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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Compact, attractive design
Crisp, bright display
Speedy 5G support
Slightly weaker battery life
Just 60Hz screen
Limited 64GB base storage
No power brick
The iPhone 12 mini is a near-perfect option for anyone who wants a seriously great phone meant for smaller hands and/or easy single-handed usage.
Our expert reviewer purchased the iPhone 12 mini to evaluate its features and capabilities. Read on to see our results.
The wide-ranging iPhone 12 line includes Apple’s largest smartphone to date, but also the company’s smallest phone in years. The latter is the iPhone 12 mini, a push back against the ever-growing trend of large phones and one that is sure to be appreciated by those with smaller hands—or even just those who want to easily use a phone with a single hand.
Despite the smaller form factor, the iPhone 12 mini keeps nearly everything that’s great about the larger iPhone 12 intact, including the most powerful processor in any phone, an excellent screen, speedy 5G connectivity, and sharp cameras. The smaller battery is a little less resilient to heavy media and games usage, but not enough to sink this excellent, tiny iPhone.
I tested the iPhone 12 mini immediately after testing the extra-large iPhone 12 Pro Max for a week, so the difference was quite shocking. With a super-tall 5.4-inch screen—compared to 6.1 inches on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro—the iPhone 12 mini is just under 5.2 inches tall and 2.53 inches wide, with the same slim 0.29-inch thickness as all the other models and a mere 4.76 ounces of weight. The glass and aluminum build still feels premium, but it’s so small and light it feels insubstantial next to most modern phones. I had it tumble out of my pocket onto the rug one time and barely noticed it was missing.
Handling the iPhone 12 mini is a strange sensation in that respect, but also refreshing: the trend in the smartphone world has been towards larger and larger phones in the last few years, to the point where they’re all too large for comfortable use. But the market of people with smaller hands or those who want something super-compact and easy to wield have been underserved.
The iPhone 12 mini is for them. It’s a full-bodied, robust, top-end phone in a very small package. And while it’s not the phone that I personally would carry, given my own predilection for monster phones with spacious displays, it is nice to be able to easily command the full screen of a phone without sliding the handset within my grip or using my other hand. It’s been a while.
This year’s iPhones see a return to the old iPhone 5 style of a flattened frame, which gives them a distinctive look compared to the current Android pack. Both the iPhone 12 and 12 mini are available in white (shown), black, blue, green, and (Product)RED, with a matching aluminum frame. The backing glass also has a new MagSafe magnetic anchor point beneath, which lets you snap on Apple’s new MagSafe Charger and wallet case attachment, along with some other upcoming accessories.
All the other key hardware details are likewise on par with the iPhone 12. The mini is IP68 rated for water and dust resistance and can survive a dunk as deep as 6 meters for up to 30 minutes, but it doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone port or include a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter for traditional headphones. It also doesn’t have USB-C headphones in the box. And for the first time, none of the new iPhones come with a power brick, so hopefully you have a USB-C brick around or else it’s $20 extra for Apple’s own charger.
The 64GB starting storage of the base model is confining, unfortunately, and there’s no option to pop in a microSD card or anything similar to expand on that tally. You can bump up to 128GB for an extra $50, or hit 256GB for $150 extra.
Apple keeps iOS device setup pretty hassle-free, so just press in the power button on the right side of the phone and follow the on-screen prompts. You can even use a previous iPhone or an iPad running iOS 11 or newer to speed up the process. Otherwise, the guided process includes signing in with an Apple ID, reading and accepting the terms and conditions, and deciding whether to restore from a backup or copy data from another device. You’ll also set up Face ID security, which simply requires rotating your head a couple times in front of the selfie camera.
They’re perfect point-and-shoot cameras that can turn out great results with nearly any solid source of lighting, and even automatically switch to night mode in lower light, capturing very good results despite the lack of illumination.
