Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini for Sprint
Once you move past the hardware, things start to become much more familiar. Like the larger GS4, the Mini runs Android with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface on top. It carries over the bulk of the GS4's insane number of apps, features, and capabilities.
The Mini starts with a customizable lock screen. You can choose to leave it simple, or add up five lock screen shortcuts plus a large digital clock. You can include a password, too, to keep the device secure, but you'll have to enter the code before using the lockscreen shortcuts. The camera is an exception to that rule.
The basic appearance of the home screen panels is essentially unchanged. There are five panels active out of the box, but that can be altered at will. They are stuffed with widgets for Samsung's apps, such as the Media Hub.
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The notification shade lets you control tons of features. There are five toggles at the top that let you turn on/off various features. You can swipe these toggles to the left to gain access to more, as well as customize how they're arranged. You can also adjust the brightness from the notification tray, and of course see inbound notifications.
The main app menu is fairly customizable. Samsung allows users to see the apps in alphabetical or customized grids, in addition to an alphabetical list. Apps can be hidden or stuffed into folders, and tabs at the top of the screen let you quickly view which apps you downloaded, and what widgets are available.
As on other Samsung phones this year, the settings tools are broken into four separate screens: Connections, My Device, Accounts, and More. Obviously, the Connections tab is where you'll find controls for the wireless radios, Wi-Fi networks, NFC, S Beam, and so on. The My Device tab lets you adjust the wallpapers, ringtones, accessibility, gestures, and things of that nature. Personally, I don't like this setup. I'd prefer everything to be accessible from the same screen.
The Mini includes Samsung's Easy Mode, which reduces home screen clutter, drastically cuts down on menu confusion, and hides a lot of the MIni's features. This mode is meant for first-time smartphone owners who might be overwhelmed by the Mini.
One major feature the Mini lacks when compared to the full-sized GS4 is the split-screen multitasking mode. It doesn't make sense to include it, however, on a device with a 4.3-inch screen. It wouldn't be usable.
The Mini dials back on the horsepower a bit. It drops the quad-core 1.9 GHz Snapdragon 600 for a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon chip. It also loses 512 MB of RAM. Despite these downgrades, the Mini performs just fine. I didn't experience any trouble with it.
The phone app offers all the customization powers from the GS4 that let you dig in and make the phone your own. When the dial pad is visible, tap the menu button and you'll see an options screen for the phone. Here is where you can set rejection behaviors, alerts, answering/ending calls, set up voicemail, and control the TTY functions. The basic calling tools are included, such as add a third line, send to Bluetooth, etc.
The contact app behaves more or less like the stock Android contact app. Favorites are accessible from a tab at the top of the phone app, as is the entire contact database. There are standard home screen shortcuts that let you direct dial and direct message your contacts, but there isn't a larger widget for your favorite contacts.
The Mini has the typical list of messaging apps. The native communication tools include email, Gmail, Google+, and Google Hangouts, and they function perfectly on the Mini. I still find Google Hangouts to be a bit awkward for managing both SMS and IM conversations, though. Neither Facebook nor Twitter is pre-installed. Samsung's ChatOn messaging client is also absent.
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