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HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini: Young guns

Introduction

Yes, you can call it Round 2 but we don’t think it’ll be up to the minis to sort out any unfinished business between the flagships. What we do know though is that taking the dispute to the junior league doesn’t mean there’ll be less pain in losing and less honor in victory.

This doesn’t have to be a rerun – the minis don’t necessarily have to repeat the result of the flagships. Just like smartphones don’t necessarily have to be huge to have premium specs and push the limits of comfortable single-handed use to just prove a point or get noticed.

What we have here is two smartphones that try to deliver a premium experience without getting in the way of their seniors or venturing too far beyond the 4″ screen diagonal. However there’s a clear difference in how the two makers go about downsizing their flagships.

HTC decided in favor of screen resolution whereas Samsung skimped there. 720p is obviously better than qHD, at around 342ppi versus 256ppi in favor of the One mini. The S4 mini’s 4.3-incher on the other hand is a Super AMOLED, which partially makes up for the lower resolution.

Then there’s processing power where the two devices share a Snapdragon 400 chipset but the Samsung mini has the upper hand in terms of clock speed. It also gets 1.5GB of RAM against the 1GB of the One mini but more on that in the benchmarks chapter.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini  Young guns

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini Young guns

The S4 mini goes for 8 gigs of onboard storage but offers a microSD card slot, while the One mini only has 16 gigs on tap. As to software, it’s Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2 either way but the One mini has the elaborate visuals of Sense 5 against the feature-packed TouchWiz on the Galaxy S4 mini.

The cameras are opposites too. The Galaxy S4 mini goes for an 8MP unit with plenty of TouchWiz bells and whistles, while the One mini has the 4MP UltraPixel camera with 2µm pixels, F/2.0 aperture and a wide-angle 28 mm lens. The HTC One mini has Zoe but not the optical image stabilization of its bigger brother, the full-sized One. Both devices have 1080p video recording too.

Then there’s build quality and looks. Both devices traditionally reflect their manufacturer’s design philosophies: the One mini looks the flagship part with its aluminum unibody, while the S4 mini goes for a hyperglazed all-plastic case, which is nowhere near aesthetically, but a user-replaceable battery and memory expansion earn it usability points.

Here are all the points neatly compiled in lists.

HTC One mini over Samsung Galaxy S4 mini

  • Aluminum unibody
  • Higher screen resolution
  • HDR and 60fps video
  • More built-in storage
  • Better audio quality
  • Stereo speakers with Beats audio amplifiers

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini over the HTC One mini

  • Faster processor
  • Higher resolution camera
  • Expandable storage
  • More RAM
  • Cheaper
  • User-accessible battery
  • NFC support
  • Lighter

So, there’s enough to compare in these two but one thing that sees them equal is the desire to fit as much of the flagships’ features into more compact bodies at more affordable prices. And we love them for it. But we’ll need to sort them out feature by feature, break them down to parts and pit them against each other.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini  at HQ

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini at HQ

It’s a battle in which most of you already have a side to root for, or a downright favorite. HTC and Samsung have always managed to attract different sorts of crowds and the same scenario plays out here too. In any case we’re going all in over the following pages so get comfortable – next stop is the hardware checkup.

Hardware comparison

So, whether they’re made of plastic or aluminum, these two devices are minis to begin with. Compact size is their main weapon in luring users away from the flagships.

At 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini clearly has the upper hand in pocketability and ergonomics. The HTC One mini is notably taller and a little thicker and wider at 132 x 63.2 x 9.3 mm. The One mini is also somewhat heavier at 122 g compared to the Samsung’s 107 g.

So, while the HTC One mini is clearly the better looking phone, the Galaxy S4 mini manages to fit a screen of the same 4.3″ diagonal in a more compact, body. Of course, the HTC One mini has the stereo BoomSound speakers to show for the added height.

In terms of design, both mini versions are nearly complete replicas of the respective flagship. The HTC One mini has got a wider polycarbonate frame around its sides, instead of sticking to aluminum for those too, which is the more practical solution – aluminum edges are very easy to chip and bend.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini the two minis

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini the two minis

There’s nothing to visually set the Galaxy S4 mini apart from the original other than the size. The thing there is Samsung is using the same styling, which isn’t that great to begin with. What the Galaxy S4 mini has to its advantage is the ultra-slim screen bezels and the overall compact size.

