Apple iPhone 12 mini review: top performance in a smaller form

The Apple iPhone 12 mini shares all the features of the iPhone 12 but in a pocket and hand-friendly size

Apple iPhone 12 mini review
(Image credit: Apple)
T3 Verdict

The smallest iPhone in years still has all the power of its larger sibling and comes with a cost saving. It’s the perfect choice for compact phone lovers.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Compact size

  • +

    Great screen quality

  • +

    Top camera

  • +

    One-hand operation

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    A little small for gaming and video

  • -

    Entry-level storage is low

  • -

    Battery life not as good as other iPhones

The Apple iPhone 12 mini is the smallest of four models in the 2020 range. While many were expecting this to be an SE model with reduced features, the 12 Mini offers near-identical specs to the iPhone 12 with only two real caveats: a smaller screen and a lower-powered battery.  

For many years, mobile phones battled to create the smallest, most compact devices but as smartphones came into play and web browsing became a thing, they started to grow again. iPhones have grown too over the years. The original iPhone was just 4.5in x 2.4in (115.5 x 62.1mm) with a 3.5-inch screen. With each case design change the size has crept up, while the Plus and Max models went bigger still, allowing for bigger and better screens. But is bigger always better for the best smartphone

The iPhone mini is the smallest phone Apple has released since the original iPhone SE in 2016 – a phone that shared the same case design as the iPhone 5S from 2013. The first SE gained a following not only for being one of the best cheap smartphones but one of the best small phones.

With this year’s iPhone design returning to the squared-off look, there are clear similarities between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone SE. But rather than a lower-powered model, this is just as capable as its larger sibling, the iPhone 12, and still comes with a price saving.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Price and release date

The iPhone 12 mini was announced on October 13 alongside the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Like the Pro Max, it wasn’t shipped until November 13 – three weeks after the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro were launched. The price of the iPhone 12 mini starts from $699 / £699 / AU$1199 for the 64GB version. The 128GB version is $749 / £749 / AU$1279, while the 256GB version is $849 / £849 / AU$1449.

Many users will probably opt to spend the extra $50 to double their storage to 128GB, while the largest capacity is ideal for those that want to keep all their photos and video stored locally.

Like the iPhone 12, the mini comes in a choice of five colors: black, white, (Product)Red, green and blue. This is one color less than the iPhone 11, with the yellow and purple options replaced with the new blue – though a brighter blue than on the Pro models.

As with the other models, there’s no charger or headphones in the box of the iPhone 12 mini. As we’ve stated in the reviews of the other models, this isn’t ideal for new users but most Apple fans won’t really miss them. What it has meant is a much smaller box – one that’s little bigger than the phone in length and width – which is good for the environment, as well as, we assume, for Apple’s shipping and production costs.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

The iPhone SE (2016) and the iPhone 12 mini side by side

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Design and MagSafe

The new flat-edge design does look great on the iPhone 12 mini. It’s almost a shame to put a case on it, as you instantly lose just how slim the device is and how tactile that glass back feels in your hands. However, as you’ll want to keep it looking good, we’d advise investing in one straight away. We used one of the Apple Silicone cases, which is very tactile.

This year’s models do benefit from a new ceramic shield that protects the display, resulting in four times better drop performance than the iPhone 11. Meanwhile, the back glass has been strengthened to avoid chips or cracks. And not forgetting its water resistance, which now offers up to 30 minutes at depths up to six meters.

Despite being significantly smaller in stature than even the iPhone 7 (which featured a 4.7in screen), the iPhone mini features a 5.4in display. This is thanks to a massive reduction in bezel over the years.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

MagSafe charging with the MagSafe Duo Charger

(Image credit: Apple)

The introduction of MagSafe charging to the iPhone is a big step and one that could eventually replace charging via the Lightning port. This system follows the same principals as the Apple Watch charging (and to some extent the old MacBook chargers) in that the magnets in the back of the phone align with those of the charger to hold it firmly in place. These magnets are powerful enough that they could hold the phone in place vertically – say in a car cradle or desk stand – but can be easily separated by hand.

