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Flashback: Samsung’s Galaxy S minis were small but hardly deserving of the S-branding

Mini phones are on our mind again – when are they not? – but the most recent memory to surface is just another confirmation that the market doesn’t actually want such devices.

Specifically, we want to talk about the Samsung Galaxy S III mini and its ilk. The first one came out in October 2012, about half a year after the big S III. We find it a bit funny that this “mini” phone has the same display as the original Galaxy S, which was just over two years old at this point. Both had a 4.0” Super AMOLED panel with 480 x 800px resolution (15:9). This was 30% smaller (in terms of surface area) than the 4.8” 16:9 panel that the big S III had, so it was indeed a “mini”.

Samsung I8190 Galaxy S III mini Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
Samsung I8190 Galaxy S III mini • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III

The meaning of “mini” would continue to change and quite quickly at that. And it was deceptive too. Yes, minis were smaller, but a more noticeable difference between them and the flagships that they were named after were the hardware specs. It would have been more accurate to call this phone the “Galaxy S III mid-ranger”.

The Galaxy S III mini bore a flagship’s name, but it was itself far from a flagship – it had a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU (1.0GHz) and a Mali-400 GPU, this NovaThor U8420 chipset was weaker than the Exynos 4210 Dual of the Galaxy S II from the year before. There was no comparing it to the quad-core CPU of the full-on flagship. The NovaThor was paired with 1GB of RAM (same as the big S III, surprisingly) and 8GB of storage, plus a microSD slot.

Also, the WVGA display had low pixel density, the main camera was an unimpressive 5MP shooter with 720p video capture (compared to 8MP 1080p of the S III), the 0.3MP selfie camera was even more basic (compared to a 1.9MP module for the S III).

Flashback: Samsung's Galaxy S minis were small but hardly deserving of the S-branding

This was no minified Galaxy S III, it was a mid-ranger styled to look like the more expensive phone. The Galaxy S Advance was basically the same phone, except noticeably cheaper. If you could get past its outdated looks (which were based on the S II), you could save a lot of cash. The Galaxy S III mini was pricey for what it was, so it couldn’t keep pace with the sales of the true Galaxy S III.

That didn’t discourage Samsung and it tried again the following year with the Galaxy S4 mini. This one had a 4.3” 16:9 display (540 x 960px), which was comparable to the 4.3” 15:9 display of the Galaxy S II (480 x 800px). Crucially, it was 26% smaller than the actual Galaxy S4. The pixel density was nowhere close to the 1080p display of the S4, though (256ppi vs. 441ppi).

Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4
Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini • Samsung I9500 Galaxy S4

The S4 mini was relatively powerful – the Snapdragon 400 with its dual-core Krait 300 CPU and Adreno 305 was no match for the Exynos 4310 (octa-core CPU with A15+A7 cores and PowerVR SGX544MP3), but it was still a zippy chipset. It was given 1.5GB of RAM (half a gig down from the S4) and 8GB storage, again with a microSD expansion (those were the days).

Flashback: Samsung's Galaxy S minis were small but hardly deserving of the S-branding

The camera also saw a significant upgrade with an 8MP sensor – not quite up to the 13MP standard of the S4, but at least it matched it with 1080p @ 30fps video recording. And the 1.9MP selfie camera was comparable too.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini was a much better phone than the S III mini was. Still far from a true flagship, but something that you wouldn’t feel bad buying. However, it was still fairly pricey at €380 (a true S4 could be found for around €100 more with some effort).

Flashback: Samsung's Galaxy S minis were small but hardly deserving of the S-branding

Another year, another mini – the Samsung Galaxy S5 mini, to be precise. This one was bigger still with a 4.5” display, a 720p panel this time that finally put it in Retina display territory. The real Galaxy S5 grew only slightly from the S4 and had a 5.1” 1080p display, so the S5 mini display was only 22% smaller.

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini • Samsung Galaxy S5

The defining feature of the S5 was its IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, a first for the flagship line (not counting the Galaxy S4 Active, which is another story) and something that would become the norm going forward. To S5 mini’s credit, it too had an IP67 rating.

That said, Samsung really dropped the ball on performance – the Snapdragon 400 wasn’t great, but at least those Krait cores offered solid single-core performance. The Galaxy S5 mini had a quad Cortex-A7 CPU and a Mali-400MP4 GPU, which was just not competitive. Also, the camera had basically no upgrades since the S4 mini while the Galaxy S5 had moved on to 4K video.

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini

The Galaxy S4 mini showed promise, but the S5 mini was a lot like the S III mini – A+ on the looks, C- on the features. And the price was still higher than it should have been.

Unfortunately, this is where the story ends. There were some rumors about a Galaxy S6 mini with a 4.6”/4.7” display and a Snapdragon 808 chipset, but no such phone was ever released (in fact, Samsung dodged the Snapdragon 808 and 810 altogether, but that too is another story).

We don’t have specific numbers of how many Galaxy S minis Samsung managed to sell. One report from 2013 described the S4 mini sales as “lackluster” without getting into more details. At the end of the day, if the mini experiment was successful, Samsung would have made more of them – and would be making minis to this day.

But the Galaxy S23 is as small as Samsung is willing to go. In fact, the S23 is the smallest Samsung smartphone, period – even the A0 and M0 entry level devices are bigger. To be fair, few modern smartphones are as small as the S23. Not that we would call it a “mini”.



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