The hardware Home button with capacitive Menu and Back keys are the far more convenient choice compared to the two-key combo in the HTC One mini. You can still start task switcher and Google Now with double tapping and holding of the home key, that means you have one button in charge of three actions

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini Above and Below the screen

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini Above and Below the screen

The HTC One mini only has a pop-out SIM tray on the left side whereas the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini’s removable back panel readily grants access to the battery and card slots. The Galaxy S4 mini solution is far more comfortable as it doesn’t require you to carry a pin at all times to be able to exchange SIM cards.

 

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - SIM tray on the HTC One mini

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – SIM tray on the HTC One mini

The HTC One mini has lost its IR port, which on the bigger One was integrated in the power key. The S4 mini has kept the IR blaster of its bigger sibling, scoring another point for usability. Another usability problem with the HTC One mini buttons (after the capacitive keys issue) is the position of the power key. At the top of the rather long device, it is much harder to reach than on the Galaxy S4 mini, making unlocking the phone with one hand problematic on many occasions. And when you are talking a mini smartphone that’s quite important.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - The Top

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – The Top

The camera lenses are both centrally placed at the top, each with a single LED flash. The HTC One mini has a 4MP camera which HTC dubs UltraPixel technology with large 2µm pixels but lacks the OIS of the HTC One. The Samsung smartphone has a conventional 8MP unit, which is again a downgrade from the Galaxy S4 13MP camera.

The One mini’s back feels more refined than the S4 mini one. It’s a unibody design with thin plastic ridges across the subtly curved cold aluminum casing. The HTC mini just feels better to hold in hand.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - On the back

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – On the back

The hyperglaze finish could well be one of those things that work better on a larger scale. It does make the Galaxy S4 mini look like just another glossy plastic midrange smartphone. To be fair though, the all-plastic construction doesn’t take away from the build quality – the Galaxy S4 mini is well put together and quite durable in the long run.

Not that the HTC One mini has given us reasons to doubt its build either. The HTC One mini is overall more refined and mature. Plus, having the speakers up front does make a difference in terms of sound experience.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Held in hand

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Held in hand

However, the Samsung mini gets extra points for convenience. It has a removable battery and expandable storage via a microSD card slot. Not that the HTC mini’s shorthanded with 16 gigs of storage, but a microSD slot offers more than just memory expansion. The battery backup is perhaps even more important in some scenarios and even the IR port is worth having in your daily driver of a device so we give the nod again to Samsung’s Galaxy S4 mini.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. Both devices have their strong points which at first glance balance out very well – HTC’s One mini has the more conveniently located speakers, and the superior finish and looks, while the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is the far more practical unit with a compact body, expandable storage, user-accessible battery and an IR blaster.

Had it remained like this we would have called it a draw, but the awkwardly placed power key on the One mini and the two key capacitive combo lost further points for the HTC smartphone. And the fact that a 32GB version isn’t available make the lack of expandable storage even more problematic so we have to call this one in favor of the Samsung. A real shame considering how beautiful the One mini is.

Screen

Even though reduced in size, a screen has to represent the phone in a manner worthy of its price tag and market position. So let’s get to it – how do the two minis fare in the display department.

On paper, the HTC One mini is the clear winner – it’s an HD unit of 1280 x 720 resolution resulting in around 342 pixels per inch, meaning you won’t discern individual pixels with a naked eye from a normal viewing distance. The Super LCD2 is also a proven name and we loved it on the 4.7″ HTC One X.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini goes for the same 4.3″ diagonal but lowers the resolution to qHD (540 x 960) which amounts to around 256 ppi, meaning it’s not quite as sharp, but the Super AMOLED panel gives it an edge in other aspects of the image quality. The Galaxy S4 screen has naturally superior contrast to any LCD and offers more vibrant colors with more saturation. It also features Samsung’s screen modes settings that let you tune down the effect and get the natural and realistic looks of the LCD screens.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Both Screens side by side

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Both Screens side by side

Despite being an AMOLED unit the screen on the Galaxy S4 mini isn’t using a Pentile matrix but instead goes for a somewhat unorthodox RGB. Check out the pixel arrangement below. The HTC One mini has the same pixel arrangement as its 1080p brother but pixels are larger, while the S4 mini uses the pixel arrangement of the Galaxy Note II.

 

We come up comes to the more scientific analysis part of the screen test. The Galaxy S4 mini has all-natural blacks but the HTC One mini doesn’t do too bad either. Speaking of which, brightness is way superior on the HTC One mini, which is mainly due to the LCD technology – AMOLEDs tend to be a little dimmer to preserve power.

Contrast on the Super AMOLED is practically infinite, but the HTC One mini isn’t doing too bad for the LCD league either.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Samsung I9195 Galaxy S4 mini 0 166 0 396
HTC One mini 0.15 177 1197 0.5 685 1361

 

Next up is the sunlight legibility test. What you need to know before we continue is that AMOLEDs have a tendency to be less reflective than LCD’s because they have one less layer to worry about. This helps the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini take the victory and despite its lower native brightness.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Sunlight contrast ratio

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Sunlight contrast ratio

Winner: HTC One mini (only just). The large resolution advantage helped the HTC smartphone to victory here. It found itself trailing in terms of contrast, sunlight legibility and color reproduction, but differences aren’t too large there so they couldn’t turn this one around. Feel free to disagree if you do more video watching than web browsing though.

Battery life

Battery life is one of the most important aspects of a smartphone, and one that we watch very closely. The HTC One mini is powered by a 1800mAh Li-Po unit against a 1900mAh Li-Ion unit in the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini.

Let’s see how the devices did at talk time. The HTC One mini managed a little over 12 hours while the Galaxy S4 mini got an hour and 6 minutes more for a total of 13:10 hours of talking. A clear win for the Samsung mini here.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Talk time

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Talk time

In web browsing, the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini once again outdid its rival with 9:47 hours against 8:12.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Web browsing

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Web browsing

Watching hours of video seems more of a task for those full-HD 5″ flagships but if you want to test out the minis we’ve got you covered. This is a shameful defeat for the HTC One mini – it managed 7:23 hours against the impressive 13:12 hours straight for the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Video playback

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Video playback

Adding the numbers up and factoring in stand-by efficiency gets a decisive victory for the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini in the battery life test, with an endurance rating of 54 hours. What this means is you can count on more than two full days and then some between charges if you do an hour of calling, browsing and watching video daily.

The HTC One mini didn’t have the best of times here, its rating of 40h not nearly good enough to compete with the Galaxy S4 mini. And to make matters worse the Galaxy S4 mini offers a user-replaceable battery so you can carry a spare unit or easily replace your original one when it starts to degrade.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. Not only did it complete a clean sweep in the individual challenges, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini downright trashed the HTC One mini when it came to the overall rating. And that user-replaceable battery also played in its favor.

Software and features

Samsung and HTC have done a fine job of equipping their minis with an up to date version of Android – Jelly Bean 4.2.2 is no longer the latest, but it’s the best you can get outside the Nexus world. And hopefully, an upgrade to version 4.3 isn’t that far away for either of these.

Despite running the same software underneath, the two smartphones feel very different due to the customizations applied by their respective manufacturers. HTC has its Sense 5 in charge while Samsung opts for TouchWiz. And as you probably know those two are quite different – Sense bets on cleaner look and ads some pretty cool visual effects while TouchWiz brings a laundry list of features.

Here are two videos of the devices in action to start you off.

Unlike most Android custom launchers the Sense 5 on HTC One mini relies heavily on vertical scrolling, which can take some getting used to if you’re coming from a different brand.

BlinkFeed is the first place you’d encounter it – it’s a stream of articles from around the web (HTC has partnered with 10,000 providers), combined with account updates on services like Facebook and Twitter. BlinkFeed is a part of the homescreen – the leftmost pane.

