The Apple iPhone 12 is, unsurprisingly, the most powerful iPhone of all time. But what happens when you take all that power and shrink it down to a similar form factor of yesteryear’s phones? You get the iPhone 12 Mini—the smallest and most powerful iPhone. It’s a hell of a combination and makes for an exceptional device for anyone who is tired of tablet-sized phones.
People have been asking for a pint-sized modern iPhone for a long time now. Sure, the iPhone SE also fits the “small iPhone” bill, but it has a tiny screen to go with that tiny body. It’s also missing modern features like Face ID and cutting-edge cameras. It’s a small budget iPhone. The 12 Mini, on the other hand, is the small premium iPhone.
Before I got the 12 Mini, I had some expectations already in mind. I try not to do this with most gadgets, but it’s hard to not get some kind of idea in your head with a modern-day handset with the word mini in its name. And don’t get me wrong here—it’s small. But it’s not unbearably tiny, nor is there really a learning curve to using it.
I’m mostly an Android guy, but for the last several years I’ve been a two-phones-all-the-time kind of guy: an Android phone in my right pocket, and an iPhone in the left. While my Android phone rotates on the regular (current: Pixel 5 ), my left pocket has been occupied by an iPhone XR for the last two years. It’s an excellent phone that is just as fast today as the day I popped it out of the box.
But it’s also a pretty big phone with its 6.1-inch display. I expected the 12 Mini to be a pretty significant adjustment, but I was wrong. It just … wasn’t? Like, it’s fine. It took me all of 15 minutes to get used to the Mini’s size.
All that is to say one thing: If you want a smaller phone but have been hesitant to pick up the Mini for fear that it’ll be too small, don’t worry about it. It’s a really nice size, the adjustment period is minor, and it’s a pint-sized powerhouse.
Now, let’s get into the details.
Hardware and Software: I Mean, It’s an iPhone
Like the other iPhones in the 12 line, the Mini uses a new-old design. It’s a throwback to the iPhone 4 days with its squared-off flat edges. And it’s fantastic. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m pretty tired of curved displays and the like, so a phone that’s flat all over is a welcome “change” in my book. Everything old(ish?) is new again. And I’m here for it.
I opted for the all-black model, mostly because my XR is red and I wanted something different. And also I just like black phones. The glossy back is as sleek as it is shiny, which means it’s also a fingerprint magnet. The matte aluminum edges contrast the glossy back nicely, however, which is an elegant touch. The outside edge of the phone might be my favorite part of it—aesthetically, anyway. It’s svelte.
The front of the little guy is a familiar look for anyone who has seen an iPhone in the last three years, with its big ol’ honkin’ notch for all the Face ID depth mapping and whatnot. At this point, it’s a mainstay in the iPhone lineup, but I’d be lying if I said I love it. I really wish Apple would bring the Touch ID power button from the new iPad Air to the iPhone line and just ditch Face ID altogether, but maybe I’m in the minority there. Touch ID > Face ID all day long for this guy.
But I digress. As the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And this phone is absolutely loaded with the most powerful hardware Apple could cram into its tiny body:
- Display: 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR (2340×1080, 476 PPI)
- Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 64GB, 128GB (reviewed), 256GB
- Cameras: 12 MP Wide (main), f/1.6 aperture; 12 MP Ultra-wide, 120-degrees, f/2.4 aperture
- Front cameras:12 MP, f/2.2 aperture; TrueDepth camera for Face ID
- Ports: Lightning; MagSafe wireless charging
- Headphone Jack: lol, yeah right
- Battery: 2,227mAh
- Biometrics: Face ID
- Connectivity: Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; Ultra-Wideband chip for spatial awareness
- 5G Compatibility: 5G (sub‑6 GHz and mmWave); Gigabit LTE with 4×4 MIMO and LAA
- Ingress Protection: IP68
- iOS version: iOS 14.2.1
- Colors: Black (reviewed), White, Product Red, Green, Blue
- Price as Reviewed: $779
So yeah, that processor? Man, I can’t even tell you how fast this thing is. It’s nuts. Like, the rest of the world is just now catching up to the A12 Bionic from 2 years ago, and this chip is two generations newer. And faster. It’s unreal. But there also comes a point of diminishing return for processor power in a phone, and this phone is well(llll) past it. That said, this little joker should stay lightning-fast for years to come. Maybe until the end of time, honestly (depending on when that is, I guess).
