Apple iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE: which small phone is the right buy for you?

We compare Apple's iPhone 12 mini and iPhone SE

Apple iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE
(Image credit: Apple)

Welcome to the battle for the best small phones, where we're going to pit the Apple iPhone SE against the brand new iPhone 12 mini to see which is best for anyone that wants an iPhone but doesn't want a massive display. 

Wanting a smaller smartphone is very common and Apple finally responded last year with the introduction of the updated iPhone SE, taking the best bits from the iPhone 11 and putting them into the iPhone 8's body, followed by the iPhone 12 mini, a smaller version of the iPhone 12 flagships. 

There are a few key things separating these two excellent smartphones, all of which we'll get into below. But there are many similarities: excellent hardware, the latest iOS, so many apps and games, stunning cameras, and multiple colours.

Let's jump into our comparison between the iPhone SE and iPhone 12 mini to find the very best small smartphone.

Apple iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone SE vs iPhone 12 mini: design

As you would expect from two very recent iPhones, the iPhone SE and iPhone 12 mini have a lot of similarities. Thanks to the latest versions of iOS, basically all of the software is identical. Both can run the latest apps and games, access Apple Pay and other services, play music and other media, and so on. 

But there are some differences. Perhaps the main one is that the iPhone 12 mini is larger, with a 5.4-inch display to the SE's 4.7-inch, meaning it loses points for being the bigger of the two small phones. 

The 12 mini also has 5G, two cameras (paving the way for ultra wide shots), Face ID, Apple's A14 chip, up from the SE's A13, a much higher contrast display, compatibility with MagSafe accessories, a new tough ceramic shield front, and water resistance to six meters, up from one on the SE. 

All of these improvements and refinements amount to a smartphone that is slightly more advanced and capable than the SE, which is to be expected from a newer (and therefore more expensive) model. 

Apple iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone SE vs iPhone 12 mini: features

In our eyes, the biggest difference between the two is the 12 mini's edge-to-edge display, putting it in-line with Apple's new flagships rather than the older Touch ID-toting models from a few years ago. 

Anyone who uses Face ID quickly comes to realise how quick and painless unlocking your phone is, albeit when not wearing a mask. Touch ID is by no means bad but Face ID is just that much smoother, quicker, and better. It's classic Apple.

Other design differences derive from the models these iPhones are based on. As mentioned, the SE is based on the iPhone 8, with a rounded-off design and home button, while the 12 mini is based on, you guessed it, the iPhone 12, giving it the new (and rather beautiful) squared-off edges and larger display. 

Which iPhone you prefer is totally a personal choice although we would note that the iPhone 12 mini is physically quite a bit larger than the SE, so if size is your absolute priority then the choice becomes a little bit easier. 

Apple iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone SE vs iPhone 12 mini: verdict

The two big things that separate the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone SE are price and size. 

If you genuinely want a tiny smartphone (at least by today's standards), then the SE is the winner: it's the same size as the iPhone 8, thanks to the smaller 4.7-inch display, and will therefore fit better into smaller hands and pockets.

Thanks to being the newer of the two models, the iPhone 12 mini is also universally more expensive, something that won't change until we see the iPhone 13 next month. Expect to pay flagship prices for the 12 mini while the SE, which has been around for about a year, has been heavily discounted. 

Overall, we think the iPhone 12 mini is worth the extra money if you have it but the iPhone SE is a fine choice for people who want an excellent, small, and cheap smartphone. 

Max Slater-Robins

Max Slater-Robins has written for T3 now on and off for over half a decade, with him fitting in serious study at university in between. Max is a tech expert and as such you'll find his words throughout, appearing in everything from reviews and features, to news and deals. Max is specifically a veteran when it comes round to deal hunting, with him seeing out multiple Black Friday campaigns to date.