iPhone 12 mini Review
Apple prides itself on setting trends and not following them, and the iPhone 12 mini is a prime example of that. In a world where nearly all smartphones have 6-inch or larger screens, this new 5.4-inch model does stand out. Even as the iPhone 12 Pro Max launches with the biggest screen ever on an Apple phone, the company balances things out with this shrunken option. It’s aimed mainly at people who have been holding on to their older iPhone 5 or 6-era devices because they like the size, but it also might just solve a problem that you didn’t even realise you had.
When you hold the iPhone 12 mini in your hand for the first time, it just makes sense. Sure, it isn’t for everyone – mainstream phones are huge because that’s what sells – but I think a lot of people will feel relief and satisfaction when they see an option like this. I also think a lot of people will choose the iPhone 12 mini over the standard iPhone 12 purely because of this.
It isn’t just about size, though. Apple has launched the iPhone 12 mini in India starting at Rs. 69,900, which is even higher than the iPhone 11’s launch price. The “default” iPhone 12 costs an additional Rs. 10,000 at each storage level. That makes Apple’s new compact device the most affordable member – relatively speaking – of the iPhone 12 family, and that has to factor into people’s buying decisions.
What do you get with the iPhone 12 mini?
If you were expecting a more affordable “lite” version of the iPhone 12 with lower performance and cut-down features, the iPhone 12 isn’t it. Apple has largely maintained feature parity across the entire family, covering nearly everything from processor power to display quality and camera capabilities. There are almost no compromises, except where we run into the laws of physics.
Despite being smaller at 5.4 inches, with a lower resolution of 1080×2340, the screen is still an OLED panel with support for haptic touch feedback, HDR, the wide DCI-P3 colour gamut, and a 1200nit maximum brightness. Apple calls this a “Super Retina XDR” panel and it’s actually slightly (though imperceptibly) sharper than the ones on the iPhone 12 and even iPhone 12 Pro (Review), at 476ppi vs 460ppi.
You also get the same 12-megapixel wide and ultra-wide cameras on the back, and the same 12-megapixel selfie camera that you’d get with the larger iPhone 12. You can record video with Dolby Vision HDR, which seems like just the sort of thing that could easily be dropped from a lower-tier device. All the camera tricks that Apple boasts of apply equally to both the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 – much more on this later.
Both phones are equipped with Apple’s much-hyped 5nm A14 Bionic SoC, though it’s worth noting that the company doesn’t disclose clock speeds, and it will be interesting to see whether thermal constraints affect the smaller phone more. Third-party teardowns and diagnostic apps have revealed that both also have 4GB of RAM. Storage options are 64GB, 128GB and 256GB.
In terms of other specifications, both phones have frames made of “aerospace-grade” aluminium along with Apple’s new Ceramic Shield material on the front and reinforced glass on the rear. Both are IP68 rated and work with Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic chargers. Both work with one Nano-SIM and one eSIM, with support for sub-6GHz 5G. Both also feature Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi 6, GPS, NFC, and Ultra Wideband.
So here’s what’s different, and what Apple glosses over on the spec sheet. Most importantly, the iPhone 12 mini has a smaller 2,227mAh battery compared to 2,815mAh in its bigger sibling. Third-party reports and teardowns have unearthed a few other details: wireless charging is limited to 12W rather than 15W, and the bottom speaker as well as the Taptic Engine vibrator are shrunken.
As you can tell, the iPhone 12 mini is virtually the exact same phone as the iPhone 12, just in a smaller package – we’ll soon examine what this means for performance and usability.
Living with the iPhone 12 mini
After six years of roughly the same rounded silhouette, starting with the iPhone 6, Apple has gone back to flat sides and a wraparound frame. The iPhone 12 mini looks a lot like the iPhone 5, 5s and SE, and will likely tempt you to upgrade if you’ve been holding out. It’s available in five colours: Black, White, Blue, Green, and (PRODUCT)Red.
Unlike older models, the screen is completely flat, without prominently rounded sides. The aluminium frame also lacks any sort of bevelled or chamfered edges, instead extending all the way to the front and rear to enclose the glass. This flatness is actually good news for those who like adhesive screen protectors.
You might think that the small screen is going to feel restrictive if you’re used to something more mainstream, but it really isn’t. iOS 14 scales brilliantly and everything is within reasonable proportions. Unless you need to work with huge spreadsheets or A4-sized PDFs, you won’t have much trouble. Sure, full-screen video and games aren’t as immersive, and typing might feel a bit cramped. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but at least now you have an option.
I think these downsides are outweighed by the positives – the iPhone 12 mini is incredibly easy to use even one-handed, it’s very pocketable, and it’s shockingly light at 133g.
The whole appeal of the “mini” iPhone is its convenience without sacrificing premium features, and in that regard, it reminded me of what I’ve been missing for the past few years. I could walk around with it in my hand and not worry about grip; I could drop it in a pocket and not have it stick out; and I could have long conversations or record videos without feeling an ache in my wrist.
