The iPhone 12 mini is just… a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
It’s like… For years… for years, you’re dreaming of this sports car, this little, convertible, hotter than hell sports car, super legere, that you’ve just always wanted but for so many reasons just never… just couldn’t have… couldn’t get.
That’s how small iPhone lovers have been feeling ever since Apple replaced the iPhone 5s with the big and bigger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. They just haven’t been able to get the phone they wanted in the size they loved.
Sure, the OG iPhone SE provided some temporary relief. The iPhone 5s with iPhone 6s internals. But then, just… nothing. Especially after the iPhone X with its full screen, modern design, and Face ID. And the XS and 11, just went Max instead of mini. Like giving them a paper cut and pouring lemon juice on it.
Even the second generation iPhone SE, released earlier this year, was based on the iPhone 8 with iPhone 11 internals. Same size as the 6, no smaller, and same classic design as well, not the not hotness.
So you hang onto your original SE, get iOS 14 but start worrying you might not make it to 15. And you start to wonder. You start to doubt. Will Apple ever make a smaller iPhone again? Could Apple? Would the OLED display even be legible or practical? Would the latest, greatest A-series processor be able to run without burning or browning out? Would a battery that small with a chipset and display that big even last more than an hour and change?
And, for small iPhone lovers, for years, the only answer has been nothing and more nothing.
Until now. Until the iPhone 12 mini.
I’ve already covered all the iPhone 12 basics in my mega review, everything from the new, squared off design and colors to the OLED displays to the camera systems, including Dolby Vision HDR recording, and MagSafe accessories, so I won’t waste your time recapitulating it here.
For right now, I’m going to hit all the iPhone 12 mini specifics.
SIM-free, the iPhone 12 mini kicks off at US$730 for 64GB, and goes to $780 for 128GB and $880 for 256GB. That’s exactly US$100 less than the iPhone 12 non-mini, or regular, the basic iPhone 12 no-adjective. You know what I’m talking about.
But, unless you stream everything, like full-on Spotify or Apple Music, Netflix or Disney+, I was going to say GamePass and Stadia but still waiting on Apple to get with the future on that, but photos and files on iCloud or Google Drive or whatever, unless you’re all about that streaming cloud life, you’re going to want to go for what I think is the sweet spot — 128GB.
Now, that makes the mini $130 more than the held-over-from-last year iPhone 11, $230 more than the held-over-from-2-years-ago iPhone XR, and $330 more than that second gen iPhone SE.
So, while it’s the least expensive iPhone 12, it’s by no means the least expensive iPhone in Apple’s current lineup, nor is it by any definition cheap.
And yes, it’s smaller, absolutely, but it’s got a much better build quality, much better display quality, better processor, better camera, and better cellular technology. And for some people, being small isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
So, if you’re looking at the iPhone 12 mini just to save $100, I’d look at trading in or selling your old phone, or the various installment and leasing plans first. Because if you don’t really want the mini because it’s the mini, you’ll be happier on one of the iPhones non-mini. The iPhones… median.
If you do want the mini, though, precisely because it’s mini, if you’ve been holding onto your original SE, just… abiding and hoping… or only begrudgingly using a X, XS, or 11 Pro, but all salty like, waiting on, wanting on something smaller… well, here’s what you’ll get… and what you’ll give up.
The iPhone 12 mini isn’t as small as the iPhone 5 or original SE but just slightly smaller than the current iPhone SE or iPhone 6s, 7, or 8. But unlike any of those, it’s a full-on modern iPhone. So if you’ve been cursing out the size of more recent iPhones, how hard they are to fit into your skinny hipster jeans or couture clutches, to walk and type with, to read or game on in bed with, then you’ll be super happy with the iPhone 12 mini.
It fits into pretty much any approaching adult-sized pants pocket or bag you can imagine. Even front pockets. Even, barely, into change pockets. Almost like it thinks it’s an iPhone nano.
For me, who has pockets more like D&D bags of holding, and can fit a Max up front, no problem, the mini just… disappears. Almost like I’m not carrying anything. In fact, going from the Max to the mini is like switching from a Costanza wallet a billfold. It goes from always feeling and knowing its there to not even realizing it’s barely there.
Now, that doesn’t mean you want to sit on it. It may not be projecting out like a Max, and it’s really, really hard to bend… not that… I’ve tried much.. leave it!… but I’d still avoid repetitive pressure and especially impact. Things like ballistic couch drops. I mean, do it, just put your phone in your front pocket first.
