The full-screen iPhone for smaller hands is out. But is it any good? The design is identical to the iPhone 12, but for the size, and like all the new iPhones, it has multiple cameras, tougher Ceramic Shield to make the screen more durable and drop-resistant and blazing-fast A14 Bionic processor. And it costs $100 less than the iPhone 12. For this iPhone 12 mini review I’ve been putting the phone to the test for more than a week now.
So, what corners have been cut to create this compact model?
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Size is everything
The new iPhone mini is amazingly small, fitting easily into hands that would object to many larger phones, but its display is less than half an inch shy of the iPhone 11 Pro.
Or, look at it this way, compared to the original iPhone released way back in 2007, it’s just 0.6 inches taller, 0.2 inches wider and 0.17 inches thinner.
But the screen is way bigger, oh, and this is the highest-resolution iPhone display. Ever. That’s because of its pixel density of 476 pixels per inch, compared to the 460ppi of the iPhone12 or 326ppi of the iPhone 11.
Instead of the 3.5in display of the iPhones up to and including the iPhone 4s, or the 4.7in display of the iPhone SE, you get a 5.4in screen. Oh, and the iPhone 12 mini is smaller than the iPhone SE, even.
The big increase in screen size compared to the iPhone SE, for instance, is made possible by the fact that this is an all-screen iPhone, apart from the TrueDepth camera in the cut-out at the top of the display. There’s no Touch ID button or any other detail to take away from the look of the thing.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: How does it feel?
It takes some getting used to, to be honest. The flat edges which distinguish the latest iPhone designs feel solid and precise in the hand. It’s a refreshing change to pretty much every other phone around and I think it will find a very wide audience.
While the phone itself does feel small, especially coming to it from an iPhone 12 Pro Max, for instance, the all-screen front somehow makes an even bigger impact than on rival phones. There is nothing to come between you and your video, game, web page, email or whatever.
Video playback, as immaculate here as on any of the new iPhones, certainly is not as expansive as on bigger phones but, again, you get used to it.
My toughest-to-learn behavior shift was typing on the keyboard. It’s perfectly usable, but much smaller than I’m used to. Of course, you can type in landscape but you have less of the page to see. What really helped me was QuickPath, the swipe-to-type keyboard Apple introduced a couple of years ago and which is on a par with the brilliant Microsoft SwiftKey.
In fact, I found that dictating my messages and emails was the most satisfying way to input text, nearby noise levels permitting. Though, please check your messages before sending – I almost sent some embarrassing howlers when the phone hadn’t quite heard me right.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Design
Beyond the size, the look of the iPhone 12 mini is the same as its bigger iPhone 12 sibling, flat edges, back and front, raised camera panel on the rear with two lenses, and five color finishes to choose from, black, white, blue, green and PRODUCT(RED).
The rear is glossy but for the matte camera panel and the Apple logo shines out. There’s nothing else on the back of the phone, no lettering, not even the word iPhone, giving a pure, appealing look. It’s water-resistant, able to survive in water 6 meters deep for up to half an hour.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Display
The mini’s 5.4in display is OLED – many manufacturers would have saved money and gone for LCD on such a small screen – and it looks terrific. The extra pixels don’t make any difference I could discern compared to the other iPhone 12 models, but the certainly don’t hurt, either. Apple has ensured that the display here looks as good as on its bigger phones.
This is the most affordable smartphone with an OLED screen Apple has made, and it has the same thin bezel which is much narrower than on the iPhone 11.
Then there’s Ceramic Display, the all-new material which has so many nano ceramic crystals, as Apple calls them, fused into it that you shouldn’t call it glass. As with the iPhone 12 Pro, I haven’t tested the extra strength that Apple claims but I have clumsily dropped the mini a few times without incident. Assuming the claims are true, and independent results suggest they are, the extra peace of mind a more resilient display brings is valuable.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Cameras
This is an easy sentence to write – the cameras are identical to the iPhone 12, so the experience is very similar. Why not identical? Well, you’re framing your shot on a smaller display, which takes eyes more familiar with larger screens a little time to get used to.