If you’re coming from any iPhone older than the iPhone 8 (Review), you won’t feel that you’re losing out or going backwards. The iPhone 12 mini is physically smaller than the iPhone SE (2020) (Review) but has a larger screen, and is only slightly bigger than the original iPhone SE.
The display is incredibly sharp, with a higher resolution and pixel density than even the screen of the iPhone 11 (Review). The move to OLED panels across the lineup makes for vibrant colours and rich contrast. Apple’s True Tone feature allows the screen to calibrate itself based on ambient light. Sadly, there’s no always-on mode for when the phone is in standby. You also don’t get a high refresh rate, which is now standard on premium Android phones, although iOS’s animations still feel extraordinarily fluid.
Speaking of iOS, you get exactly the same experience across the iPhone 12 family and plenty of older models. In addition to the many improvements introduced recently with iOS 14, you get three months of Apple Arcade access and one year of Apple TV+ for free. I did notice several nagging notifications and banners in the Settings app for Apple’s offers and for Apple Music, which was disappointing.
iOS doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as some custom Android skins, for example you can’t run multiple instances of apps and customisation options are limited. However you do get Apple’s commitment to privacy and security, and the experience is exceptionally smooth. You can also be reasonably sure that you’ll get major updates and security patches for three years at the very least.
We’ve talked about the display, but sound quality is also worth a mention. The iPhone 12 mini can get quite loud, and the stereo effect with the earpiece and bottom-firing speaker is fairly natural. The bass is thin, but sound doesn’t distort and is surprisingly rich overall. Compared to the iPhone 12, there’s definitely a reduction in the presence and fullness of sound, but the maximum volume isn’t significantly lower, at least in casual use.
Apple claims that its new Ceramic Shield material is four times more resistant to damage in case you drop your iPhone, which is great news considering the astronomical repair costs you’d have to deal with. Sadly, the screen isn’t less susceptible to scratches. I did notice several tiny nicks and a few more serious scratches within a week, so you might want to consider an adhesive screen protector. I did also test the iPhone 12 mini’s IP68 rating by tossing it into a swimming pool several times and even using its cameras underwater. It remained in perfect working order after sitting at about a 1.5m depth for up to a minute at a time, which is well within Apple’s threshold of 6m for up to 30 minutes.
iPhone 12 mini battery life
As stated earlier, this isn’t a “lite” phone, and it features all the same flagship-grade hardware as its bigger sibling – and even shares plenty of specifications with the iPhone 12 Pro. Practically speaking though, the shrunken body does result in some compromises. First off, let’s talk about battery life. With a physically smaller battery, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the iPhone 12 mini is rated for the lowest runtime in the range.
I found that the iPhone 12 mini could just about last through one full day if I was using the cameras a lot, playing games for about an hour, streaming some music, and checking Web feeds every so often. Our HD video loop test ran for 14 hours, 11 minutes, which isn’t bad but is definitely lower than today’s average.
You’ll definitely want to charge this phone overnight each night. You can read up about Apple’s MagSafe charging adapters here, but it’s worth reiterating that not only is wireless charging slower in general, but MagSafe on the iPhone 12 mini is capped at 12W, below the 15W theoretical maximum that its siblings can handle.
Apple’s decision to stop including a charger with its iPhones is perhaps understandable, but of all the bricks I have, only one has a USB Type-C port and it wasn’t just lying around spare. I can safely assume that not many others will have one handy. I wound up using an older lightning cable and adapter, and not getting the benefit of fast 20W wired charging. For an expensive phone, this is even more frustrating than getting a 5W charger in the box.
iPhone 12 mini performance and gaming
The second issue with cramming so much high-end hardware into such a small space is heat. There’s no doubt that the iPhone 12 mini gets noticeably warm when running heavy games or tests for a while – even taking photos and videos can make the SoC run at a high clock speed. The phone didn’t get stressed too much or become unable to perform smoothly at any point with ordinary usage during this review, including with heavy games such as Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty Mobile. However, as I discovered, you might not have a great time if you intend to use very heavy apps, now or in the future.
The brand new 3DMark Wild Life benchmark has a stress test mode that loops for 20 minutes. With the iPhone 12 mini and regular-sized iPhone 12 running this test side by side, it was quickly apparent that the two handle thermal throttling very differently. The iPhone 12 chugged along at around 40fps, with scores declining gently after each loop with a final stability score of 71.2 percent. On the other hand, the iPhone 12 mini took a major dive just a few minutes in, and its stability was reported to be just 46.6 percent. This shows that sustained performance is not consistent under heavy load.
