iPhone 12 mini review

This is the easiest review I’ve ever had to do. Why? Because the NZ$1,349 iPhone 12 mini is the same phone as the regular iPhone 12. Just smaller. 

…and I reviewed that two weeks ago. 

See also: iPhone 13 release date NZ

The size of the iPhone 12 mini, its battery, and screen (obvs) is all that separates the two devices. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like much. But these are actually very different phones to live with.

I’ve enjoyed using the iPhone mini a lot more than I thought I would have. The past four-to-five years has seen smartphones undergo a big growth spurt, where tall and wide devices – that don’t really fit in one hand – are the new normal. 

The iPhone 12 mini bucks that trend. It’s a device that’s roughly the same size as the iPhone 8 with, confusingly, a bigger screen – thanks to advancements in edge-to-edge displays.

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Using a small smartphone again

It took me about a quarter of a day to fall in love with the iPhone 12 mini. Now, I can’t quite remember why we, the consumers, conformed so neatly when smaller devices were taken off the menu.

Pinpointing what’s great about the smaller phone is easy. It’s a device that can be used with one hand; it fits in all pockets (not just big ones), and it’s light. These are all great features.

But it’s more than. This phone has a killer camera set up; its screen is pin-sharp and edge-to-edge; it has 5G; and a full-fat best-in-class A14 Bionic chip. There’s nothing it can’t do, that bigger phones can.

And this is Apple’s biggest achievement with the iPhone 12 mini. Any smartphone manufacturer can make a small smartphone. Samsung went through a golden period with its Galaxy Mini devices several years ago. The difference is those devices were compromises, with downgraded specs of the flagship device.

Not the iPhone 12 mini. It does everything the iPhone 12 can.

iPhone 12 mini review - in-hand

Same iPhone 12 design

As you’d expect, the iPhone 12 mini has the same stylesheet as the rest of the iPhone 12 devices. In literal terms, this means its sports the same “flat-edge design” as the three other iPhone 12s. 

The difference with the mini is that it feels more familiar and natural. This, I think, is because the last time the iPhone had a flat-edge design was back in 2013 with the iPhone 5s – and the mini is a similar size to that device.

Elsewhere there’s IP68 water resistance that makes the iPhone 12 mini water-resistant up to 6 meters for up to 30 minutes, which is three times the depth of iPhone 11.

The iPhone 12 mini screen will be 4x tougher though thanks to Apple’s ongoing work with Corning, the company that the Gorilla Glass screens used nearly all smartphones for the past decade. The new toughness is thanks to a material called Ceramic Shield.

There’s been plenty of talk about how the relationship between the brittleness of a screen correlates with how easily it picks up scratches. Traditionally, advancements in the toughness of a screen comes at the expensive of how easily it picks up scratches.

I’m not broaching this subject because I have definitive insight, or original scientific thought, that adds any value to the discussion. Rather, my iPhone 12 Pro – that has the same screen technology as the mini – picked up a massive scratch this week, and I have no idea how. My anecdotal example contradicts much more thorough tests conducted by other tech sites and insurance companies, though – who conclude the scratch resistance of Ceramic Shield is roughly the same, or slightly improved, than the iPhone 11 and other smartphones released this year. I’d still recommend putting a screen protector on this device asap, though.

Same iPhone 12 Camera

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the camera performance of this mini iPhone. Like, the normal-sized iPhone 12, the headline feature is that Night Mode can now be used on all three of the iPhone 12’s cameras, including the front TrueDepth (selfie) camera.

The other improvements are a little harder to understand. But are still welcome additions. The Wide camera has a ƒ/1.6 aperture – Apple’s fastest yet. There’s also a 7-element lens that improves low-light performance by 27 per cent.

The Ultrawide camera’s specs are largely unchanged from what we saw in the iPhone 11: f/2.4 aperture camera with a 120-degree field of view powered by a 5-element lens. The only boost is its image-processing, that will intelligently and automatically correct the edges of the photo for more natural-looking results.

