Review: Samsung S4 Mini v iPhone 5

Geek has been telling me for a while now that the iPhone killer had really arrived and I must admit I have been looking longingly at the Samsung S4 Mini for a while. When I got the opportunity to try one out and review it, I jumped at the chance with a view to perhaps breaking my 5 year love affair with apple and iOS. Geek has the more powerful big brother Galaxy Note II but I don’t get that phone at all. I guess I’m just one of those people that think a phone should be pocket sized.

Now anyone who has been an Apple customer for many years will have become indoctrinated into the ‘Apple interface’. I kept in mind from the very beginning that there would be a learning curve and that I would have to keep an open mind to change. Not my best quality if I’m honest but on with the review!

Out of the box I was quite impressed. I recall when I got the iPhone 5 originally I was equally impressed with the quality and feel but I’d say the Samsung might have edged that just slightly. Generally size and ergonomics, there is very little between the two to be honest.

Everything on the iPhone is based around the home button and the the touch screen interface where the Samsung has a couple of nicely disguised additional buttons alongside the home button. When not active they are virtually invisible. If you swipe over them with your finger, an additional menu feature button lights up on the left and on the right a back button.

As you might expect with a version of a phone tagged as ‘Mini’ its not just its size that has been shrunk; the internal storage and the processor speed are both a reduced version of its big brother the S4. Just trawling around apps, emails and settings I couldn’t really find any discernible difference or lightning performance. Certainly not an iPhone killer so far anyway!

The screen initially appears nice. Good vivid colours but when I hold up the iPhone 5 to the S4 Mini, to my eye the iPhone 5 wins on clarity and quality. Okay, the Samsung screen is a little larger, which is always good but not a major benefit in my eyes.

Enough about the look and feel for now and more about how it works, especially from the perspective of a brainwashed Apple fan!

To start with I found it a nice slick menu system. It felt bright and fresh. Perhaps not as intuitive as the iPhone but I put that down to my Apple ‘blinkers’ for now. I found the touch screen less precise than the iPhone. There was a lot of frustrating miss-typing going on and its not like I have sausage fingers or anything, honest!

I then started to go searching for all my mainstay apps that are essential to my mobile world. I was quite prepared that I might have to find an Android alternative if it was iOS specific. It’s here in this crucial arena that the credentials of this ‘iPhone slayer’ start to get shaky.

I’ve recently written a blog about the App store and the world’s fascination with it and apps in general. Its fair to say that apps are what set a phone apart from its competition and so far the Samsung and iPhone 5 were neck and neck. Tell me please what the App store interface is about on the S4 Mini? It’s simply horrific. I can’t find the simplest and most mainstream of apps. It’s clunky and poorly organised. It does give you the option of going to the Google Play store which brings it all back down to planet earth but again the route to this is not intuitive at all. I was very disappointed with this aspect.

It’s worth nothing that Samsung loads its phones with supposedly “value added” apps that you can’t uninstall (without rooting). These apps usually are named “S “-something or “Samsung “-something. All in all pretty poor!

Lets finish by covering the basics.

Call Quality

The iPhone 5 has always had a big question over call quality. When it’s connected it’s quite good but all too often it drops a call for no apparent reason or goes straight to voicemail regardless of your signal strength. The S4 Mini has so far been faultless. It is very good at what its meant to be, a phone. The slightly scalloped edges seemed to make it more ergonomic to hold to my ear. – something the iPhone has lost between the 4S and the 5.

Camera

This is adequate but no more. It’s fine for quick snaps and it seems to let in plenty of light. Take a similar picture with the iPhone 5 and you can see that Apple has got this right and Samsung has missed the boat a little. I was only watching the Gadget show the other day which did a straw poll of people who bother to carry a camera or dedicated digital recorder these days. Because of the camera quality in smartphones the conclusion was that it was dying tech. Confusing then that the camera in the S4 just doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Battery

It’s always a tough thing to gauge battery life accurately or realistically because what I’ve installed now won’t compare to what I’ve installed next week. It’s difficult to tell how the battery will be drained by different demands. What I do know is that my iPhone 5 was rubbish from day 1 when it came to battery life. With moderate to heavy use of everything I need daily it will require a top up charge during the day and a full charge over night. So far the Mini is performing far better and after a day of setting up, downloading emails etc, it’s only just slid under 80%. Not bad at all.

So is this an iPhone killer?

