If you’re tired of big phones, but don’t want to sacrifice camera quality and high-end performance, the iPhone 12 mini is an instant recommendation.
Unlike Apple’s other smaller, cheaper phone the iPhone SE 2, the iPhone 12 mini doesn’t really sacrifice much to achieve its miniature footprint. It has the same camera setup, same A14 Bionic chipset and same support for 5G as the full-fat iPhone 12.
It also has the same overall design, featuring iPhone 5-like edges and a nice selection of muted colours.
Design – The iPhone 12 mini is small on a scale we haven’t seen in years
The iPhone 12 mini is really that – a miniature iPhone 12. It’s far smaller than I was expecting and it’s dwarfed by the Pixel 4a, which is probably the smallest new Android phone around. I can wrap my whole hand around its aluminium body and comfortably reach the top with my thumb, something that’s not even possible on the still comparably small iPhone 12.
It’s really quite something, especially when you consider Apple has managed to bring across all the major features – both hardware and software – from the larger models. This is rare, with smaller devices (Xperia Compact aside) usually sacrificing most of what makes there larger siblings special.
In terms of overall design, the mini is the same as the 6.1-inch iPhone 12. It has shiny glass on the back that picks up lots of fingerprints, especially in this dark blue colour, and matte aluminium rails around the sides. It’s a very flat device and will feel familiar to anyone who used the iPhone 4 or 5, or even the most recent iPad Air and iPad Pro. The flat edges help it sit comfortably in your palm and it’s so incredibly light at 135g that’s it refreshing.
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I delve into the new Ceramic Shield front in our iPhone 12 review, but basically this is a new glass covering over the display that has been developed to better withstand drops. It won’t necessarily help avoid scratches and it won’t replace a screen protector, but it should give your phone more chance of surviving a drop.
Being smaller, I actually found the iPhone 12 mini far more durable feeling that the larger phones, especially the Pro Max. Whereas the Pro Max felt like it can (and likely would) slip out of my hand at any time, the smaller dimensions do the opposite. There’s an IP68 water resistance rating here too, adding that extra peace of mind.
Multiple colours are available and they’re all slightly more muted than last year. I’ve been using the blue, which is nice around the rails but a little less so on the lighter back. My pick is green, which is a lovely pastel shade that pops and does a good job at reducing fingerprints. There’s also a black, white and a vivid red.
A notable new addition for the iPhone 12 is the MagSafe, a new accessory ecosystem that works with a number of magnets built into the back of the phone. There are MagSafe cases (which honestly seem to make zero use of the magnets), a clever wireless charger and a card sleeve. Belkin is also making a handy looking car mount that should hold the phone in place solely with magnets.
Display – Not for movie binges, but still packing quality tech
In terms of tech and overall screen quality, the iPhone 12 mini packs the same goodies as the larger models. The panel is OLED for perfect blacks and high levels of contrast, it has a much sharper resolution when compared to the iPhone 11 and supports both Dolby Vision and HLG HDR formats.
Outside of this, it misses out on a faster 90 or 120Hz refresh rate – a common feature of newer Android phones – and a noticeable notch remains. I actually found the notch far more distracting here than on the other iPhone 12 models so beware of this if you’re not a huge fan of the cutout.
A faster refresh rate would, of course, have been nice. The benefit it gives to smoother scrolling and more responsive gaming is hard to pass up on Android, but on iOS the animations are smooth enough for it not to be a huge issue.
You’re probably most interested in the size of the display, and at 5.4-inches it’s the smallest in Apple’s current lineup. And unlike the iPhone SE, the screen stretches right out to the edges so there’s very little wasted space.
While it’s small in comparison to other iPhones and just about every Android phone on the market, it’s only marginally smaller than the screen on one of the older ‘Plus’ sized iPhones that all had 5.5-inch panels. And they were massive.
Still, having a smaller panel does change how you use a phone. I use the mini far less for watching videos and reading, switching to an iPad for that instead. This phone is more focussed on the phone basics – messaging, emails and the odd social media scroll. It’s a similar story for games: basic ones are fine, but the more intensive ones feel a little cramped here. That’s not so much a dig at the phone, but small screens in general.
Phone habits have changed as screens have grown and if your phone is the hub to all manner of entertainment services then you might feel restricted here. If you just want a great phone that’ll fit in most pockets and small bags then it works great.
Performance – the same as the Pro Max
You have to hand it to Apple for its commitment to bringing the same high-class performance to the entire iPhone 12 line.
Even though it’s essentially half the price of some iPhone 12 Pro Max models, you’ve still got the same highly efficient A14 Bionic chipset that comfortably handles any task you throw at it with ease. While it’s a lot more technically advanced, you’re likely not going to notice any huge ‘wow’ moment if you’re coming from an iPhone from the past few years. These phones have been fast for a while and this is no different.
I ran a few synthetic benchmarks on the iPhone 12 mini and it falls into line with the other models in the range. In Geekbench it scored 1592 in single-core and 4118 in the multi-core variant.
5G makes a debut on an iPhone this year. As with the chipset improvements, 5G feels more like a ‘nice to have’ rather than something that’ll change the way you use the phone – especially as it’s still very much in its infancy.
If you’re in a 5G area, on a 5G supported network and have the right plan then you can get far quicker downloads.
