When Vodafone won the Nexus S Jelly Bean Challenge it was a great day for Vodafone, it meant that Nexus S owners got their Jelly Bean upgrade within 2 weeks of the factory image being available on the Google Dev homepage, it also meant that Vodafone were free and clear of supplying a Galaxy Mini 2 to us to review and give away. Luckily the people at Vodafone are such good sports and generous in victory, they decided to supply a Galaxy Mini 2 for us to review and give away anyway, more on that later. So, let's get into it. The Galaxy Mini 2 lives up to its name straight out of the box, it strikes you immediately that it is a small phone or perhaps thats just my perception after using a Galaxy Nexus for so long, going from a 4.65" screen to the 3.27" screen on the Galaxy Mini 2 takes a little getting used to as does going from Jelly Bean back to Gingerbread. First impressions straight out of the box is that it is a nice light little phone that sits comfortably in the hand. The phone does have a plastic feel that a majority of Samsung phones have which is understandable seeing as this is the major component in their construction, the phone has a 3.5mm Headphone jack at the top, not my preference for headphone location but different people like it there. The phone has a power button on the right hand side, the left hand side has the volume rocker and the microSD Card slot which is covered by a flap and the bottom contains the microUSB port for data transfer and charging. The Galaxy Mini 2 is supplied in a white box with a pictre of the Mini 2 and Samsung logo adorning the front and a list of specifications on the side, the phone itself is resting in a plastic tray above the accessories and battery. Accessories you receive are a standard microUSB charger, a microUSB cable and white handsfree headphones. Paperwork wise you receive a quick start guide, brochure for the pre-installed Navigon navigation software, warranty registration card and a pre-paid satchel to send your old mobile phone to MobileMuster. Software wise Samsung has included apps such as Navigon which is a nice touch although seemingly redundant these days with Google Navigation available. They have also included Think Free Office, Samsung Music, Social and Apps Hubs, ChatOn, KiesAir, FM Radio App, Voice Recorder, Task Manager, Memo, AllShare and My Files as well as the usual Android apps. The phone arrives with the standard residual charge from the factory so you'll need to plug it in to charge for a couple of hours to start with and then it's on to playing with it. I had the phone unlocked the phone so it is no longer carrier locked, an extremely easy process thanks to Vodafone, all done through an easily navigable website and it's ready to rock and roll.
What we like
Ok, after what I define as lugging around my Galaxy Nexus for nearly a year, I admit it's actually nice to have a phone that easily slips into the pocket and is a lot easier to carry, so size wise it was certainly a lot better for actually carrying. It also fits quite comfortably in the hand there is a slight curve in the middle of the phone which actually makes it quite nice to grip, I wouldn't actually mind seeing this sort of thing carrying over into their higher end line. Sound quality on the Galaxy Mini 2 is pretty decent, unlike other budget phones I've reviewed there has been no need to try and install things such as Volume+ just to be able to hear music or podcasts whilst I go for a job, I have not tried out the supplied hands-free kit as I wanted that to remain pristine for the winner of the phone, but that said they appear to be stock standard earphones which are usually neither good nor bad in quality. The phone had issues initially with Wi-Fi pickup, it connected to my network but then refused to transmit data, but a factory reset saw this right and I have had no issues with it since then. It easily connected after the reset and I was surfing, tweeting and connected with no issues. Bluetooth also works extremely well, I have had issues in the past with having the handset over a foot away from the headset and losing connection but this slipped into my jeans and continued playback with no issues. GPS likewise was excellent, it picked up and maintained GPS connection using My Tracks whilst jogging and navigation using either Google Nav or Navigon was great although starting up Navigon meant a sizeable download of the maps -the warning says up to 1.6GB. Playing games was pretty good, it played quite a few games including Stick Tennis, Shake Spears! and Robo Defense. App wise it tracked my Nexus Q shipment with Package Tracker Pro, ran Tweakdeck, watched auctions for me with the official eBay app all with no difficulties all the while syncing two GMail accounts with push notifications. Battery wise it almost ran a full day, I did an hour and a half run with GPS on, sat and read tweets and surfed the net on it for an hour, did multiple app downloads, FourSquare checkins, photo uploads, checked Google+ all whilst syncing the two GMail accounts I mentioned above and it only started to complain around 6pm. The battery completely died around 9:30pm but I did stop using it for a couple of hours during a movie but this was a pretty good days use out of a battery which is only 1,300mAh perhaps down to the smaller screen not needing as much power as a 4.65" HD screen. The camera was actually impressive, not in terms of quality as 3MP it is pretty woeful, I was actually impressed with both the UI that Samsung overlay and also the speed at which it focuses and then snaps a shot, with an 18 month old you want a camera that takes a shot quickly or you tend to miss moments you want and the camera on the Galaxy Mini 2 does a pretty decent job of it speed wise. Touchwiz, it has good points and bad points. There are some parts of Touchwiz that I love but also some parts which I hate, remember I am a Nexus user and the experience of going to Touchwiz was interesting to say the least. I'm not going to go into a rundown of Touchwiz in a piece by piece review or we'll be here all day. There are things to be said on the benefits of Touchwiz such as ease of use for certain areas such as media compatibility and UI in things such as the camera but certainly there are drawbacks which can be addressed later in this review. Basically any skin is going to hamper upgrades but this hasn't stopped Samsung from naming the Galaxy Mini 2 in the list of phones that will receive an update to Jelly Bean in the future, this would of course be based on performance once the update is applied. In the past we have seen Samsung back down on updates and deliver so called 'value packs' which contain features from newer versions of Android but without the complete update. Either way for a phone at this price even the possibility that it may see some Project Butter is exciting.