So yeah, it packs a wallop. Like Mighty Mouse. The iPhone 12 Mini is the Mighty Mouse of phones.
But with all that power and its tiny frame, you may be wondering how the battery life is. Well, that’s sort of a mixed bag—on its own, it’s fine. But in comparison to other models (even past models), it’s notably not as good. I’ve read a lot of reviews and talk on Twitter about how the battery life is “bad,” to which I strongly disagree. It’s not bad. It’s just not great. But it’s more than enough to get me through the day and then some with regular use.
iOS 14.2.1 is running the show here, which is the most recent version of iOS out at the time of review. It shipped with 14.2, but many users had issues with the lock screen becoming unresponsive on the Mini, which was fixed in 14.2.1. I had issues with the lock screen before the .1 update, but haven’t experienced it even once since.
iOS 14 also brings more customization than ever before, with home screen widgets and an app drawer of sorts. It’s still nowhere near as customizable as Android, but it’s getting pretty dang close at this point. If I wasn’t so entrenched in the Android ecosystem, I could easily see myself switching to an iPhone full time because of iOS 14. The widgets and app library are both big improvements to the overall experience in my opinion. Love it.
So, to recap: it’s fast and iOS 14 is good. And Scrappy Doo. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
Display and Cameras: Big iPhone Energy
iPhones have always been about the display. Since the first-ever “Retina” display, Apple has been pushing the industry to be better. Make better displays. Be more color accurate. Just, you know, not suck. The 12 Mini (and others in the 12 series) keeps that going.
Apple went with tried-and-true OLED screens in all the phones in the 12 series, which is the right choice. OLED rocks. Out of the box, however, my 12 Mini was incredibly yellow. Compared to the XR’s LCD panel, it was pretty bad. Turns out it was True Tone, which I am apparently not a fan of on OLED iPhones. Once I turned that crap off, it looked much better. All that is to say: If you get a 12 Mini and the display looks overly yellow, disable True Tone. You’ll be glad you did.
The big game-changer for the 12 series’ displays, however, isn’t the panel type—it’s Ceramic Shield. This is a new glass type that has four times better drop performance than past iPhone models. What that means for you is that you’re less likely to break the screen if you drop your phone. The back of the phone, however, doesn’t have Ceramic Shield—it’s covered in the same glass used on the iPhone 11. It still strong, but not as robust as Ceramic Shield, so there’s more of a chance it’ll break if you drop the phone.
And then there’s the camera.
The 12 Mini (and by extension, the regular 12) has a pair of 12MP shooters—a wide-angle for the main lens, and an ultra-wide secondary. That’s the biggest downside here: There’s no telephoto lens at all, and you’ll have to upgrade to the 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max if you want that. I would’ve preferred to see a wide-angle and telephoto pairing here, but I guess that would’ve given people less of a reason to spring for the Pro. I find the ultra-wide to much less useful than a telephoto.
Note: Click on any of the samples below to see the full-size, uncompressed image.
But I digress. Let’s talk about the cameras it does have. The main shooter is really good. The f/1.6 aperture means it pulls in lots of light, even in less than ideal conditions, and also has a great depth of field without the need for portrait mode. Take a look:
And some more outdoor samples, all with the main camera:
The lower aperture of the main shooter also means that it can capture better images in low light without the need for night mode. These are really sharp with consistent lighting across the whole image. Lesser sensors would’ve blown out the TV while making the rest of the image too dark. Even the Pixel 5’s excellent camera has some artifacting and worse lighting:
The Pixel 5’s image is a little brighter, but if you look at some of the finer details (like the sign hanging above the TV), then you’ll see some artifacting that doesn’t exist in the iPhone 12’s image, most likely thanks to Deep Fusion image processing on the 12. They’re both good, but I think the 12 Mini’s shot edges out the Pixel 5 here.
The ultra-wide camera isn’t quite as good but still passable. As I said earlier, I think it’s just less useful. The higher aperture means it won’t work as well in low-light situations, but odds are that if you need to shoot an ultra-wide shot, you’ll be outdoors anyway. Here’s a comparison between the main wide-angle sensor and the ultra-wide (taken from the same spot):
Left: Main camera; Right; Ultra-wide.