While you do get a smaller screen on the iPhone 12 mini, you luckily don’t get a lower-quality one. This 5.4-inch OLED panel is roughly as crisp as all the other iPhone 12 models, with the 2340x1080 resolution working out to 476 pixels per inch. It’s very sharp and nicely bright, and since it’s an OLED panel, it is also boldly colored with excellent black levels. Apple’s days of saddling its lower-priced iPhones with sub-standard screens are thankfully over.
The only real knock against all the iPhone 12 screens is that Apple did not include a speedier refresh rate like those seen on many flagship Android phones this year. The smoother 90Hz or 120Hz settings of some other phones, including the Google Pixel 5, Samsung Galaxy S20, and OnePlus 8T, make phones feel extra-responsive and deliver really swift animations and transitions. The standard 60Hz rate here is fine, as it always has been, but I wish Apple had embraced that added perk.
Don’t let the size of the iPhone 12 mini fool you: it is an incredibly powerful phone, packing the same A14 Bionic processor as its larger siblings. This is the fastest chip available in any smartphone today by clear margins, expanding the lead that Apple has gradually grown with each new edition of its mobile system-on-a-chip in recent years.
Using the Geekbench 5 mobile benchmarking app, the iPhone 12 mini reported a single-core performance score of 1,583 and a multi-core score of 3,998, both very close to those of the iPhone 12. Compare it to a couple of the most powerful Android phones out there, however, and there’s a clear advantage.
Samsung’s $1,299 Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G posted a single-core score of 975 and a multi-core score
of 3,186 with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ chip. The $749 OnePlus 8T, with its standard Snapdragon 865 processor, put up scores of 891 and 3,133, respectively. And the $699 Google Pixel 5, which uses a mid-range Snapdragon 765G chip, landed much lower with scores of 591 in single-core and 1,591 in multi-core testing. The iPhone 12 Pro mini posted 62 percent higher single-core and 25 percent higher multi-core scores than even the nearly twice as expensive Note20 Ultra.
This is the fastest chip available in any smartphone today by clear margins, expanding the lead that Apple has gradually grown with each new edition of its mobile system-on-a-chip in recent years.
The iPhone 12 mini feels very responsive and fast in action, but so do the Note20 Ultra and OnePlus 8T—and even the less powerful Pixel 5 is no slouch. But when it comes to raw power, Apple is well ahead of the entire pack, which may provide smoother performance with highly demanding apps and games, not to mention a handset that can stay fast and responsive even as future iOS upgrades land in the years to come.
Graphical performance is similarly ahead of the Android pack, meaning even this tiny phone can deliver the best mobile gaming visuals around. Using the GFXBench benchmarking app, I recorded 58 frames per second on the Car Chase demo and 60 frames per second on the less-demanding T-Rex demo. The latter is typical for any recent flagship phone, while the Car Chase put up more frames than any recent Android I’ve tested. In my own testing, flashy games like Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact also ran very smoothly on the iPhone 12 mini.
This is the smallest phone I’ve handled in several years, and it’s even smaller in form than Apple’s 2nd-gen iPhone SE (a refreshed iPhone 8), although larger than 2016’s original iPhone SE (an updated iPhone 5s).
The iPhone 12 line is Apple’s first to incorporate support for faster 5G networks, and the benefits can be dramatic—depending on carrier and if you can find the right kind of coverage. The iPhone 12 mini supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G technology and I tested the phone using Verizon’s 5G network, which includes both.
Connected to Verizon’s Nationwide 5G (sub-6GHz) network, I saw speeds as high as 120Mbps and more typically in the 50-80Mbps range, which overall is about 2-3x what I would usually experience on Verizon’s 4G LTE in my testing area just north of Chicago. But with Verizon’s mmWave-powered 5G Ultra Wideband network, I saw vastly faster speeds, as high as 2.28Gbps. That’s 23 times faster than the Nationwide speed peak that I recorded.
Unfortunately, Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband connectivity is currently limited primarily to big cities, and even then it’s only outdoors in high-traffic areas. The city in which I tested it, right outside Chicago city limits, has about a six-block stretch of Ultra Wideband coverage… and that’s it. Verizon’s approach seems to be to drop these speedy chunks of support in busier areas of cities and then have the Nationwide 5G coverage in most other places, but it’s still early days. At least the iPhone 12 mini can handle all of it and more coverage comes online.