As with the iPhone 12 (you can read my review of that phone, including the cameras, here), the two snappers here are excellent, with outstanding features in lower light and downright gloom, but are bested by the iPhone 12 Pro models. If you want three cameras, you need a Pro, and there’s no iPhone 12 Pro mini…
But the brilliant Dolby Vision video recording, a first on any smartphone, is here as well as on the other three iPhone 12 handsets.
And that exemplifies just why the cameras on this season’s iPhones are so good. It’s not that you set out to shoot better stills and videos, more that you’ll play back something you’ve shot and it’s then that the sheer eye-popping quality leaps out at you.
The iPhone 12 series makes you feel like you’re a really good photographer, effortlessly.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Performance
The mini boasts the same crazy-fast processor as the rest of the iPhone 12 line-up so, unsurprisingly, it’s a similar performer. Though it doesn’t have as much RAM as the Pro models, it’s still extremely fast and responsive. The 5nm processor is intensely capable, whether for opening apps instantly, playing complex games with butter-smooth graphics or snapping photos with zero shutter lag in even challenging situations. In low light it keeps the shutter open for a second or more, but software, and the fast processor, ensure stable results.
Then there’s 5G. Apple stresses that this is the smallest, lightest 5G phone you can find. The network is far from complete, but 5G is now reasonably widespread so you may be able to tap into the super-fast speeds 5G offers for at least some of the time.
In London, on the EE network, speeds vary from the good to the phenomenal. I’d just add that if your home down is short of decent 5G, you may want to turn 5G off to save battery life. Which brings me to…
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Battery life
Last year’s iPhones saw a huge uptick in battery life across the board, and there hasn’t been a similar step up in 2020. I previously found the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro were easily enough to get me through a day, which came as a surprise to many who spotted that the batteries this year are smaller than the iPhone 11 series had. Proof that specifications on their own are not enough to define a product. By the way, the iPhone 12 Pro Max just lasts and lasts.
Here, though, the small battery in the iPhone 12 mini, though enough to get me through a day, didn’t leave me with much juice at the end of each day. Maybe that’s not important – it’s rare to find a phone that can last two days and more between charges, so nightly recharges are likely what you’ll need.
But peace of mind counts, and I often found I only had between 10% and 20% at the end of the day. To be clear, it’s never run out on me, even when I’ve used it heavily, and had 30% on a light-use day. Not bad, then, and let’s remember that this phone is small, so you may be choosing it for convenience rather than endless battery life. For what it’s worth, I think Apple got the balance of about right.
There’s another way to think of this, though. Many of the people who will buy the iPhone 12 mini will be currently using a Touch ID iPhone like the iPhone 8 or earlier. These users will find a big increase in battery life, so trading that bit of peace of mind for the convenience and compactness of the 12 mini may not be an issue.
In fact, I’d say that unless you’re coming from an iPhone 11 or other long-lasting phone, the 12 mini will suit just fine.
Apple iPhone 12 mini Review: Verdict
The truth is, the iPhone 12 mini feels amazing – it’s a fit so natural, so evocative of how phones used to be, that it takes a little while to become normal. In most other respects, it’s as powerful and capable as the iPhone 12, with the same sleek, appealing design, same processor, same Ceramic Shield protecting the front, same cameras plus of course the same iOS 14 software.
It’s true the battery life isn’t as awesome as on the iPhone 11, but it will still get you through a full day, longer on days when you use it less. Of course, this phone has lots of things the iPhone 11 didn’t, like the high-resolution OLED screen, 5G connectivity and that A14 Bionic processor.
But it’s the size that really stand out, it’s the thing you’ll choose the iPhone 12 mini for. Small enough to fit the pocket easily, but with a screen that’s still large enough to captivate the attention.
Expect this to be the first of a new trend in smartphones: bigger isn’t always better.