For half a decade now the iPhones have been big and bigger. This year, bigger and bigger-er than ever. But also this year, Apple is finally giving us something small again. Not an SE, or special edition, but a full on iPhone. Just… mini.
Some people will want it because it costs less, but others will want it because it is less. Easier to hold in the hand and type with on the go, easier to fit in the pocket or bag.
But… with a smaller phone comes a smaller display and, most importantly for some, a smaller battery.
So, if you’re having trouble deciding. If you’re still trying to figure out if the iPhone 12 mini is worth the trade offs, if finally having a small phone again is worth that smaller display and battery capacity, if you’re hoping the mini is just an even bigger flex than the Max, but worried it might not work for you IRL.
If Price is the most important spec on your sheet, the top feature on your list, then the iPhone 12 mini is $100 less than the iPhone 12… non-mini. Regular.
It starts at $730 Sim-free, with no trade-ins, or carrier or other incentives. That’s compared to $830 for the regular model.
Now, that’s still $330 more than the iPhone SE, which is essentially the modern iPhone 11 guts in the now-classing iPhone 8 shell. So, if you don’t care about things like the full screen design, OLED display, Face ID, or the dual camera system, you can save even more money by going with the SE instead of the mini.
Just remember, all of these are starting prices — what you pay for the base line 64GB configuration. If you like your content as small as your devices, if you stream everything on Spotify or Apple Music, Netflix or Disney+, and keep everything on the Dropbox or Google cloud, that might work out fine for you.
If not, you can go up to 128GB for all of them for $50 more, for the iPhone 12 mini, and for the iPhone 12.
So, if you’re intent on buying new, and price is a huge object, the iPhone SE will save you a ton of it. If you really do want full-screen, OLED, Face ID, and that dual-camera, but you just don’t want to pay a dime more for it than you have to, the mini will save you a c-note.
I know a lot of people say they don’t care about color because they’ll be using a case, but the color still pops out, so still make sure you get something you like.
Black is the most popular and the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, and iPhone SE all come in that color. Same with white. Also Product RED, though the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 have the newer, slightly more orang RED.
That’s it for the SE, but the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro also come in a deep blue and minty green, if that’s how you want to roll.
For some, the mini has nothing to do with price and everything to do with size. Apple tore the 4-inch iPhone 5 and original SE size from their cold, d-e-d dead hands, and left them with only 4.7- and 5.5-inch options. And they’ve always wanted their smaller, one-handed-ease-of-use phone back, but with modern specs, the latest processor and camera system.
And the mini is very much that. Finally. All the finally.
Physically, it’s even smaller and lighter than the current, second generation iPhone SE, but has a display almost as big as the old-school iPhones plus. 5.4-inches, just trouncing the 4.7-inches of the the current SE.
That 5.4-inches isn’t as big as the iPhone X, XS, or 11 Pro, which were all 5.8-inches, and nowhere nearly as big as the current 6.1-inch iPhones 12, let alone the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max.
But for the mini, not being big is the whole entire point. The ability to easily hold and use it one-handed, to fit it into any pocket or bag, from front to back, from backpack to clutch.
And this is very much that. You get a full-on iPhone… just mini.
In terms of display, in every way but its smaller size, the iPhone 12 mini is identical to the iPhone 12. But for 175 nits, it’s identical to the iPhone 12 Pro as well. 625 typical vs. 800. But same max 1200 nits.
That’s because Apple has gone all in on OLED across the line this year. So, same HDR, high dynamic range, deep blacks and bright whites, same 2 million to 1 contrast ratio for detail in the shadows and highlights. And, yeah, same notch smack up top. Even the same Ceramic Shield on the front which, combined with the new design, make the iPhone 12 models significantly more drop resistant.
The difference really is all in the size.
2340-by-1080-pixel resolution at 476 ppi, which isn’t quite as much as the 2532-by-1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi of the regular iPhone 12, but absolutely blows away the 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi of the iPhone SE.
Which is also an LCD display, not OLED. Still P3 wide gamut, but not HDR, though for people who are bothered by pulse width modulation on OLED at lower brightness levels, LCD could still be the better option.
Now, the difference in physical display size will mean everything is… smaller. Your videos, TV shows, movies, video games, all smaller. Same with the amount of information you can see on the screen at one time, and the size of things like text. You can absolutely boost that up, but then you get even less on the screen.
But it also means your thumb will be able to reach across the display to tap and swipe things far more easily, to type one handed far more easily, than any iPhone since the original SE.
