The year: 2021. Smartphones have turned into mini TVs for palms and pockets. But in a world of big-screened mobiles, is there really place for a teeny tiny contender like the iPhone 12 mini? In short, yes. Absolutely.
Rather than making a pocketable TV, Apple has shrunk down its iPhone 12, giving the world what could be the best mini mobile you can buy. Now, this is no iPhone Pro smartphone. Instead of three cameras, as found on the iPhone 12 Pro, there are two – but don't let that put you off, it's still voted one of the best camera phones in our round up. The iPhone 12 mini also has slightly slower wireless charging than its bigger siblings and a smaller battery, but aside from that, it’s a top-tier flagship in a more demure body.
It’s also worth noting, the iPhone 12 mini is a beautiful phone. Clean lines, consistent curves, tasteful flourishes and familiar features. So if the thought of a small smartphone floats your boat, keep reading.
iPhone 12 mini: Design and screen
Apple gets design. It’s hardly a news flash; whether you’re talking about laptops, smartphones or tablets, nine times out of 10, Apple hardware looks great.
And the iPhone 12 mini is no exception. Available in black, white, (Product) Red, green and blue, each colour is tastefully muted while still looking standout, especially the (Product) Red option, which we reviewed. Unlike the iPhone 12 Pro series, rather than sport a polished stainless steel frame, a blasted metal frame wraps around the mini.
So just how mini is the mini? While all the new iPhones are the same thickness (7.4mm), the mini’s screen is just 5.4 inches. That’s by comparison to the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro (6.1 inches), and the iPhone 12 Pro Max (6.7 inches). Practically speaking, if you have a first-gen iPhone SE, then the mini is a smidge taller, wider and heavier.
On the bottom of the iPhone 12 mini, there’s a lightning port. To the left are volume buttons, a notification slider and a nano-SIM slot, while on the right is the power button. Around the back, however, is where Apple really flexes its iPhone styling.
A playful take on design when compared to the Pros, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini feature high-gloss glass backs and two bold cameras that protrude from an elevated camera surround.
Despite being small, the 12 mini never feels like a design compromise, whether talking about the aesthetic, the IP68 water and dust resistance or the in-hand feel. The same can be said of that screen.
As with the Pros, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini sport top of the line Super Retina XDR OLED displays. Small but mighty, colours pop, blacks are inky and deep, and picture clarity is on-point. Complete with HDR10 support, optimised content sports excellent dynamic range, and thanks to a peak brightness of 1200 nits, the screen is easy to make out, even in bright sunlight.
iPhone 12 mini: Camera
Compact phone, flagship camera; it’s that simple.
The iPhone 12 mini’s main camera is the same spec as the one found on the iPhone 12 Pro. At the helm, there’s a 12MP sensor with an f/1.6 lens, dual pixel phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilisation. All that combines to create a camera phone that takes incredible photos. The second camera on the back is an ultrawide. In turn, while the main camera shoots with a 26mm focal length, the ultrawide lens is 13mm - think GoPro snaps and you'll have the right idea.
In daylight, the 12 mini captures plenty of detail. Unlike Samsung phones, iPhones taper post-processing, so photos they take tend to look more natural. Pictures are sharp, and while you may see a bit more grain creep in than non-Apple photos, there’s less of an artificial finish to them which purists will prefer.
Shooting modes are predictably simple - the camera takes photos, videos, slow motion video, portrait mode photos and panorama shots. Apple updated its software to make the camera UI a piece of cake to navigate. Now, rather than needing to rifle through the settings menu to change shooting resolution of frame rate, it can all be done from the shooting screen. That said, unlike the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 and 12 mini don’t shoot RAW photos.
With its new and improved night mode, Apple’s flagships are now competing with the likes of the Google Pixel for the first time, automatically drawing out capture time in order to grab atmospheric, detail-rich low-light photos.
The iPhone 12 mini’s ultrawide camera isn’t quite as impressive as the main camera. Despite also being 12MP, its detail is weaker, however colour reproduction is beautifully consistent across all its snappers, including the phone’s 12MP selfie camera.
On the subject of selfies, with Face ID sensors that enable SL 3D depth sensing, the front camera’s portrait mode is one of the best around, and while there’s no autofocus, shots still look sharp in all but the dimmest scenes. Even then, the screen illuminates to act as a fill flash.
Also impressive is the iPhone’s front and rear video. Captured at up to 4K at 60fps on both sides, it’s steady, it’s smooth, and it’s high-quality. Low light video is still a challenge, but at £669, the iPhone 12 mini could still be the best video camera at its price.
iPhone 12 mini: Performance and price
Running iOS 14, if you’re already using an iPhone, you’ll know exactly what to expect with the iPhone 12 mini. Its UI is predictably clean; customisable with movable shortcuts and editable widgets, but also locked down enough to ensure you can't really make a dog's dinner of things.
Thanks to an A14 Bionic chipset, you get the same flagship power on the iPhone 12 mini as the Pro. Given the phone’s significantly lower price, this doesn’t just bode well for performance, it also means the 12 mini is impressive value for money - something we seldom say about Apple products.
Don’t get us wrong, it isn’t a cheap phone. You can buy the iPhone 12 mini offline for £699/$729 (64GB), £749/$779 (128GB) or £849/$879 (256GB), and if you want to pick it up on contract in the UK, it will set you back by about £50 a month on a major network like Vodafone with a small upfront cost, while carriers in the US offer a saving of $30 on the SIM-free price provided you buy a plan with them.
After a couple of months with the iPhone 12 mini, we’re smitten. Its compact size, considered design, stellar camera and nippy performance make it a joy to pull out of a pocket as use. We also didn't find it too small to type comfortably on which surprised us. That said, its battery life leaves room for improvement.
With a 2227 mAh battery, it just about makes it through a day if you’re using it casually, but heavy gaming, messaging, photographing or watching will leave you out of power by the early evening. There’s wireless charging (12W) which helps, so if you have a few chargers dotted about, you can keep it topped up conveniently enough. It also charges pretty quickly for an iPhone (50 per cent in 30 minutes), but if you’ll be away from a wall charger overnight, you'll need to be okay with packing one of our best power banks.
iPhone 12 mini: Verdict
There’s nothing else on the market that truly competes with the iPhone 12 mini, other than perhaps the Sony Xperia 5 II. Both phones are small, powerful, and pretty darn beautiful – but in the iOS ecosystem, the mini is one of a kind. Sure, the iPhone SE (2020) is another pocketable iPhone option, but between its more dated design, inferior camera and comparatively poor display, the 12 mini is in a different league.
Of course, as with anything Apple, you pay for what you get, and the iPhone 12 mini isn’t cheap. Given what it can do though, it’s one of the better value iPhone options. And so, if you’re okay with mediocre battery life and are upgrading from an original iPhone SE or another older, smaller iPhone, this mighty mini option should definitely be on your shortlist.