One mini's BlinkFeed

One mini’s BlinkFeed

The app drawer is the second place where HTC went with vertical scrolling instead of the more popular horizontal pane interface. The drawer displays a 3 x 4 grip of shortcuts by default (which leaves a lot of padding around icons). You can use folders to group similar apps and make better use of the screen space. The other option is to switch to a 4 x 5 grid in the settings menu.

At the top of the app drawer is a big clock with date and weather info (a big icon and smaller text with more details). This same clock is at the top of the BlinkFeed screen, which makes the two feel very similar.

The Sense 5 app drawer and homescreen

The Sense 5 app drawer and homescreen

The shortcut dock at the bottom holds four shortcuts plus the app drawer button in the middle. These icons are always visible – in BlinkFeed, in the regular screens, in the app drawer, even on the lockscreen.

Samsung has provided many of its own custom widgets like Samsung Hub, S Travel, etc, but has kept the TouchWiz homescreen closer to stock in terms of navigation. There’s the addition of a wrap-around mode, which lets you scroll homescreens infinitely by always going from the last to the first one.

The app drawer hasn’t changer really since the early days of Nature UX. The app shortcuts are presented as a customizable grid, alphabetized grid or list and you can hide shortcuts (good for bloatware you can’t uninstall), view only downloaded apps, uninstall apps and add folders.

 

The TouchWiz homescreen

The TouchWiz homescreen

The HTC lockscreen offers a clock, weather info and four shortcut slots. You can put a folder instead of an app shortcut if you need more than four apps accessible right from the lockscreen. Missed calls and incoming messages are duly displayed too of course.

There’s no way to change lockscreen shortcuts independently from the ones docked on the homescreen. Many users may find that inconvenient – the Galaxy S4 mini can do that.

Courtesy of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean comes the widget lockscreen. It’s disabled by default, you have to toggle it on from the Personalize menu. Unlike the stock variety, you only get to pick a single widget, there are no multiple pages.

The HTC One mini lockscreen and its settings

The HTC One mini lockscreen and its settings

Samsung’s default lockscreen shows the time along with a personal message overlaid on beautiful photos pulled from TripAdvisor (with text at the bottom about where the photo was taken).

The water ripples have been replaced by a lens flare effect though, if you prefer, you can switch back to the old one or disable it all together.

The lockscreen has multiple panes, each containing one widget. The page to the right of the default one is special and can either be a list of favorite apps (the default TouchWiz setting) or a shortcut for the camera (as in pure Android).

The pages to the left contain different widgets – email, Google Now, Messaging, music player, Yahoo! Finance and News and you can download apps from the Play Store that add new widgets.

There are no app shortcuts at the bottom of the screen by default – the Favorite Apps widget to the right has taken over that role, but you can enable them and have up to five easily accessible shortcuts.

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini lockscreen

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini lockscreen

The Sense notification area is pretty much stock Android – it shows only notifications by default (below the top row, which is reserved for the time and date, plus two shortcuts). As of Android 4.2.2, Sense 5 also has the quick settings menu that can either be accessed by pressing the button in the top right corner of the notification area or performing a two finger swipe from anywhere in the UI.

One mini's notification area

One mini’s notification area

Even so, the HTC One mini doesn’t come close to the super functional notification are of the Galaxy S4 mini. There are five (or eight in landscape mode) toggles at the top of the TouchWiz notification area to quickly enable and disable features (that’s in the regular notification area, not quick settings).

There are more than you can see, of course – swipe to reveal the rest. Or you can tap the new button that displays a grid of all the shortcuts, 20 in total. You can rearrange this grid (the top row toggles are always visible). A two finger swipe directly opens the grid of toggles. There’s no tile with your picture and name on it like in Sense and stock Android.

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini notification area

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini notification area

Although different in terms of basic navigation – one relying on vertical scrolling and one on horizontal both minis offer solid us. There’s a notification area full of toggles (customizable in the case of Samsung’s mini), an app drawer, homescreens on which to place apps and widgets, lockscreens, the whole nine yards.

What’s different are the animations, the icons, system colors, the preinstalled apps, the widgets and most of all, the feeling which you get while using the phones. HTC’s way is a more rapid depature from the basic principles of Android, while Samsung has tried to build upon those – there’s a homescreen that you scroll the conventional, there’s the app drawer, there’s no Flipboard-like homescreen pane that can’t be undone.

