With all the excitement around the release of the Samsung Galaxy S III, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Samsung also makes a wide range of other high-quality handsets. However, the Korean firm hasn’t become the world’s leading mobile-maker by being a one-trick pony and it has something on offer for everyone.
The Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 fits into Samsung’s range firmly at the lower end. It is an upgrade on the original Samsung Galaxy Mini and has a £150 price tag that marks it out as being aimed at younger buyers who are likely to be looking for their first smartphone.
Yet with the emergence of other mobile-makers like Huawei, ZTE and Alcatel One Touch all making moves to establish themselves by introducing people to the joys of smartphones, can Samsung do as good a job with an entry-level smartphone as it has done at the top-end of the market?
The Galaxy Mini 2 is made of plastic, but feels surprisingly solid. Weirdly, it almost feels better made than the Galaxy S III, despite being a quarter of the cost. That may have something to do with packing a fair amount of technology behind a pretty small screen.
One of the reasons it feels more sturdy is that it is thicker than many larger-screened devices. At 11.6mm thick it isn’t exactly an obese handset, but the overall impression is certainly more stubby dwarf rather than featherlight pixie. However, the Galaxy Mini 2 does fit well in the hand and will certainly have some appeal for those put off by the large sizes of the ever-expanding touchscreens on many smartphones these days.
Design-wise there is little revolutionary in the Galaxy Mini 2’s aesthetic. The standard silver bezel common to most of the Samsung Galaxy range borders the black plastic around the screen, with touch buttons for accessing menu options and navigating back, alongside the hardware home screen button.
With the more expensive Galaxy S III, Samsung suggests it is looking to update its image, but that design forethought seems not to have come along in time to have an impact on the Galaxy Mini 2. The handset does come with a charming and eye-catching yellow back with a grainy texture that makes it unlikely to escape your grasp. But that on its own doesn’t make the Galaxy Mini 2 visually stand out from the crowd as significantly as we’d have liked.
The 3.2-inch screen clearly isn’t designed for extensive video watching. However, whereas the displays on some Samsung devices can be criticised for being a tad over-saturated, if anything the display on the Mini 2 can appear a little washed out, especially when displaying bright reds.
However, for a budget device the screen isn’t too shabby and it certainly offers a better experience than trying to locate a decent viewing angle on LG’s similarly priced and sized Optimus L3 handset. With that said, though, some of the competition in the entry-level smartphone market – most notably Huawei – are using much better displays in affordable handsets aimed at a similar market.
The 3-Megapixel camera will also be a disappointment for anyone who has used even a vaguely competent device to snap their photos. As well as lacking autofocus, image quality is noticeably pixelated and quite mediocre overall. The camera does perform better in low light than you might expect from the paltry pixel count, though, but that only goes a small way to make up for the Galaxy Mini 2’s lack of a built-in LED flash.
Audio quality is decent but nothing special. That comes as little surprise, however, as high-quality music is something that Samsung has almost seemed happy to cede to HTC’s incredible music-phones and its partnership with Beats Audio. As a result, the obligatory Music Hub found on the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 simply appears a functional necessity rather than a main focus of the handset.
Unfortunately, the one area where the Galaxy Mini 2’s budget nature really shows through is in the phone’s underwhelming power and performance. The processor has been beefed up from the original Mini to an 800MHz single-core chip, which should have produced a significant speed increase from the previous device’s 600MHz processing core.
On benchmarking tests the handset performed well, outperforming the Samsung Nexus S and almost matching the dual-core LG Optimus 2X. However, it feels less powerful than those stats would suggest. Internet browsing works well, without too much lag and opening and navigating pages is comfortable despite the small screen.
But, opening apps is far from smooth and we found that running multiple applications at the same time causes the Galaxy Mini 2 to show some problems.There were also occasions where we found that pre-installed apps such as Google Maps unexpectedly crashed when we were using them.
In terms of the operating system, the Galaxy Mini 2 comes with the same TouchWiz skinned Android 2.3 Gingerbread software as many other handsets found in Samsung’s extensive smartphone range. As with many entry-level handsets, it hasn’t shipped with the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, which is a shame. Why can’t manufacturers ship it as standard when it has featured on high-end devices for months? It is an area where HTC can be applauded, as the entry level HTC Desire C, which will go head-to-head with the Mini 2, comes with the Taiwanese firm’s excellent Sense 4.0 version of Ice Cream Sandwich.
That not only improves the user experience, but also provides a unified theme stretching through HTC’s range, right up to the high-end HTC One X. It will do more to develop customer loyalty and may be a boon when users consider upgrading to a more powerful device, so it would be nice to see other manufacturers such as Samsung following their lead more often on their entry-level handsets.
The TouchWiz interface does come with Samsung’s range of handy preloaded widgets, however, such as a news-feed display for catching up on the latest events and useful apps such as the Social Hub. While the Social Hub is getting on a bit now, it is still useful for bringing together different social media streams on the Galaxy Mini 2. It is far less functional than the built-in Windows Phone version, though, or indeed many of the excellent third-party social networking apps that you can install.
Interestingly, the Galaxy Mini 2 also doesn’t come with either Twitter or Facebook apps preloaded, which seems like a missed opportunity for a phone so clearly aimed and priced at the youth market.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 is a decent handset which will offer a satisfying experience for those upgrading from a basic feature phone. However, it is up against a plethora of high-quality competitors that are producing faster more powerful phones that are just as cheap or even cheaper.
But with that said, this handset is a necessary part of the range for a firm that has no intention of being pigeon-holed as a premium handset maker alongside Apple and which is aiming to target all price-points in the growing smartphone market.
Yet compared to the overall excellence of the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Mini 2 feels like the neglected child struggling to get attention from Samsung’s development team. Some talented designers could have crow-barred in features or design tweaks to make the Mini 2 stand out from the crowd, even within the limits of its budgetary constraints.
Instead, it seems the Galaxy Mini 2 was merely handed to the guys who lacked the creativity to make it on the bigger projects. When compared to the cut-price competition from China, or indeed that little extra effort put into HTC’s Desire C, the Galaxy Mini 2 seems likely to get lost in the crowd.
With its eye-catching design, decent performance and comfortable usability, the Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 is still well worth a look for first-time smartphone buyers on a budget. But if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, without breaking the bank, there are plenty of high-quality rivals that you might want to check out first, before handing over your cash.