What the camera is physically able to capture is only half of the equation in modern smartphone photography. Image processing is the other half. The iPhone 12 mini, and other 12 devices, build on what Apple has always done re smartphone photography. And that’s taking a bunch over overexposed images and use its processing power and neural engine (AI) to produce the polished image you see on your phone. The big addition to the 12 is adding an under-exposed image, that lets in 27 per cent more light, to this sequence.

You might struggle to notice a huge difference between this and last year’s iPhones in normal lighting scenes. However, the 12 outperforms its predecessor in more extreme scenarios.

Video also gets a solid bump. The iPhone 12 mini can now shoot 4K 10-bit HDR video, with Dolby Vision. This makes the iPhone 12 (and 12 Pro devices) the first smartphones to directly record in Dolby Vision.

iPhone 12 mini gets 5G too

5G is another high-end feature where the mini punches about its weight. It’s a huge feature for a small phone like this.

Whether you should care about not is another matter. The 5G roll-out hasn’t been the smoothest. Or fastest. In fact, here in New Zealand, we can only currently get 5G on specific street corners in downtown Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

But there’s reason to be optimistic. Apple is a catalyst for practically everything it does. It pretty much destroyed the wired headphone industry in under two years when it removed the 3.5mm headphone port from its iPhone.

iPhone 12 mini review - camera

I’m hopeful Apple, and the iPhone 12 devices, will have the same effect on 5G. It’s certainly talking a big enough game. Mentioning 5G 70 times during the iPhone launch event last month.

The reality is that Apple carries a lot of sway with, excuse me, phone carriers. With 5G coming to the iPhone 12, the ability for networks to sell 5G to customers just got real too. The massive numbers iPhone brings with it, means, all of a sudden, there’s a business case for rolling out 5G (because millions of users are about to have 5G devices within arm’s reach 24/7). 

Apple says it will use its good relationships with global carriers to propel, and improve, 5G as a technology too. So while 5G might not be a big deal, or even a thing, for Kiwis right now, the expected 2-4 year lifespan (at least) of the iPhone 12 mini means it will be ready to use 5G as soon as the New Zealand infrastructure allows it.

From a technical viewpoint, the 5G on the iPhone 12 is very real. It will support mmWave 5G (in the US), but every other country’s iPhone 12 handsets will only have low- and mid-band 5G. This means it misses out on the blazing-fast 5G speeds we’ve all seen advertised – but it’s not something to worry about as you (and your iPhone 12) will need to be very close to a 5G tower to make use of the technology. The low- and mid-band 5G, that we bull supported here in NZ, will deliver a more stable (slower) version of 5G, at a longer range.

5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display!

Yep, same same here too. The mini has exactly the same display technology as its siblings. But in a 5.4-inch form-factor.

2,340×1,080 pixels; 476ppi; OLED; and a 2:000,000:1 contrast ratio are the differences that its size dictates.

iPhone 12 mini review - range

The mini’s battery life and charging is different

This is where the iPhone 12 mini differs this most. It has a smaller battery than the rest of the iPhone 12s (because it’s a smaller device). And while the smaller screen on the mini spares this device a bit of power drain, the mini’s battery is where its name is accurate.

You’re going to struggle to get a day’s solid use on one charge here. Which is a shame because the battery performance of the iPhone 11 devices made me think that smartphones struggling to make it through a day was a thing of the past.

Which is a bit of a niggle as Apple has removed the wall charger from all of its iPhones. Yes, you’ll still get cable, but its a USB-C to Lightning. And I’m willing to bet there’s a sizeable chunk of people that only have USB-A wall chargers.

There’s a small piece of good news here though: Apple has dropped the price of its 20W USB-C Power Adapter to NZ$39.

More good news: the new NZ$69.00 MagSafe charger works with the iPhone 12 mini. However, the mini can only charge at 12W via MagSafe compared to the 15W the iPhone 12 can manage.

iPhone 12 mini: Verdict

If you think you might like a smaller iPhone, but you’re not quite sure. Don’t fret it. You’re going to love the iPhone 12 mini. It’s a brilliant, fun, mini iPhone 12.

It’s camera(s), processor, screen, design and 5G readiness make it a device that’s every bit as good as Android smartphones (and iPhones) that are twice its size. If only the battery was performance was a lit bit better, this would be the perfect small smartphone.