I desperately wanted to like this phone. I can’t help feel like I should be willing to look beyond Apple; Android receives so many accolades Google must be doing something right. Geek thinks it’s our saviour from evil iOS. At its core the Mini is like an iPhone 4S. It does all it needs to quite well but at the end of the day it’s just an iPhone wannabe.

I have to say I sometimes wondered if my frustration at struggling through the menus (i.e. my own reluctance to try a new OS) was at the heart of my mixed feelings for this phone and maybe that’s true. What I do know is that iOS is intuitive enough to let me navigate around and find my way. With Android on the S4 Mini Mini, all too often I had to go and pester Geek to find out how to do something. Not really what I wanted from the new hub of my mobile universe.

I’m going to give it another week or two to see if I can get over my ‘Android phobia’ and maybe I’ll come back and review the S4 Mini again!

Dummy rating
Ease of use www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
There’s just too many ways to customise and change .
Features www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
It’s got everything a good smartphone should have but it lacks a quality camera and a seamless App store.
Value for money www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Design-wise I love it. It does everything it should and you can get it very cheaply on a good contract.
Build quality www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
I’m a little torn. It’s a thing of beauty and I love its lightness but also worry that it’s frail because it’s so light.
Overall www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
It’s a good smartphone and I like it but it is no iPhone killer!!!!!


3.5 / 5 stars     

10 Comments

  1. Tech August 22, 2013 6:20 am  Reply

    ok first how is customizability aka ease of use a bad thing? Also when you review a camera you really need side by side pics. In my experience the S4 mini shooter has more accurate colors compared to the S5 (which tends to over saturate pics a LOT).

    • Dummy August 22, 2013 8:47 am  Reply

      Thanks for your question. The thing to keep in mind is that this is written from the perspective of your everyday user. A user that wants to take a product out of the tin and for it to just work with minimal effort. The point I’m making is that there is too much on the S4 that you need to alter or change to make it intuitive. This phone spent 3 weeks with Mrs Dummy. Its being replaced today because it’s still not doing the job for her. All a matter of opinion though my friend!

  2. DB October 7, 2013 11:57 am  Reply

    I have to side with Dummy here…as an iPhone user who ventured into Andoidworld via the S3 and returned it within 4 days. Android certainly is the more comprehensive OS of the two but a lot of it’s features are a little gimmicky for my liking.

    • Dummy October 7, 2013 12:27 pm  Reply

      I think its because apple kit is so intuitive. I rarely find aspects that don’t meet my need. OK, when I do they can’t always be changed but when I pick up a phone I don’t want to spend a week customising it! I’m exactly an Apple fanboy. I’m a good tech fanboy!!!

  3. Jonathan October 7, 2013 11:43 pm  Reply

    Hi, interestingly enough I’ve gone the other way – from Android to iOS – and am finding the experience very frustrating. The are too many things that Android can do that iOS cannot, eg deleting apps you don’t want or creating icons on your home screen that enable you to access a function direct. Given the general perspective that iOS is easy to use this has all come as a surprise.

    • Geek October 10, 2013 1:23 pm  Reply

      Hear hear! 😀

  4. DB October 17, 2013 10:17 am  Reply

    There is some annoying bloatware on Android that cannot be deleted too. I hear what you are saying about having direct functions / widgets on Andriod, but unless these are on the home screen they are rendered pretty much useless.

    • Geek October 20, 2013 5:11 pm  Reply

      Pardon the pedantry 😉 but the bloatware isn’t the fault of Android – it’s the manufacturers and carriers that load up phones with extra “helpful” apps. In the case of Samsung, some of this is almost necessary for the use of the phone/table – if you have a Galaxy Note of some description you’re going to find the S Pen extensions invaluable.

      This year, HTC brought out a “pure” version of the HTC One, which was an interesting and enlightened move. You’d have to buy it SIM-free though to get it without all the latest junk from T-Mobile, Orange or whichever.

      Also, you do have the option of rooting your phone/tablet and installing something like CyanogenMod, which gives you a much leaner experience in most respects – still Android, just less of the crud. But rooting and flashing a new ROM is not for everyone.

  5. Albatross365 January 11, 2014 9:22 am  Reply

    No mention of the ability to expand the memory using sd card

    • Dummy January 11, 2014 4:03 pm  Reply

      That’s a fair point although I personally couldn’t get past the sheer unpleasantness of the OS to be bothered by that!

Leave a Reply