Or just take it out and hold it. Because that’s the other thing people who love small phones love about small phones — how much easier they are to use one handed. Like, legitimately one handed. Without having to perform any finger juggling or palm par-cours.
How close the iPhone 12 mini is to that for you will depend on your hand size. Because, as small as the mini is, it’s still just a bit bigger than the iPhone 5 or original iPhone SE was, and even though it’s just a touch smaller than the current SE or previous X-class and 6-or-8-class iPhones, the square edges do make it look and feel more substantial than the curves of the previous era.
The display is also much bigger than any of those. 5.4 rather than just 4 inches of the original SE or 4.7 inches of the current SE, because it’s full screen now. Which, yeah, makes it almost an iPhone Plus sized display crammed into an almost iPhone 5-sized chassis. Literally the dream.
But what that means is, whichever one-hand you try to use it with, the interface elements at the very top of the opposite side are a little further away than they were on the iPhone 5 or original SE. Likewise, the elements at the very bottom are a little further down, because the screen no longer stops at a Home button. It goes all the way down.
Either way, if the original SE was easy for you, the 12 mini should be fine. If the original SE was already a stretch for you, the 12 mini will be slightly more of a stretch… or slide. If the iPhone 6 through 8, or X through 11 Pro were fine, then you’re just laughing.
Partly because the iPhone 12 mini is just… just so much fun to use. It's basically the Baby Yoda phone. I mean, the original iPhone had the biggest display Apple could fit into a phone at the time, which was 3.5 inches. But now… that feels like a toy. The mini feels like the iPhone 5 or SE. It really does. Like when that toy first grew up, first really took shape. But in full, modern, final iPhone form.
It’s partially the squared off edges, sure, but it’s also partially the size. It doesn’t just look like that classic design, it feels like it.
Slicker and glossier, sure, like on my black review unit, which I’m not as big a fan of. I loved the rawness of the aluminum on the older models. And the black is really black. Not jet black like the iPhone 7, which is probably my favorite iPhone black of all time, but not space gray either, which has always been less opinionated than I’d like. It’s a proper Darth Vader black. And the glass gives us inductive charging, so I’ll deal.
Also, lightness. And, at this size, doesn’t just fit into my hand but almost folds into it, sharper edges and all. Just makes it compelling. I totally understand why some people love this size class so much.
Although… what you gain in one-handed usability, you do lose in legibility and information density.
Because the smaller display means smaller interface elements, like buttons and text, and also less, like fewer rows and lines, and smaller video and game size.
At least compared to the bigger iPhone 12 models. If you’re used to any of the 4-inch or 4.7-inch models, the full screen might even seem… big. Like an extra message and a half in your message list big.
And the pixels-per-inch is slightly higher than the other iPhones 12, which even on OLED with a diamond-type, Pentile sub-pixel layout, means you can the smaller phone slightly closer without losing that Retina effect.
If you’re coming down from one of the 10s or 11s, and your eyesight or just comfort level makes “small” a problem, you can bump up the entire interface size with Display Zoom, and… or… the text size with Accessibility settings, but then you’ll also be able to fit even less on the screen. So more text wrapping for apps, more swiping and scrolling for you.
But, if information density is really a priority, you’d be better off going with a 12 or even 12 Pro Max. The mini isn’t about working around the small. It’s about embracing it.
Like typing one handed. It’s super easy… yeah, barely an inconvenience. Pretty much the same as any 4- or 4.7 inch iPhone, even though it has that much bigger 5.4-inch display.
So, if you’re doing constant West Wing style walk and talks, only your version is walk and texts, coffee in one hand, Slack or messages in the other, than the mini is the dream.
But, at least for me, it does make the iPhone mini more of that traditional phone phone. What I mean by that is something that you use when you’re out and about, between iPads and MacBooks or PCs, to briefly dip into to stay in touch, to keep up to date.
Which is great if you don’t want to live on your phone, if you’re worried about screen time, and getting lost doomscrolling Twitter or Insta or League of Legends, or whatever it is the cool kids are playing since Tim Epic utterly abandoned the Apple portion of his player base.
I use an Apple Watch for that, but if you need more, just not too much more, the 12 mini is… less more.