One thing I did notice after moving from the regular iPhone 12 to the mini is the speaker is notably weaker here, probably not too much of a surprise given the difference in size. It still sounds fine, but it is certainly lacking some of the oomph I noticed on the bigger phones.
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iOS 14 comes preinstalled and it’s a hefty update. The home screen can now be littered with handy widgets and you can move lesser-used apps away into an App Library. Expect plenty more updates too, as Apple tends to support devices for years and years.
The base model comes with 64GB storage which does feel a bit light. I would recommend paying the extra £50/$50 and bumping that to 128GB.
Camera – The iPhone 12 mini has a fantastic snapper in a tiny package
As quickly became the theme with the 12 mini, the camera is identical to that on the 6.1-inch iPhone 12. No sacrifices were made to meet the smaller size and during my time shooting with it I didn’t pick up on any differences. That’s great news, as this is easily the best camera in a phone of this size.
The main 12-megapixel sensor now has a faster (when compared to the iPhone 11) f/1.6 7 element lens and it’s paired with a 12MP ultrawide camera. If you want telephoto, along with the perks of the LiDAR sensor, there’s the iPhone 12 Pro or the Max. Though I would assume if you’re taking the mini seriously you would have little interest in Apple’s biggest phone.
As I said in the camera portion of our iPhone 12 review, there’s not a huge jump in quality here over the iPhone 11. I doubt too many people are upgrading from that, unless the small phone is simply a must, and if you’re coming from something like the iPhone 6, 7 or 8 then you’ll notice huge strides. I’d also say the difference is obvious when compared to iPhone X and XS, both of which I felt lacked the lovely colour range achieved here.
Apple has really nailed making a phone that reliably takes excellent phones, regardless of environment, and without much effort. Even more so than a Pixel, I find pretty much every shot from the iPhone 12 mini is usable, with Apple’s large amount of computational tech working some magic in the background.
The combination of Smart HDR 3 and Deep Fusion inside the camera app do a fantastic job at levelling out colours and dynamic range. This all happens live too, so what you’re seeing in the viewfinder is what you’ll get at the end. The iPhone 12 mini also uses Night Mode and Deep Fusion across both sensors, so you have more versatility at night to boot.
This, along with the slightly faster f/1.6 lens, aids low-light photography. This is the area you’ll notice most of the improvements. More detail is retained and you get a brighter image, even if you’re not using the multi-exposure Night Mode.
The ultrawide camera is nice to have and it adds a bit more scope to get creative. The snaps aren’t quite at the same quality of the main camera, especially in worse conditions, but I do appreciate having it.
On the front, the camera is the same as before. It’s a 12MP sensor, with an f/2.2 aperture and it’s used mainly for the Face ID unlocking system. Selfies are fine, but they can look a little washed out when compared to the overtly contrasty look you’ll get from a Pixel 5.
Completing the camera package is the video capabilities. The iPhone has long been king when it comes to smartphone videography and that’s once again the case here. The big new feature is HDR recording in a form of Dolby Vision. When viewing on your iPhone display it looks ace, with far better dynamic range and a real pop of cinematic colour. You might run into compatibility problems if you’re big into sharing video, though.
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Battery life – Small battery for a small phone
The one real issue I have with the iPhone 12 mini is that the battery life falls comfortably below what I got on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. That’s probably to be expected with a smaller device with a smaller battery, but it still hampers the experience.
The battery life isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just nowhere near as good as what I know iPhones are capable of. For instance, I found the iPhone 12 mini had roughly 15-20% less battery at the end of the day when compared to an iPhone 12.
You can still make it through the day, especially if you’re not pushing the media and gaming capabilities quite so much, but you might be checking that battery indicator far more than you’d want to if it’s a heavy day.
There’s no charger in the box with the iPhone 12 mini and even if you have an old wall plug from an iPhone 7 or 8 you’ll probably want to invest in something faster, like Apple’s £19/$19 20w plug. Combine this with the included USB-C to Lightning and you’ll get a 50% in roughly 30 minutes.
There’s also the wireless option. You can use any old Qi charger here or pick up Apple’s MagSafe charger for faster speeds. While the other iPhone 12 models can charge at 15w with MagSafe, with the mini it maxing out at 12w. You won’t notice much difference though as the battery here is smaller, and it takes about double the length of time to reach 50% when compared to wired charging.
Should you buy the iPhone 12 mini?
If you’re looking for an iPhone 12 and think picking up the mini version just to save £100/$100 then I think you’re looking at it wrong. You shouldn’t buy this iPhone because it’s cheaper, you should buy it if you’ve been hankering for a smaller phone and are happy with the sacrifices that come with it. For most people, I still think the regular iPhone 12 is the best buy.
For the right person though, the iPhone 12 mini is unmatched and will be the phone they’ve been waiting for. There’s nothing else available that packs this amount of tech into a body so pocketable. Aside from battery life and screen size, you don’t lose anything here. It has the same chipset, same 5G and takes the same pictures as the bigger iPhone 12.
That means it comes with the same issues too: no charger in the box, no faster refresh rate display and the same notch that’s been intruding itself since the iPhone X.
With all the being said, the iPhone 12 mini is a strong device that will meet the specific needs of people who have felt left out by the rising size of iPhones. For that, Apple should be applauded and hopefully this isn’t a one off.
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