Instead Samsung has invested most of its effort in adding extra features. Stuff like smart stay (which keeps your screen on when looking it even if the sleep timer runs out) and blocking mode (which mutes your phone at pre-set times and lets only selected contacts call you) can certainly make the right kind of difference to some of you.

The rest will probably find them a needless waste of space that only complicates the navigation. Good thing is Samsung lets you keep those out of sight if that’s the case, so you really have little to worry about.

Winner: Tie. The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini TouchWiz is certainly the most functional interface, but since neither of these two is targeted at power users we aren’t too quick to recommend it over the better styled Sense 5. The Samsung UI isn’t ugly by any means, but it’s not quite as homogenous as the HTC launcher.

Loudspeaker

Now this is where the HTC One mini has the clear upper hand. Not only does it have two speakers, which give you stereo goodness, but each of those has its own amp and you can be sure they have bigger drivers compared to the Samsung’s.

Next up is placement. HTC got it right by placing the stereo speakers at the front of the device as opposed to the back. It works better for both gaming and media consumption device and it’s harder to muffle the sound.

Finally let’s look at the loudness numbers. The HTC One mini received a Good score while the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini did an average job. However when you look at the ringing score they are actually pretty close so good job by the Galaxy S4 mini here.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overal score
Sony Xperia Z 60.1 58.3 61.6 Below Average
Apple iPhone 5 66.8 66.1 67.7 Below Average
Nokia Lumia 920 61.6 64.8 65.8 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini 66.3 64.8 75.1 Average
HTC One 69.3 66.6 75.9 Good
HTC One mini 68.0 68.7 78.1 Good
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 70.6 66.2 77.3 Good
Samsung Galaxy S4 Active 72.7 66.6 78.1 Good
LG Optimus G 74.6 71.3 82.7 Excellent

 

What you cannot see just by looking at the chart above is the quality of the sound, and HTC’s One mini is the clear winner there. Music comes out louder but also deeper and clearer. There’s also a hint of bass, which is nowhere to be seen on the majority of smart devices out there.

Winner: HTC One mini: It’s clearly the better performer – it has twice the speakers, they are louder and sound better – clearer and deeper.

Audio quality comparison

The HTC One mini audio output is almost identical to that of its full-sized sibling and everyone who has heard that one play will tell that there’s no greater compliment you can pay to a smartphone.

The One mini did great in the active external amplifier part of the test, posting great scores all over the field. In addition it had volume levels higher than just about any smartphone outside the Beats family.

More impressively, there’s next to no degradation when you plug in a pair of headphones. The stereo crosstalk rises a tiny bit, but that’s the only affected reading. Volume levels remain at the same high level, too.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini performed excellently in the first part of our traditional audio quality test, posting great scores all over the field and garnishing them with a decent (if unspectacular) volume level.

There’s some degradation when you plug in a pair of headphones, but it is barely noticeable outside of dedicated audio labs. The stereo crosstalk rises notably, but that’s about it – the rest of the readings remain unchanged..

And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
HTC One mini +0.14, -0.12 -94.4 94.0 0.015 0.013 -87.9
HTC One mini(headphones attached) +0.83, -0.58 -94.5 94.1 0.021 0.034 -77.9
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini +0.06, -0.05 -93.5 92.7 0.0090 0.056 -86.2
Samsung Galaxy S4 mini (headphones attached) +0.08, -0.04 -93.2 91.8 0.029 0.089 -53.3

Winner: HTC One mini. The two smartphone are quite evenly matched in terms of clarity, but the higher volume levels let the HTC One mini take this.

Performance

The HTC One mini and Samsung Galaxy S4 mini use similar Snapdragon 400 chipsets with dual-core Krait CPU and Adreno 305 GPU, but they have their differences.

The HTC One mini uses two Krait 200 cores clocked at 1.4 GHz with 1 GB of RAM while the Galaxy S4 mini has two slightly refreshed Krait 300 cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and 1.5 GB of RAM. We also suspect that the GPU on the Samsung smartphone is clocked higher seeing its performance in the dedicated tests.

