Apple’s latest smartphone range has a surprise entry in the form of the iPhone 12 mini, which is a genuinely smaller phone with very few compromises.
The phone costs from £699 and is the cheapest of Apple’s new smartphone line sitting below the £799 iPhone 12, the £999 12 Pro and the £1,099 12 Pro Max.
The iPhone 12 mini looks exactly the same as the iPhone 12, only hit with a shrink ray. It looks just as fresh and sharp as its larger sibling, with aluminium sides, a glass back and a new “ceramic shield” covering for the screen that Apple says is four times more drop-resistant.
The modern OLED screen measures 5.4in on the diagonal, which makes it significantly smaller than the 6.1in display on the regular 12 but no less crisp, colourful and brilliant. The screen is the same width as the older 4.7in LCD display on the iPhone SE but is 1.6mm taller to the Face ID notch.
Measuring 15.2mm shorter, 7.3mm narrower and 29g lighter than the iPhone 12 (left), the 12 mini is positively minuscule by today’s standards. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
There are many benefits to having a small phone, including being a lot easier to use it one-handed and fit in pockets, but there are also some downsides. It was too small to fit in my car windscreen mount, for instance, and the narrow screen meant my thumbs clashed frequently when typing at speed with two hands.
But the biggest problem is simply the amount of screen area to see things. Trying to review some documents on the 12 mini was a painful mess of zooming, scrolling and eventually giving up to go a bigger device. Watching video was also a bit tedious, meaning I would start but not actually watch an episode all the way through – not something I have experienced with modern 6in-plus smartphones.
I ended up doing less on the iPhone 12 mini because of its small size, which could be a good thing if you spend too much time on a phone, but it just meant I needed other devices to get whatever it was done.
Screen: 5.4in Super Retina XDR (OLED) (476ppi)
Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
Storage: 64, 128 or 256GB
Operating system: iOS 14.2
Camera: dual 12MP rear cameras with OIS, 12MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: LTE, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, Lightning, ultra wideband and location
Water resistance: IP68 (6 metres for 30 mins)
Dimensions: 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4mm
Top performance, slightly shorter battery life
The Lightning port in the bottom is the fastest way to charge the phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The iPhone 12 mini has the same A14 Bionic processor and 4GB of RAM as the iPhone 12 and iPad Air, and so has the same class-leading performance, as well as 5G – you are not sacrificing speed or power for the small size.
One of the compromises of the small size is battery life. The phone lasts a solid 37 hours between charges but with the screen on for only four hours in that time, compared with the 40 hours between charges with well over six hours of screen-on time for the normal-sized iPhone 12.
That still means the iPhone 12 mini will make it from the morning of day one until the evening of day two, spending two hours on 5G in that time, watching an hour of video, shooting 10 photos and playing five hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones. Shooting video or playing a graphically intensive game will significantly reduce that time.
It takes 25 minutes to charge the battery to 50% but about 100 minutes for a full charge using a £19 Apple 20W USB-C charger – no power adapter is included in the box, only a USB-C to Lightning cable. Fully charging using Apple’s new MagSafe wireless charger takes more than three hours connected to the same 20W USB-C charger.
The iPhone’s flat aluminium edges and diminutive size provide a lot of grip when using it one-handed. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the iPhone 12 mini’s battery but it can be replaced for £69, while iOS also has a battery optimisation feature that prolongs its lifespan by stopping the battery sitting at 100% charge for a prolonged period. The smartphone is generally repairable with an out-of-warranty service costing £376.44, which includes the screen. It was awarded six out of 10 for repairability by the specialist iFixit.
The iPhone 12 mini uses 100% recycled tin in the solder of its main board, 99% recycled tungsten, 98% recycled rare earth elements and at least 35% recycled plastic in multiple other components. Apple is also using renewable energy for the final assembly of the machine and breaks down the phone’s environmental impact in its report.
Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products. The iPhone 12 mini does not ship with headphones or a power adaptor, only a USB-C to Lightning cable, reducing its carbon footprint.
Face ID is fast and efficient, recognising your face and unlocking the phone in a flash, except when wearing a mask. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The iPhone 12 mini ships with iOS 14.2, which runs on all Apple’s smartphones from the iPhone 6S from 2015 and newer. It operates exactly the same as the iPhone 12 including widgets on the home screen, the App Library, new privacy tools and the Apple Translate app.
For more please see the iOS 14 overview and iPhone 12 review.
The camera app is simple and fairly intuitive, producing the same results as the good camera on the larger iPhone 12. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The iPhone 12 mini has the same dual 12-megapixel camera on the rear and a 12-megapixel selfie camera on the front similar as the iPhone 12 and it performs exactly the same.
Briefly, the main wide camera captures some excellent photos with improved detail and low-light performance over last year’s models. The ultrawide camera is also good and fun to use but the lack of a telephoto camera for optical zoom is disappointing. Night mode can also be used on all the cameras.
Video capture is top-notch, including the addition of Dolby Vision HDR recording in 4K, if you fancy shooting something more than home movies.
For more, please see the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews.
5G had more impact on battery life in real-world usage outside than the larger iPhone 12 but it wasn’t dramatically different than when it was used on 4G. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The iPhone 12 mini is restricted to 12W wireless charging, not the 15W that the other iPhone 12 models are capable of with the MagSafe charger.
The cheapest model comes with only 64GB of storage (compared with 128GB for most competitors), which won’t be enough if you shoot lots of photos or videos, play lots of games or download lots of movies or music.
The iPhone 12 mini costs £699 for 64GB, £749 for 128GB or £849 for 256GB of storage.
For comparison, the iPhone 12 costs £799, the iPhone 12 Pro costs £999, the iPhone 12 Pro Max costs from £1,099 and the iPhone SE costs £399. The Samsung Galaxy S20 costs £899, the Google Pixel 5 costs £599 and the OnePlus 8T costs £549.
The iPhone 12 mini stands alone as not only one of very few small phones but the very best of small phones.
Apple has managed to cram all of what was fantastic about the iPhone 12 into a genuinely small frame. That includes flagship performance, an excellent camera, 5G and fresh design, but slightly weaker battery life.
While the 5.4in screen is excellent, it is small and cramped by modern standards; if you are looking to upgrade from an iPhone 6-style phone it is very similar in size. The iPhone SE is a similar size, therefore, but its design, technology and features are far behind the 12 mini.
I strongly urge anyone considering the iPhone 12 mini to think about whether it really has all the screen they need for everything they do on a phone in 2020. But if it does, then the iPhone 12 mini is wholly unrivalled as the king of small phones.
Pros: small and easy to hold, improved camera, night mode, water-resistant, wireless charging, MagSafe, Face ID, solid battery life, great performance, great screen, more durable, 5G, long software support.
Cons: no USB-C, need your own charger, no telephoto camera, base model only 64GB storage, screen may be too small for many.
The iPhone 12 mini is extremely well built and feels sturdy similar to the much-loved iPhone 5S from 2013. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian