When Apple released the second-gen iPhone SE earlier this year, I thought it was pretty good for the price. But what I longed for, I wrote in my SE review, was an iPhone 12 Pro Mini: an almost bezel-free, pint-sized phone with incredible cameras and an in-display fingerprint sensor for $400. Apple checked some of those boxes with the iPhone 12 Mini, but also left me wanting more.
First thing’s first: The Mini is the perfect size. I’m a petite person with small hands, and though I’ve begrudgingly accepted that smartphones are just large now, the Mini’s 5.4-inch display and 5.18-inch-long frame are so much easier for me to use than every other phone—yes, iPhone 12 Pro Max, I am glaring at you. And though the Mini is not $400 (that one really was too much to ask for) and it doesn’t have an in-display fingerprint sensor, it does indeed have very good cameras. They’re the same cameras that you’ll find in the larger iPhone 12.
But the iPhone 12 Mini has its flaws, and despite how comfortable it is to use, I find myself drifting to the other iPhones in this year’s lineup.
I have now reviewed every iPhone 12. They have a lot in common. We’ve been over 5G (usually a little faster than LTE, but good luck finding the gigabit speeds that have been much hyped this year!). We’ve discussed the A14 Bionic (the fastest chip in any smartphone!). We’ve covered MagSafe charging (it’s…fine!). And the throwback redesign is now well-trodden territory (but extremely good!). Check out my iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max reviews for deeper drives into those topics.
So now we’ve arrived at the iPhone 12 Mini, the cutest phone I’ve ever reviewed—and I don’t say that lightly. Two years ago I was inexplicably smitten with Sony’s Xperia Z2 Compact, a tiny Android phone that stole my heart. The 12 Mini is like a smartphone that graduated with a master’s degree but never grew another inch after junior high. It’s advanced and small. I identify with it very strongly.
I switched to the 12 Mini after using the 12 Pro Max, and the difference is truly night and day. This is actually the first iPhone I’ve ever used without a case. Mainly because it fits so well in my hands and pockets. (And with the same Ceramic Shield front glass as the other iPhones 12, I’m less concerned I’ll shatter the thing by dropping it.)
The trade-off for a smaller body is, well, a smaller screen. The Max is a great phone for getting work done with its expansive 6.7-inch display, but I also have to stick it in a bag or wear a jacket to ensure I have enough room to tote it around. The Mini may not be the best phone for editing blogs in Kinja, but that’s alright: I have other, larger devices for that purpose.
OK, OK, I’ve made my point. You get it. I love the 12 Mini’s mini-ness.
I thought I might have to sacrifice camera quality for size, as I did with the iPhone SE, but the Mini has the exact same camera system as the iPhone 12. That means you get a rear set-up with a standard 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens—both with Night Mode—and a 12MP TrueDepth front-facing lens. The 12 and 12 Mini don’t have a telephoto lens and aren’t capable of taking Night Portraits, which is kind of a bummer—I’d prefer a telephoto over the ultra-wide-angle any day. But they still take great photos in most situations.
I compared the 12 Mini to the iPhone SE, which has a single 12-megapixel lens but lacks Apple’s software-based image-processing feature, Deep Fusion, or a Night Mode, and to the Pixel 5, which has a dual-lens shooter and Night Mode but is larger than the 12 Mini. Check out the comparisons below.
The 12 Mini takes incredibly natural photos with its main lens, and the colors and details are slightly better than the SE, thanks to Deep Fusion. Some might prefer the Pixel 5’s images, but to me the colors are overdramatic, particularly in the nighttime shot of an orange tree and streetlamp.
If there’s one spot where the Pixel 5 and iPhone SE both fail miserably here, it’s low-light Portrait shots.
The 12 Mini isn’t capable of low-light Portraits, so it won’t apply a bokeh effect if there isn’t enough light, but it still handles the shot better than the SE and the Pixel 5, which overly smooths your images if there isn’t enough light. The 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max are the phones to buy if Night Portraits are important to you.
As you can see, the 12 Mini is not a 12 Pro Mini, but it also is perfectly capable when it comes to photography. And it’s leaps and bounds beyond the iPhone SE, which somehow launched just a few months ago but also in another lifetime.
But as a fan of small phones, my biggest concern also turned out to be my biggest problem with the 12 Mini: battery life. I squeezed out 11 hours and 20 minutes on our video rundown test—three hours less than the iPhone 12, and five hours and 11 minutes less than the 12 Pro Max. It hurts, truly. It’s likely because the iPhone 12 Mini uses a tiny 2,227 mAh battery according to an iFixit teardown. By comparison, the iPhone 12 uses a 2,815 mAh battery, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max appears to have a 3,687 mAh battery.
Aside from testing, my anecdotal battery observations were…not good. On one day of slightly more than normal use—the group chats were a little more active than usual—I was down to 10% just after dinner. “Well,” I thought, “I guess I am a heavy user.”
But aren’t we all? I use my phone for the same things everyone else does: texting, streaming music and podcasts, mindlessly scrolling Instagram, checking Twitter after I’ve closed it on my desktop to focus, etc. I need a phone that can easily last all day, not one that has to be topped up before I go out at night (lol OK so that’s not happening anymore, but one day!). And this battery drain is all happening on wifi—heaven forbid the 12 Mini gets close to a millimeter-wave 5G node and can suddenly tap gigabit speeds. It’ll be toast.
I am the target market for this phone. I wanted to love it. But despite its size and its downright affordable price tag when you consider the performance and camera quality, the iPhone 12 Mini is a phone for people who either don’t use their phones often enough throughout the day to stress about battery life or who carry a battery pack with them wherever they go. The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are the iPhones the rest of us should buy.