So let’s get to it – BenchmarkPi gives the individual CPU cores calculative performance a run. Surprisingly here the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini was almost twice as fast – much more than the difference in the clock speed suggests.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - Benchmark and Linpack

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – Benchmark and Linpack

Geekbench 2 is a compound benchmark testing CPU and memory performance. The Galaxy S4 mini scored another victory here and again by a comfortable margin.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - geekbench2

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – geekbench2

The HTC One mini continues its uninspiring run with AnTuTu, finishing well behind the Galaxy S4 mini. Next, the other compound benchmark – Quadrant shows a smaller gap but still puts the Samsung device comfortably in front.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - AnTuTu and Quadrant

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – AnTuTu and Quadrant

Next up are GPU-stressing benchmarks. First up is GLBenchmark 2.5’s off-screen test, which tests the raw power of the graphics units, disregarding the native screen resolution of the two. Strangely, the score was in favor of the Galaxy S4 mini, which as we said probably has its Adreno 305 GPU clocked higher. The difference isn’t huge, but when you consider that the HTC One mini has nearly 80% more pixels things look somewhat more dramatic.

The 2.7 GLBenchrmark off-screen test tells a very similar story – a small advantage for the Galaxy S4 mini.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - GLBenchmark 2.5 and 2.7

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – GLBenchmark 2.5 and 2.7

Finally we come to web-based benchmarks. They have the job to evaluate how fast these phones would do when loading pages. SunSpider focuses on JavaScript performance while BrowserMark 2 gives HTML 5 a stress. Vellamo combines both into a single app.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has the upper hand in SunSpider and BrowserMark 2 but loses in Vellamo. However differences in all three benchmarks were very small.

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini - SunSpider - BrowserMark2 - Vellamo

HTC One mini vs Samsung Galaxy S4 mini – SunSpider – BrowserMark2 – Vellamo

Synthetic benchmarks are mainly geek-oriented things which don’t necessarily reflect the real performance of a device. Sure the HTC One mini lost this round but in real life it doesn’t lag or hiccup and when put side by side with the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini doesn’t feel that much slower.

Both devices run pretty smooth throughout their UIs, which could be thanks to good optimization on their manufacturers’ part or could be accredited to Jelly Bean’s Project Butter. It’s only when faced with heavier apps and web pages that you can spot the difference, but you’ll really have to be looking hard.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. The more capable chipset gives it an edge, although the difference isn’t huge.

 

Camera interface and features

The HTC One mini uses a sensor that is about average in size for the smartphone game (1/3″) but since it has relatively low 4MP resolution it packs much bigger pixels. In theory fewer bigger pixels offer a slight advantage in low-light performance, but limit the performance in good lighting. The fast F/2.0 lens also helps poor light shooting, but there’s no optical image stabilization (OIS) like on the HTC One.

The sensor has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means you can shoot widescreen photos without sacrificing resolution and those are the once most comfortable for viewing on the phone, on most tablets (which typically have 16:10 screens) and HDTVs.

The front-facing camera is a 1.6 MP unit but sadly isn’t as wide-angle as the one on the bigger HTC One.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini comes with a more conventional 8MP main camera and a 1.9 MP front-facer.

The One mini camera interface itself is pretty simple – there are two shutter keys (one for stills and one for video), above them is the gallery shortcut and below is the effects button. On the left side of the screen you get flash mode selector and the Zoe toggle.

Now, we already covered what Zoe does after you’ve taken a shot, here’s how the actual shooting goes. You enable Zoe (an indicator at the bottom of the screen confirms you’re in Zoe mode) and tap the still shutter key. The key turns into a progress bar, counting down the three seconds during which the phone records video, reminding you to stay relatively still.

The Galaxy S4 mini user interface is based on the Galaxy Camera interface. The viewfinder handles both still and video capture, so you don’t have to switch modes. However, this is certainly not the most convenient solution – if you’re shooting full resolution 8MP photos, you’ll have to frame your videos using a 4:3 viewfinder.

The settings are found in two places. The first is the Mode button under the shutter key. It brings up a carousel with different shooting modes, each with a descriptive image and text. When you get familiar with those modes, you can switch to the grid, which drops the text but is faster.

