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Samsung Shoots for the Low End with Galaxy S4 Mini Smartphone

By Wesley Fenlon

Now everyone can have a Galaxy S4.

As flagship Android devices like the Galaxy S4 trend away from 4-inch screens and towards monstrous 5-inch screens, Samsung's taking a step back by announcing a Galaxy S offshoot--the 4.3-inch Galaxy S4 Mini. The new Android 4.2.2 smartphone looks almost identical to the Galaxy S4, but it's smaller and lighter (though two years ago, a 4.3-inch phone would be among the biggest on the market).

The Mini doesn't include every feature but the kitchen sink, like the Galaxy S4. The larger phone runs on a quad-core 1.9GHz processor, while the S4 mini runs on a more modest 1.7GHz dual-core chip. It doesn't support the brand new, still-barely-used 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Where the Galaxy S4 has 16GB of storage, the Mini has 8, but both support microSD. RAM is similarly reduced from 2GB to 1.5GB. The rear camera shoots 8MP images as opposed to 13MP.

The 4.3-inch display uses Samsung's Super AMOLED technology, but drops the resolution down to a sub-HD 960x540. Samsung's dropping some other tricks, like the S4's pedometer, but the Mini retains all the basics--accelerometer/gyro/magnetometer sensor package, HD front-facing webcam, Bluetooth, and NFC. Samsung's even keeping the IR blaster for remote control.

Compared to the Galaxy S4, the Mini isn't a very exciting phone. But it's aimed at people who don't want to shell out $200 for an on-contract phone, and that may be enough for Samsung's Galaxy branding to dominate both the high-end and the low-end of the smartphone market. The iPhone 5 runs on a very capable 1.3GHz dual-core processor. Google's Nexus 4 runs on a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, and offers a higher-resolution display, but lacks support for LTE, which Samsung plans to support with the Galaxy S4 Mini.

In the end, it's all about the price. While the S4 and iPhone 5 duke it out at $200, and the Nexus 4 carves out its own off-contract niche at $300, we expect to see the Mini cost $100 or less--probably less--on contract. Samsung hasn't announced pricing or carrier partnerships yet, but don't be surprised to see the Galaxy S4 Mini show up as a freebie tied to a two-year commitment.