S3 Mini won't head straight for the U.S. It's specced for HSPA bands 14.4/5.76 900/1900/2100 and EDGE/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900 bands. In other words, there's no LTE support -- that fits into a strategy for tapping into various 3G networks worldwide.
Other features include Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and 8GB or 16GB versions with expandable memory up to 32GB. The 1,500mAh battery is on the smaller side, so expect needing to recharge the phone daily. The original S3 has a 2,100mAh battery.
OS and software
The S3 Mini's hardware won't push the envelope in any sense, but kudos to Samsung for giving it the most recent Android 4.1 Jelly Bean version available.
Samsung's TouchWiz interface will ride on top, the phone-maker's typical mark on its handsets. With Samsung's custom layer comes a plethora of software extras, including photo-sharing features among networked phones, and the excellent S Beam, a slight variation from the Android Beam file-sharing system using NFC to bump two phones together.
There's also S Voice, Samsung's brand of Google Voice Actions, and Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri. Unfortunately, S Voice has never performed well in our tests compared to Siri, and it'd be a shame if Google's standard Voice Actions weren't accessible, especially in its new format for Jelly Bean.
There are plenty of other features in the Galaxy S3 Mini, including one that keeps the screen lit when you glance at the camera, and DLNA sharing that helps you transfer content like photos and video between compatible devices, like to your TV. However, some extra features are also battery-consuming, which doesn't portend well for the smaller battery.
Pricing and availability
While there's no official word yet on which markets will receive the Galaxy S3 Mini and for how much, top U.S. carriers aren't likely to be among the first wave. If we do get it stateside, prepaid carriers like MetroPCS or Cricket could offer it as a premium smartphone option to customers for no less than $199. Chances are, though, that the phone will do well in emerging markets, perhaps Latin America, the Middle East, India, and Africa.
A smaller S3 with all the features is one thing, but a smaller and less powerful S3 dilutes the Galaxy name. Sure, we see the need for a starter and budget-friendly smartphone -- the original GS3 can be a lot to handle, both for users and their wallets -- but Samsung would be wiser to call the S3 Mini something else and keep the Galaxy brand for only higher-end phones.
Again, we don't expect the 4-inch Galaxy S3 Mini to come to the United States anytime soon, but it would have plenty of competition. That challenge won't come from the iPhone, the S3, or any powerhouse Android models, but rather from the ever-expanding list of midrange and low-end Android devices. The S3 Mini does bring a couple of features that will make it stand out from the smartphone crowd, and it should do well in emerging markets. In mature markets, though, even less comparable devices could give it a run for its money if it's not priced right.
I'll have a full review just as soon as I can secure a model.
Senior Managing Editor Kent German contributed to this report.