In the upper left corner, there are a couple of quick settings plus an arrow to reveal more options. As for the different camera modes, it’s a collection of some of the best camera features currently available.

The arrow at the bottom of the screen brings up a row of color effects. Each effect gets a live preview, so you can see what the particular scene will look like with it. There’s a download button, too, so you can grab more effects.

There are more settings in the top left corner, but they won’t be very often used. Still, there is a number of interesting options here like having the volume rocker act as a still shutter key, a video shutter key or a zoom lever. The HDR mode (Rich Tone) can be set to save a normal and an HDR photo or just the HDR one. Another interesting option is contextual file names – the Galaxy S4 mini will name photos with your location (the GPS needs to be on for this to work).

There are standard modes like Rich Tone (HDR), Panorama, Night and Sports. Panoramas are nice, they do a full 360° circle, but the resolution is not that impressive.

Sound & shot captures a photo and records ambient sound. It sounds pretty cool – for example, you can hear the sea gulls in a beach photo or the roar of car engines at a race.

Overall both camera apps feature the basics like HDR, Panorama, Night mode, etc. and have a variety of effects and filters to choose from.

Winner: HTC One mini. While the wealth of features offered by the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is not to be underestimated we really love how Zoe works without requiring any user interactions. This means that you can take a shot now and decide what to do with it later, instead of having to come with the idea first as is usually the case.

Still camera quality

We now move to what is arguably a camera review’s most important part – image quality. We’ve prepared a bunch of crops, which should help you evaluate the detail that the two smartphones resolve.

To make it easier for you we’ve upscaled the HTC One mini 4 MP samples to 8 MP ones on the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini so you can easily see how the resolved detail compares.

The Galaxy S4 mini comes a clear winner here, its images turning out much sharper than those of its competitor. The One mini is limited by its lower resolution sensor and fails to mount a serious challenge here.

Color balance is not perfect on either smartphone, but the One mini comes a tad closer to the truth than the Galaxy S4 mini. Surprisingly, though, the larger pixels don’t help the HTC smartphone when it comes to noise – if anything it does worse than its Samsung rival.

gsmarena_001

We’ve also added a bunch of downscaled crops that show you how the photos from the two smartphones will differ if you only post them on social networks and never do much pixel peeping.

In theory downscaling results in lost detail, so the HTC One mini should favor better here, but as it turns out it’s still a distant second in terms of resolving power. It’s also the noisier, and while the color reproduction doesn’t change with resolution, the HTC smartphone is still unable to catch up with its rival.

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High Dynamic Range imagery is a department in which HTC and Samsung have very different track records. While HTC has struggled in making a well working HDR feature for its smartphones, Samsung is pretty much up there with the best.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini produces excellent HDR samples, adding just enough extra detail in the highlights so images don’t turn out unrealistically flat, but still look much better than the regular ones. The HTC One mini, on the other side gets the whole thing all wrong and actually loses detail in the highlight areas. It does develop the shadows much better but what you get in the end looks more like overexposed image than a proper HDR sample.

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As for macro shots the HTC One mini has a dedicated macro mode while the Galaxy S4 mini determines whether you need macro while you’re focusing. If it detects you’re closer than normal it will enable macro shooting, which is the more convenient solution.

So the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini has the better snapper in just about every case. With the OIS gone, the One mini can’t even hope to get back at it when it gets dark outside.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. The OIS-enabled UltraPixel camera of the large HTC One did put up a fight against the 13MP snapper of the Galaxy S4, but its downgraded version is downright disappointing.

Video camera quality

The HTC One mini can shoot videos at up to 1080p resolution at 30fps and it has an HDR option for the video, but note that the framerate falls to 28fps and the field of view gets narrower. It also supports 720p @ 60fps high framerate video recording.

The camera features continuous autofocus and you have the option to lock the focus during video recording, if it hunts too much in dynamic scenes.