Overall, the cameras on the 12 Mini are—as expected—excellent. Even if you don’t find much use for the ultra-wide lens, the standard wide-angle lens is capable of grabbing some truly great shots, even in less than perfect lighting.
As an aside, the 12 Mini’s size makes it easier to grab shots one-handed than any other phone I’ve used. That’s a big bonus for anyone with small hands.
MagSafe: Cool, But I’m Not Sold On It
Back in the day, MagSafe was a magnetic breakaway charging adapter for MacBooks. The feature was discontinued back in 2017 but has been somewhat resurrected in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. It works with wireless charging and other accessories, like a magnetic phone wallet that holds an ID and a couple of credit cards. It’s pretty cool as a thing, but I’m not sure it’s a game-changing feature that should really make or break your decision to buy an iPhone 12 over any other phone you may be considering. (There are far more compelling reasons than MagSafe to buy an iPhone 12.)
While I haven’t had a chance to test out the wallet, I was able to grab a MagSafe charger when I picked up my 12 Mini. Overall, it’s been … fine. The magnet makes it easier to line up for maximum charging efficiency (as efficient as a wireless charger can be, anyway), which is probably useful to someone, but I can’t say I’ve ever really had an issue getting an iPhone to work with a wireless charger in the first place.
There’s also the argument against MagSafe as a charger because you still have to disconnect your phone from it. After all, if you have to connect and disconnect your phone, why not just use a cable? On one hand, I can see that argument—but I don’t agree with it, at least for the Mini.
I never have to touch the charger to connect the phone (it grabs automatically thanks to the magnets), and I can easily disconnect it with just one hand, too. Because the Mini is small enough to handle with one hand, I can wrap my fingers around the back and “knock” the charger off as I pick it up.
And that’s all well and good, but I don’t really see any added value here compared to a good stand-style charger. These make it easy to get the phone’s charging coils lined up with the charger (more than a mat-style charger, anyway). And to disconnect the phone from the charger, just pick it up. What could be simpler? There’s no need to complicate things with magnets and whatnot—though I can see this being nice for a combined car mount/charger.
But maybe the wallet makes MagSafe worth it for some. I can see wanting to throw a wallet on my phone sometimes but not others, which is where the MagSafe wallet would excel. At this point, that’s the only real selling point I can see for MagSafe, and even this it’s pretty niche.
It’s a fine feature that works, but at the end of the day, it seems like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s the very definition of a novelty.
Value and Conclusion: The Best Tiny Phone
This whole “value” thing is something that has been on my mind more and more often in recent years. At some point, we turned a corner and phones went from something that many people had to purchase on a yearly basis to something that became a more conscious decision. “Can my phone last another year? Is the new model really that much better than the one I have? Is this really worth that much money?” are all common questions that many people didn’t ask themselves about phones just a few years ago.
But things change. Technology got better. Phones got better—and more expensive. As a result of those two things, people don’t upgrade as often anymore. So, you may be asking yourself if the iPhone 12 Mini (or larger iPhone 12, by association) is worth the asking price. For that, I say: maybe.
If you haven’t updated your phone since the iPhone 8 because you like the size too much, then by golly, the iPhone 12 is the phone for you. It’s worth the upgrade in literally every possible way. And you probably won’t need to upgrade again until, I dunno, the iPhone 16 or whatever. That makes this phone a good value. The longer you can use it, the better the value. And anything in the 12 series should stay blazing fast for years.
But that’s not the only instance that makes the 12 Mini a good buy. If you’ve longed for the days when phones weren’t the size of tablets, the 12 Mini is a breath of fresh air. If buying a smaller phone will make your life notably less bad, then buy one. There’s value in things that can simplify your life—the things that make your day-to-day just a little bit better.
Even if you don’t fall into one of those buckets, the 12 Mini could still be a good value. At $699 ($729 unlocked) to start, it’s the most affordable premium iPhone out there. A sub-$800 iPhone is a decent deal across the board, especially if you need a new phone. The value drops if you’re buying it just to get a new iPhone because it’s the new one, But hey—I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money.
In short: It’s the best small phone you can buy. If you fancy a little iPhone, the 12 Mini is the one for you.
Here’s What We Like
- Small, but not too small
- Great camera
- Blazing fast
And What We Don't
- Worse battery life compared to other iPhone models
- A telephoto lens would be more useful than an ultra-wide