What can be improved
Elsewhere in the world the Galaxy Mini 2 comes with NFC, unfortunately the Australian model lacks this piece of functionality but with no real usage for NFC in Australia as yet this isn't a real disadvantage in the short term, however, with a number of Banks including the Commonwealth, ANZ and Westpac all looking at NFC functionality on mobile devices in the slightly longer term this would have been a good option. Screen, whilst the size is desirable you still come back to the lack of screen real estate. 3.27" is really miniscule, I have used phones with screens from 2.8" all the way up to the 5.3" Galaxy Note and pretty much all the screen sizes in between, screen size is a personal thing but what I found with screens smaller than around 4" is that once you have a soft keyboard on-screen you pretty much lose half the screen and this is far more noticeable in the Mini 2 where it takes up exactly half the screen. Whilst on the subject of the screen the display was quite dull, it was hard to actually see the screen at times even at full brightness, in day light the screen can be extremely hard to see and then at night you're blinded if you happen to check your phone and due to the lack of ambient light sensor there is no auto-brightness which leads you to constantly open the brightness settings and re-adjust when changing lighting conditions. As a whole the phone ran apps and games fine, there was no issue once loaded they ran fine, a little laggy on occasion but generally there were no issues, what I did find was just navigating around the home screens, menus etc was sometimes extremely laggy. Often swiping would just hang, the phone had definitely recognised the swipe gesture but the software was still processing, whether this is due to Touchwiz or not is a matter for discussion but can not possibly be answered till a vanilla Android build is available. Touchwiz, again not a full review just the things I found to be most annoying, things such as the insane app drawer, I really could find no reasoning in the way that Touchwiz sorts apps. Installing AppZorter or other apps, is just insane to have to organise your app drawer, is there something fundamentally wrong with alphabetical order? Lack of Google Calendar and default SMS app, I understand that if you are going to supply a better option then that's fine but really the Touchwiz renditions of these basic apps is pretty woeful. Swype, I admit it, I just cannot use it. As a keyboard it would probably rank as my worst choice for a keyboard, I got the whole swype motion down and was able to type with it quite quickly however it did lead to frustration with incorrect words being inserted when typing, the dictionary was easy to update with new words but getting down to the nitty gritty of every day use I found myself longing for either SwiftKey 3 or even the default Android Gingerbread keyboard. Due to the fact the 3G Radio is HSDPA 7.2 Mbps, the speed can be frustrating in terms of general surfing and also when tethering the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The fact it is a budget handset is understandably the reason they have gone for the lower end radio however it has to be mentioned as part of the review process.
- 3.27" HVGA touchscreen (480x320)
- 800MHz Cortex A5 CPU
- 3GB On-Board storage with MicroSD Card Slot up to 32GB
- 3.0MP Camera with 3xDigital Zoom
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0
- Accelerometer, Geo-magnetic, Proximity Sensor
- Touchwiz over Android™ 2.3.3 (Gingerbread)
- Battery : 1,300mAh
- Talk Time Up to 6 hours
- Standby time Up to 16.5 days
- 109.4x58.6x11.85mm @ 108grams
ConclusionBear in mind when you're looking at the Galaxy Mini 2 that it is a budget handset, it's not a whizz bang top of the line Galaxy S III or the like. It sits well in the hand, it runs apps and games fairly well, all the wireless radios work as intended with no bugs, it is a little slow in terms of data delivery but overall it is a decent handset for the price. If you want high end features you will need to pay more it's that simple, but the Galaxy Mini 2 will definitely satisfy your newer user who is wanting to upgrade their dumb-phone to a Smartphone and see what all the fuss is about. The Galaxy Mini 2 can be purchased from Vodafone as either a $152 Pre-Paid handset or on a $29 plan with $0 monthly handset repayments over 24 months. You can check it out on the Vodafone website or head into a store to see it in person, which I do recommend to get an idea of the dimensions and feel of the handset as quite frankly it is quite nice.
Devices: Galaxy, Nexus S