If you need to work on your phone, though, if you need your phone to be basically a tiny tablet, a primary computer, if its your only computer, I think regular or even Max size will make things just that much easier and more productive for you.
Now, here’s where you all are expecting me to say — judge the iPhone 12 mini by it’s size do you? Then something about the it’s chipset being the A14 Bionic, and a powerful chipset it is. But I’m not going to. Because I basically just did.
It’s totally true though. The iPhone 12 mini uses the exact same system-on-a-chip as every other iPhone 12 in the lineup, all the way up to the Pro Max.
Which is, on one hand, is kinda all shades of awesome. In all of my tests, from the geekiest of benches to iMovie renders, to just daily use, it performs every bit as well and as fast as the Max. Which also means faster than any other small iPhone ever.
Even with the smaller thermal envelop of the mini and the smaller battery. Which, you know, if it gets too small leaves the device subject to things like brownouts if it can’t deliver on peak demand, or just excessive throttling if it can’t sustain higher workloads.
Now, it did get hotter than the Max for me when under load, like doing longer video renders, but it didn’t ramp down.
On the other hand, it does take a bigger battery hit, in large part because it just has a smaller battery compared to the regular 12 and 12 Pro, and much smaller compared to the 12 Max.
The mini mini could basically cut the Max open like a Tauntaun and use it to survive the night on Hoth. It’s that much smaller.
Some companies might try to mitigate that by using lower class processors. Ones that don’t hit the same performance levels but also don’t hit the battery anywhere nearly as hard. That’s what Google chose to do with the Pixel 5, where it lasts for days but also feels like it takes days for photos to process. Not, literally days, but 2020 days, like it’s just always March and Tuesday.
And that works for the Pixel because Google only promises 3 years of software updates and has only ever done the vast majority of computational photography as an after effect anyway.
Apple typically does 4-5 years of software updates and has staked it’s claim on real-time computational photography. Even in cases like Night Mode, where it has to image stack for seconds, it still prioritizes zero shutter lag and live preview before and while its stacking.
But, you know, some people love the Pixel 5 and would also maybe love a stepped down iPhone 12 mini with a stepped up battery life. That’s a totally fair perspective. It’s just not Apple’s, not right now.
In this case, with the A14, you get every ounce of performance you could want, but to get more battery, you have to either step up to a full-sized iPhone 12 or max out with an iPhone 12 Pro Max, or carry a battery pack when and if you’ll be out for an extended period of time.
And, yeah, all the fingers crossed Apple is working on a next-gen Smart Battery Case that just slaps on with the MagSafe system. That way you could keep the small, slim iPhone mini you love most times, but if you’ll ever be out for an extended time, just double up with the battery slap.
In my usual stress test, which is still Pokemon Go, because it keeps the display on, as well as data, GPS, the processors, and basically hits the system harder than anything this side of a badly coded social media app, after 5 hours of continuous play, the iPhone 12 mini was down to 50% battery.
That compares to the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, which were both around 70%, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max which was still at 75%.
So, if this wasn’t 2020, the… Note 7 battery of years, and I was traveling as much as usual, roaming as much as usual, working on my phone as much as usual, the 12 mini would just be a no go for me. I’d go regular, maybe even Max.
If I wasn’t traveling, but also wasn’t in a red-zone, basically lockdown light, and I was going out a lot more to see friends and family and to restaurants and shows — you know, everything we did before the world kept ending — it’d be fantastic. I’d live on my MacBook Pro or iPad Pro, and then just use the iPhone 12 for fun while I was out and about. Exactly like that little, convertible, hotter than hell sports car.
Stuck at home, never more than a few feet from a charger, but also doing reviews which hits batteries way harder than normal usage, it’ll take me a couple of weeks to get a better sense of day-to-day performance. So, seriously, make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss the follow up.
Meanwhile, if you want an iPhone 12 mini now, now, now, should you get one? If you’re one of those people who’ve been waiting on a new, full-on smaller iPhone, if small size is just the top feature on your list, especially if you’re still on an original SE, then yes, absolutely. This is literally, dimensionally, the iPhone you’ve been waiting for.
It’s just the purest expression of the iPhone as a phone, the utter opposite of iPhone as a mini tablet. I’m going iPhone 12 Pro, probably iPhone 12 Pro Max because of the camera, but if I wasn’t, in a strange way, if I had the luxury not too, I’d go iPhone 12 mini before anything else.
It’s just… like I said, a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age.