So, what you give up in information density you may well make up in single-handed usability. And if you’re worried about things like screen time and doom scrolling and phone addiction, having less phone can very literally mean having less phone.
The best thing about the iPhone 12 mini is that, except for size — and… yeah, the consequences of that size that I’ll get to in a battery blasted minute — there really are few to no compromises.
The cameras system, for example, is exactly the same as on the regular iPhone 12.
And that means 12MP effective 26mm f/1.6 wide angle and 12MP effective 13mm f/2.4 120º ultra wide camera. With all of Apple’s computational modes, from Smart HDR to Deep Fusion, to Night Mode, not only on both those cameras, but the 12mp f/2.2 selfie camera as well.
The iPhone SE only has a single 12MP, slight slower f/1.8 wide angle, and no ultra wide. Also, only a 7MP f/2.2 selfie camera, with no depth sensing like on the iPhone 12 mini or regular.
You don’t get the extra LiDAR scanner and effective 52mm f/2.0 telephoto of the iPhone 12 Pro, never mind the effective 65mm f/2.2 telephoto of the iPhone 12 Pro Max… but that beast looks almost twice the size and twice the price, and the whole point of mini is… kinda the opposite of Max.
For video, both the iPhone 12 mini and regular go up to 4K60, or 4K30 with Dolby Vision HDR. With no HDR available on the SE, just EDR, extended dynamic range up to 4K30.
So, again, you can absolutely go iPhone 12 mini without giving anything up in the camera department, at least compared to the iPhone 12.
The A14 Bionic chipset is the same in both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 regular. Same Qualcomm X55 modem for FR1 low and midband 5G globally and FR2 Highland, mmWave in the U.S. Also same 4GB of memory, which is less than the 6GB in the Pro models but more than the 3GB in the iPhone SE, which uses last year’s A13 Bionic chipset.
And, sure, the mini has more pixels to push around than the SE, though slightly less than the non-mini, and a smaller thermal envelop than either of them. Though, at 5nm, the A14 process is smaller and more efficient than the 7nm A13.
Honestly though, I think all of that will end up being more or less a wash. Just not enough difference for anyone to really notice day to day.
Because the iPhone 12 processor is a year newer, though, it’ll probably get updates for a year longer than the iPhone SE. With Apple typically doing 4-5 yars of updates these days, that means the iPhone 12 will probably take you at least to iOS 18 or 19 in 2024 or 2025, where the SE will likely tap out with iOS 17 or iOS 18 in 2023 or 2024. Factor that in as you will.
The mini, like the regular 12 and SE still has a Lightning Port and can fast-charge up to 50% in 30 minutes with Apple’s new — but not included in the box — 20 watt power adapter.
The mini and non-mini — but not the SE — also work with Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic inductive charging system but while the regular iPhone 12 can use it to charge at up to 15 watts, Apple rate limited the 12 mini to 12 watts. Likely because the smaller size means they have to be more careful about charging speeds and heat if they want to maintain battery health.
And, of course, the smaller battery is just smaller.
Apple does rate the iPhone 12 mini as better than the iPhone SE, which isn’t great, especially if you’re gaming or doing anything else that makes that A13 processor ramp up. But, if you’re doing something similar on the iPhone 12 mini, or using a lot of 5G, especially mmWave 5G, you’ll burn through battery as well.
A small phone is like a small sports car. A convertible. You’re getting it because you enjoy it, not because you need it to survive a weekend of off-roading. For that, there’s a max.
Anyway, for local video, Apple has the mini at 15, more than the 13 of the SE but less than the 17 of the regular 12. For streaming, 10 hours, so more than 8 but less than 11. And for video, 50 hours, more than 40 but less than 65.
And if you’re curious, that’s 5, 2, and 30 hours less than the Pro Max. Which has a battery probably bigger than the mini’s whole body.
So, if battery is important to you, especially if you are or expect to be out of the house a lot, gaming a lot, using the camera a lot, traveling a lot, you’re either going to want a bigger iPhone with a bigger battery, or if you just love the mini size so much, a battery pack or, fingers crossed, an updated, MagSafe version of the Smart Battery Case from Apple at some point.
Because that’s really the best of both worlds, super light, super slim iPhone for fun, with a big old battery pack you can slap on the back when it’s time to work.
But, seriously, balance what you want with what you need. The usability of a smaller phone with the convenience of a bigger built-in battery. And remember, whatever you try, if you just end up hating it, you have a period of time where you can exchange it.