The camcorder interface on the HTC One mini is built into the camera UI. There’s a video shutter button and the settings are located just below the camera ones. After you’ve started recording you can use the virtual camera shutter key to capture 4 MP images without interrupting the video recording.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini camcorder UI is also embedded into the camera app. There’s a video shutter and the settings are buried next to the camera ones. Touch focus is available before and during video recording and you can switch back to continuous autofocus if you prefer.

You can capture 6MP (16:9) photos during video recording as well, but images come out with very different image processing from what you get from the still camera – the contrast and saturation are boosted way up and there’s a good deal of overshaprening.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 mini lacks 720p@60fps and HDR video recording, which is a point in the HTC One mini’s column.

Videos on the HTC One mini are recorded in MP4 format with an impressive 20Mbps bitrate – among the highest we’ve seen. Sound is captured in stereo with 192Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling rate. Framerate wasn’t a solid 30fps and would sometimes dip to 28fps.

On the other side the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini stores videos in the same MP4 format but with a lower bitrate of 17Mbps. Stereo audio is recorded at 128Kbps and a sampling rate of 48kHz.

However the end result isn’t what the bitrate numbers suggest. The One mini videos have a decent amount of detail, but certainly not as much as the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. Colors are also better on the Samsung compact flagship and so is dynamic range.

You can check out the videos themselves below.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. The overall better output could have been made up for had the HTC One mini had OIS, but since this is not the case it’s one-way traffic here.

Final words

It’s the beginning of what hopefully will become a trend – squeezing flagship specs into a compact package. These two devices are among the pioneers and Android is the playground, but we’d love it if the trend hits full swing and even other platforms join with super minis.

Because as things stand now, HTC and Samsung are the only ones that have the nerve to name them after the current flagship as in “There you go. It’s the same package, only smaller.” Motorola joins them too and their DROID Mini is actually the closest anyone has gotten to the real deal. The thing is the flagship DROID Ultra isn’t quite close enough to the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One to begin with.

Anyway, as first attempts these here minis are far from perfect. This isn’t even a first for Samsung but, to be honest, the Galaxy SIII mini was well off target. The Galaxy S4 mini is more like it, and one would think HTC nailed it with the One mini judging solely by the appearance.

The truth is, both flagships in miniature that we’ve been comparing in this article are missing important features of the originals. Some things just had to be left out – less room in the compact bodies or trying to meet a tighter budget. Or both.

The HTC One mini had to watch OIS go, along with NFC and the IR port. It kept the front-mounted BoomSound speakers though, the hot aluminum unibody and Zoe. The Galaxy S4 mini got stripped off Air Gestures and Multi View, and got its screen resolution down to qHD. NFC and the IR port are staying though, and so is the memory card slot.

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If we judge both devices as the sum of their parts – and we mean the stuff that made the cut, not the missing bits – they’re pretty similar in terms of hardware and performance. Yet, the HTC One mini comes across as the package that inches closer to the flagship standard, mostly down to build and finish, and the screen. It seems to show stronger determination than the Galaxy S4 to stay relevant even in the original’s shadow.

There’s a 720p display on offer and audio quality gets a real boost out of BoomSound and Beats. Then the quality of the finish and the premium look and feel round off a package that’s the right bit more refined and sophisticated.

It’s like Samsung was afraid that too good of a mini would step on the Galaxy S4’s toes. And we mostly mean good-looking. But that’s where it gets tricky. The Samsung mini’s about 20% cheaper than the HTC mini – enough to probably let the lower resolution and less-than-premium looks slide.

So there you have it – if you care for things like camera, storage and battery backup the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini is the phone for you. The build and finish, audio quality and screen resolution are HTC One mini’s bid to match the Samsung offer. Perhaps even beat it?

That depends on who you are and what you need in a smartphone. To us, the HTC One mini seems like the more attractive package – it’s just better at making a good first impression. The Galaxy S4 mini has the higher clock speed, superior battery backup and expandable memory but squeezing every bit of processing power, every last drop of juice and megabyte of storage is of utmost importance to power users, who rarely are the target here. Then again, the Galaxy S4 mini is cheaper and is the better cameraphone.

OK, this is beginning to look like the two sides of the same coin. But hopefully – if you stayed thus far – not one you’ll need to toss to make up your mind.

 

Source: Gsmarena

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