The MagSafe system also brings the option to quickly attach accessories to the phone, with full cases as well as card holders able to snap straight on to the back of the iPhone. The magnetometer and custom NFC sensors are able to identify which accessory is attached too. Charging is even possible through the attached cases.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Screen and speakers

The iPhone 12 mini features stereo speakers, mounted in the top front and bottom edge of the device and is able to deliver a powerful volume without any serious distortion, even at full volume. Those users with AirPod Pro or AirPod Max earphones can enjoy the spatial audio playback, which makes the sound feel like it’s coming directly from your phone, even when you turn your head.

The screen is one of the main areas that the iPhone 12 mini differs from the iPhone 12, though not as much as you might expect. The screen is smaller, measuring just 5.4-inches, compared to 6.1-inches on the 12, however, the resolution only drops from 2532x1170 to 2340x1080 pixels. This means that the sharpness is slightly higher on the 12 mini (476ppi compared to 460ppi).

Resolution and size aside, the iPhone mini display has the same 2,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio, 1200 nit peak brightness and HDR support. The result is superb. Whether reviewing photos taken with the camera, websites or films the images have incredible depth and really vibrant colors. We watched Tiny World, which is broadcast on Apple TV+ in 4K with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound. Even on the small screen, the detail is crystal clear, and the wildlife really jumps out at you. While you may need to hold this screen a little closer than, say, the 6.7in iPhone 12 Pro Max, it’s still very watchable.

We also tried out some new gaming additions from Apple Arcade, including Expedition and Mini Motorways. Thanks to the resolution, these were easy to play and it's easy to forget that you’re using a smaller screen. The only thing here for serious gamers is that the refresh rate is limited to 60Hz, while others now offer 90Hz or 120Hz for smoother fast-moving action.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Camera and video

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

Zoomed in detail (right) from the rear wide lens

(Image credit: Future)

For video, the iPhone 12 mini can shoot in up to 4k 60fps and at up to 30fps in 10-bit HDR video with Dolby Vision. The colors really do look great on the footage and any camera movement is kept super smooth thanks to the optical stabilization in the rear wide lens.

The camera set up on the iPhone 12 mini is identical to that of the iPhone 12. On the rear are dual 12MP cameras with an ultra-wide f/2.4 lens with 120-degree field of view and a wide f/1.6 lens. These are equivalent to 26mm and 13mm in 35mm terms. The wide lens also benefits from optical image stabilization to ensure a sharper shot.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

Apple iPhone 12 mini rear super wide lens

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

Apple iPhone 12 mini rear wide lens

(Image credit: Future)

Unlike the iPhone 12 Pro models, there’s no third telephoto lens here and your file formats are limited to HEIC or JPEG without a ProRAW option. It’s fair to say though that we rarely missed the longer lens. The wider lens is ideal for groups and the front camera is your go-to for selfies. Arguably the ultra-wide lens is far more useful.

The images both viewed on the phone and also on 24-inch desktop monitor, look really impressive. The detail available when viewed at 100% size is incredible, even from the more compressed HEIC files. At 200% there are some slight haloing and smudgy compression but that is to be expected, even from DSLR cameras. The exposure never misses a beat and the HDR functionality produces really natural results from high contrast scenes.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

The iPhone 12 mini's Portrait mode  does a great job of isolating the subject

(Image credit: Future)

The portrait mode – used on both the back wide camera and the front camera – is really adept at separating a person from a scene and blurring the background. It’s certainly a quick and easy way to make a portrait stand out, and the addition of the lighting effects and aperture control give you even more creative control.

The night mode works on both the front and rear cameras, taking multiple photos to build up the image and deliver a natural looking nighttime shot better than any camera flash could manage.

The front camera is the same across all of the iPhone 12 models and remains unchanged from that on the iPhone 11 in terms of specs: a 12MP camera with f/2.2 lens. However, it does now feature Dolby vision HDR recording, deep fusion image analysis and Smart HDR 3.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

Speedtest results using 5G show really fast download speeds

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: 5G and performance

If you really needed proof that the iPhone 12 mini is every bit an iPhone 12 you simply need to look at what’s inside. It too, features 5G, providing download speeds of 100 to 400Mb/s using the regular sub-6GHz 5G networks. The US model also works with the super-fast mmWave 5G that offers potential speeds of up to 1.8Gb/s. This faster mmWave connection is currently being rolled out in major cities across the US by all the major networks. UK and Australian networks are yet to offer this and iPhones in these regions don’t support it.

We tested the speed of the iPhone 12 mini on T-Mobile’s network in Chicago and were able to reach download speeds of up to 482Mb/s. At that speed you could download a 4.7GB DVD in under two minutes.

As 5G can be a little power hungry, there is the option to only use 5G when you really need it, and LTE, or 4G, for the times that you don’t. This option will save you battery life over the full 5G on setting, that will use 5G whenever it’s available.  

The iPhone mini also features the same A14 Bionic chip as the other three handsets. This is 20% faster than the A13 used in last year’s iPhone 11 range and is designed to deliver a more efficient performance. This means that it needs less power to run and can handle more tasks, such as the deep fusion image analysis. On a practical level it also means that everything runs smoothly, with zero delays on apps opening and plenty in the tank for many upgrades to come.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review

MagSafe connection

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Battery life

When it comes to charging, the iPhone 12 mini can go from zero to 50% charged in under 30mins when using the 20W Apple charger, and to full charge in around 1.5 hours. Using the new 15W MagSafe wireless charger takes roughly three hours to fully charge, though this is still considerably faster than using regular Qi wireless charging, or an older 10W or 12W USB charger.

Due to the smaller size of the iPhone 12 mini, the battery it uses has also been made smaller. And while it has a smaller display to power, this still results in shorter talk and view times than the regular iPhone 12. While the iPhone 12 offers 17 hours of video watching, the iPhone 12 mini gives you just 15. For audio only, rather than 65 hours, it provides just 50 hours.

These figures are not bad by any means. It’s better than almost every iPhone before the iPhone 11, including both SE models, but it’s likely to be a consideration for anyone choosing between iPhone 12 models. In reality most of us put our phones on to charge each night anyway and even with heavy use it easily lasted the day.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Verdict

When the iPhone SE was first released, many were hoping for an iPhone mini. Instead, it was a cut down version of the iPhone 6. The iPhone 12 mini is a fully spec’d iPhone 12 in a smaller form. It uses the same processor as the flagship iPhone 12 Pro Max and the same great camera system as the full-size iPhone 12. It has 5G, face ID and a stunning screen, yet it’s small enough to operate with one hand and slip into the smallest pocket or bag.

There are, however, a few compromises. The battery life is the shortest of the four new models and considerably less than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. And though the screen is great quality, it is noticeably smaller than the 6.1-inch of the full-size iPhone 12. With this in mind, we wonder if the $100 / £100 price saving is enough to tempt people.

That said, for those looking for a smaller phone, the iPhone 12 mini is the best option on the market right now. For those that simply need a top-quality phone for calls, browsing the web and taking photos, this is for you. For those that have a tablet at home or are rarely without a laptop, the iPhone mini makes sense.

The beauty of the iPhone 12 line-up is that there is a phone to match your needs, and there’s also the iPhone SE, XR and 11, giving a price range of $399 to $1099 (£399 to £1099) across all seven models.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Also consider

While the iPhone 12 is obviously bigger than the iPhone 12 mini, it’s considerably smaller and lighter than the iPhone 11 while maintaining a 6.1-inch screen. It has all the same great features as we’ve seen here on the iPhone 12 mini with the advantage of that bigger screen for videos, gaming and web browsing, as well as an improved battery life. Read out full our iPhone 12 review.

Keeping with smaller screens, the Google Pixel 5 features a 6-inch display and is slightly smaller in the hand than the iPhone 12. This 5G device has 128GB storage, 8GB RAM and Snapdragon™ 765G 2.4 GHz processor. There’s a great dual camera system on the rear and a punch hole camera in the front display. It also comes in cheaper, priced $699 / £599.

The other way to keep the size down on your handset, is with a flip phone, and the new Samsung Z Flip 5G is proof that this category is back with vengeance. This resembles the flip phones of old but once opened up, reveals a folding screen, giving you a massive 6.9-inch. And the beauty is that when closed it measures just 3.44in by 2.9in (87.4x73.6mm). The Z flip features 5G, a 256GB storage and 8GB RAM. It also now costs just $649.99 unlocked.

Mat Gallagher
Mat Gallagher

As T3's Managing Editor in the US, Mat is a true lover of gadgets, but especially anything that involves cameras, cars, music or travel. Originally from the UK, he has written about technology since 2003 and is now based in Chicago.