The A14 Bionic SoC had no trouble maxing out nearly all the scenes in GFXBench (Metal) at 59-60fps except for the most demanding Aztec Ruins (High Tier) scene which ran at a still-impressive 51.8fps. As for general CPU performance, AnTuTu posted a score of 560,796, while Geekbench 5’s single-core and multi-core scores were 1,585 and 3,908 respectively.
iPhone 12 mini cameras
The two rear cameras and single front camera on the iPhone 12 mini are exactly the same as what you get on the larger iPhone 12 and in fact you also get pretty much the same features and capabilities as you would with the iPhone 12 Pro, which costs a lot more. Each one has the same 12-megapixel resolution, but the primary wide camera has an f/1.6 aperture while the ultra-wide one has a much less forgiving f/2.4 aperture. New with this generation is support for Night Mode and Deep Fusion across all cameras, Dolby Vision HDR video recording at up to 30fps, and Smart HDR 3.
Apple doesn’t believe in showing users too many options, so many things happen entirely in the background and there aren’t too many toggles or indicators. Deep Fusion, for instance, is meant to capture multiple exposures and combine them into a single shot to elevate detail and contrast, especially in low light – but you won’t ever know when it has kicked in. Similarly, there’s no separate Night Mode; if the iPhone 12 mini detects that shots need a boost, it will just happen (though you can disable it or tweak the shutter speed). There are no beautification filters, even though some intelligence might be applied to make photos look better.
Colours tend to be almost clinically neutral, with no artificial boosting to make them seem more vivid. It was sometimes a little hard to verify that focus was locked, but results are absolutely spectacular if your subject is isolated with the background far behind it. The iPhone 12 mini was at its absolute best when capturing closeups, with superb depth of field and crisply defined foreground subjects. Daytime exposures were spot on, textures were crisp, and detail was often surprisingly precise. The wide-angle camera does a great job as well, and distortion is minimal.
Portrait mode recognises people and animals. You might have some luck with other objects, but don’t expect great edge detection. You do need to be at the right distance, and very often you can get perfectly crisp results in the default photo mode without even bothering. If you do use Portrait mode, you can tweak lighting effects and the aperture value later in the Gallery app.
Night-time photography is where the iPhone 12 mini really excels. Night mode can deliver some truly phenomenal results, and being able to use it with the wide-angle and front cameras is highly satisfying. The phone usually needs to be held still for 1-3 seconds, but you can push this all the way up to 29 seconds, which only makes sense if you’re using a tripod.
I was able to capture entire landscapes with cleanly defined areas of light and dark, even in the distant background. Where other phones produced only blurs, the iPhone 12 mini could capture unnervingly crisp detail even when it seemed as though there was no light around. With indoor lighting, some Night mode shots look like they could have been taken in the daytime. This also holds true for the wide-angle camera; Night mode seems to make up for the weaker aperture.
Video is similarly crisp both in the daytime and at night. HDR kicks in automatically, and you’ll have to dip into the main iOS Settings app to disable this if you want to. Motion is extremely smooth at 4K as well as 1080p, though there’s a noticeable difference in stabilisation when switching between the primary and ultra-wide cameras. There’s no shimmer or artefacting whatsoever, even when recording while walking at night. Low-light videos were also exceptional, though the wide-angle camera took noisier, grainer footage when there wasn’t much ambient light.
Slow-mo video capture goes up to 240fps at 1080p, and is just as crisp as regular video. iOS offers loads of editing tools, and you can decide how much of each clip plays at normal speed and when exactly the slow-mo effect should kick in.
The front camera is just as good as the rear ones. Selfies have excellent detail and faces are exposed well even in weak light. Portrait mode uses the same 3D sensor array as Face ID. Night mode kicks in automatically when needed, as expected.
For the past few years, anyone who wanted a smaller iPhone would have to make do with an older model or the low-end iPhone SE range. The new iPhone 12 mini offers top-end hardware and features including an excellent OLED screen, fantastic cameras, and the industry-leading A14 Bionic SoC. You don’t lose anything major if you choose the iPhone 12 mini over its larger sibling – you get the same construction quality, IP68 rating, software, and accessory ecosystem. In fact, there’s a huge overlap with the much more expensive iPhone 12 Pro, in terms of capabilities.
Battery life isn’t great, and performance might be thermally constrained in some extreme cases such as benchmark stress tests. The screen and speakers aren’t as engaging when watching videos and playing games. If these seem like factors that will affect you even a few years down the line, it might be worth looking at the larger models. Frankly, I think a lot of people will be fine with all of this considering the convenience, ease of use, and flagship-level experience that the iPhone 12 mini offers as an everyday phone.
This will be an excellent upgrade for anyone still clinging to an iPhone 6s or older. Of course it would have been nice if this model had been positioned and priced lower than the outgoing iPhone 11. Even so, the iPhone 12 mini is likely to be the new default iPhone for many people simply because it’s the most affordable (relatively speaking) of the new 2020 family. Priced Rs. 10,000 lower than the iPhone 12 (and a whopping Rs. 50,000 lower than the iPhone 12 Pro), the value proposition does look good.
iPhone 12 Pro Series Is Amazing, but Why Is It So Expensive in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.