Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini for Sprint
There are plenty of avenues you can take to find media content on the GS4 Mini. First, it includes all the usual Google Play apps and services. Google's content store has a good selection of music, movies, books, magazines, apps, and games from which to choose. The individual apps for enjoying that content all have the same user interface and work well.
The Samsung Hub - Samsung's own media store - is also available. The Hub is not as well organized as the Play Store, nor does it have as good a selection, but prices are consistent between the two. Don't worry, Samsung didn't forget to include WatchOn, its video content discovery and remote control app. WatchOn lets you find out what's on your TV, and then use the built-in infrared port to turn on the TV. (In-depth descriptions of these features are available in our review of the full-sized Galaxy S4 here.)
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The Mini also includes the bare-bones MP3 and video player apps, as well as the stock YouTube app. These are your best options if you choose to listen to music or watch videos you've stored on a memory card. There's a CBS Sports app, which lets you check scores, read news, and watch highlight clips. The Mini also has NextRadio, which is an internet-based streaming radio service.
Last, if you think these aren't enough, Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV & Movies are both installed on the Sprint version, as well.
If you want to share your media, you can so with the Group Play feature, which lets one person with modern TouchWiz device (GS4, Note 3, GS4 Mini) play some music and have the other devices connect to and stream the same song at the same time. Then there's Samsung Link, which can be used to connects the Mini to other DLNA-compatible devices for wirelessly playing back more types of media.
The GS4 Mini carries over nearly all the great camera features from its larger brother. There's no dedicated camera button, but the camera can be launched from the lock screen. The camera is the only app that will bypass a password. The app opens quickly enough.
The controls are all laid out plainly enough. There's no longer a "camera mode" and "video mode." Instead, the Mini has both a camera button and video camera button on the right side of the screen at all times. This way, either media type can be captured without first requiring the user to swap modes. The other benefit of this setup is that you can capture stills while also recording video.
There's a button for switching to the user-facing camera and a button to open the full settings menu. Pressing the settings button first opens an expanded view of the control strip, with more options (flash, microphone mute, night shot). These can be customized if you wish. As usual, owners can fine-tune most aspects of the camera software (pixels, aspect ratio, white balance, exposure, etc.).
The Mini has 12 different “modes” for capturing images, and there are two ways to interact with them. Press the mode button (below the shutter) and you'll see a carousel view of the different modes with a detailed explanation of each mode and what it produces. You can spin through the carousel options quickly to find the mode you're looking for. Alternately, there's a button on the left side of the screen that lets you see all the modes laid out in a visual grid. This grid layout is a faster way to access the shooting modes once you're familiar with the way they operate. The modes include auto, sports, night, panorama, burst, HDR, Beauty Face, Best Photo, Best Face, and Sound & Shot. It drops three options from the GS4: Drama Shot, Animated Shot, and Eraser Shot. The Mini also drops the ability to use the rear- and front-facing cameras at the same time, which is shame. (In-depth descriptions of these features are available in our review of the full-sized Galaxy S4 here.)
Not only are these camera features fun to use, they're pretty easy to use. It takes less than 5 minutes to learn how to use them all, and they open up a wide range of creative possibilities.
The Mini has an 8-megapixel camera. In general, I was pleased with the results. Images were consistently in focus, well exposed, and had accurate white balance. I didn't see any grain problems, or issues with imbalanced lighting. Indoor performance, especially at night, wasn't the best, but using the flash helps a lot. Of course, using the Mini outdoors under a sunny sky produces the best results, but the creative powers of the Mini mean you can produce artistic results even on the grayest of days. If you really want action shots to turn out, you need to use sport or burst modes (the auto setting is a bit slow for action scenes). Most people will be happy with the images they get from the Mini.
The Mini's ability to record video was also consistently good. Things such as color, focus, and exposure were almost always spot on. The clarity of the 1080p video I captured was exceptional at times. The Mini can surely record video worth sharing with family this holiday season on your HDTV.
The Mini uses the stock Android gallery software. The device will automatically sync images from your Google+ and Dropbox accounts, but you can thankfully turn these off. There's a drop-down menu accessible from a button at the top of the screen for sorting between albums.
When you dive down into the individual galleries, the Mini goes into a split-screen mode: a vertical list of other galleries forms a strip along the left edge of the screen, and the rest is reserved to show larger thumbnails of the images in the gallery you chose to view. Editing options are limited to the standard crop, rotate, reduce red-eye, or apply a handful of filters to account for lighting, exposure, color, and so on.
The Mini also has the new Google+ Photos app. This app only interacts with the photos that are stored in (and auto-uploaded to) your Google+ account. You can share them online, as well as make some edits to them, including Google's new Auto Awesome features. For example, the Google+ Photos app can automatically create GIFs from a collection of sequential, related photos.
Story Album is an app that lets you create photo albums. The app is separate from the gallery or camera apps, but it pulls images from the gallery. It can automatically create albums for you based on date or location, or cede full control to the artiste in you. The tools are easy to figure out and the Mini walks you through the process. Story Album offers a handful of themes and layout configurations, you can manually manipulate photos, add captions, and more. Once you've put albums together, you can export them as PDFs for printing or sharing, as well as order an actual photo album that is professionally printed and delivered via mail.
The Mini comes chock full of Samsung apps and services, but loses some of the GS4's coolest features. For example, the Mini lacks Air View and Air Gesture, Smart Scroll and Smart Stay, the Optical Reader and S Health. What you will find are S Memo, S Translator, and S Voice, as well as the Samsung App Store. There are more than 60 apps pre-installed thanks to a wide range of junk from Sprint. That said, there's still plenty of room left over for users to download and install their own apps.
I had no trouble connecting the Mini to a variety of Bluetooth devices (laptop, smartphones, headsets, etc.). Discovery and setup was a snap thanks to Samsung's on-screen prompts. The quality of phone calls passed through a mono headset was good, but not great. The same is true of music sent to a set of wireless speakers.
The Mini ships with both Chrome and the generic Android browser on board. Both are fine tools for browsing the web and do a good job of rendering HTML web sites. Chrome offers more features in that it can be synced with the desktop version of Chrome, but the generic Android browser offers simpler controls. Neither was particularly quick on Sprint's LTE network, though.
If you're serious about checking the time from the Mini's lock screen, I suggest you enable the lock screen shortcuts and select one of the clocks available there. The basic clock that appears on the lock screens by default is too small to see easily. The other clocks are better.
The Mini includes Google Maps and TeleNav's free Scout navigation application. Google Maps works the same as on any other Android devices. Scout is a quirky little application that covers the navigation basics (routing, planning, auto-sent ETA messages, etc.). Both interacted with the Mini's GPS hardware without issue. The Mini was very quick to pinpoint my location to within about 25 feet most of the time.
The Mini includes an NFC radio, which can be used for a handful of different actions. For starters, it can be used with similarly-equipped Bluetooth devices for easy pairing. It can also be used with Samsung's SmartTags, which are programmable NFC stickers. These let you do things like tap the sticker to turn on/off the Wi-Fi radio, or check into a specific location on Foursquare. The Mini will run Google Wallet, and I was able to set the app up to make mobile payments.
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