The iPhone 12 mini has fewer speaker holes at the bottom than the other models, but still does a fine job of pumping out crisp, clear-sounding music and audio, using the earpiece atop the screen as the other speaker for stereo sound. Whether you’re using the speakerphone or need a bit of music in a pinch without the hassle of pairing to an external speaker, it works great.
Considering the compact size of the phone, you get a pretty amazing and easy-to-carry camera setup with the iPhone 12 mini. It has the same main dual-camera array as the iPhone 12, with a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensor alongside for zoomed-out shots—perfect for landscapes.
What still impresses me about iPhone cameras is how adaptable they are with absolutely no effort on your end.
They’re perfect point-and-shoot cameras that can turn out great results with nearly any solid source of lighting, and even automatically switch to night mode in lower light, capturing very good results despite the lack of illumination. While I’d rather have a telephoto zoom camera on the back instead of ultra-wide, you can still do a lot with these little cameras. The same is true with video, whether it’s crisp 4K footage at up to 60 frames per second, or bold Dolby Vision HDR video at up to 30 frames per second.
On the front, the 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera delivers stellar selfies, and more importantly, serves as the heart of the Face ID security system. It’s not the most ideal security option for this particular moment in time, given that it can’t read your face with a mask on, but it is otherwise very reliable and seemingly secure.
The 2,227mAh battery in the iPhone 12 mini is pretty small, particularly when batteries for many phones on the market hover around the 4,000mAh range. Still, Apple always seems to do more with less thanks to the efficiencies afforded by making both the hardware and software of its phones, and the iPhone 12 mini is primed to last a solid day.
On an average day, I’d finish with about 20-30 percent of a charge left at bedtime, which is a little bit less than the iPhone 12, but not significantly so. The iPhone 12 mini did seem to tick down faster than the standard iPhone 12 when playing games or streaming video, and no doubt, it’s not a phone that’s meant to be pushed hard with long stretches of screen time. While perhaps overwhelmingly large for some, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is much better suited for those needs. But as an everyday phone for texts, calls, emails, web browsing, and a bit of streaming media, it’ll do the trick.
It can charge wirelessly via any standard Qi charging pad at up to 7.5W, or hit 20W via wired fast charging. The new MagSafe Charger provides a middle option, snapping onto the back of the iPhone 12 mini to deliver charging at up to 12W. That’s lower than the 15W mark of the larger iPhone 12 models, but it still finished faster thanks to the small battery capacity: it reached 39 percent in 30 minutes and 68 percent after an hour, but then took a slower road to completion at 2 hours,12 minutes in total. At $39 for the MagSafe Charger, however, it’s a bit pricey relative to third-party options.
Apple’s latest iOS 14 operating system revision ships on the iPhone 12 mini and it runs very smoothly here, as expected. The most obvious, functional change in iOS 14 is the long-overdue addition of customizable home screen widgets, which are useful and help shake up the well-established look of the app grid. That said, Android has had them for ages, and it’s a bit odd that Apple took so long to finally let them in. Otherwise, iOS is nicely refined and very easy to use, while the App Store has the largest mobile selection of apps and games out there.
At $699 for the model locked to a carrier and $729 for a fully unlocked edition, the iPhone 12 mini is the most affordable handset in the bunch. It also compares favorably to other phones in the $700 range based on features, design, and build quality. The standard iPhone 12 feels like a good value for $100 more, and for the most part, this just a smaller version.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend picking the mini over a larger iPhone 12 model just to save a little bit of cash. The size difference is very significant, and if you are used to and prefer larger phones, then this little handset might not cut it. Ultimately, you will probably be happier spending the extra $100 for a larger model if you aren’t expressly seeking a very small phone.
Google’s new Pixel 5 is also a pretty compact phone compared to much of the competition, and yet the iPhone 12 mini is still smaller, slimmer, and lighter. When it comes to features and functionality, however, they both have 1080p displays, both support sub-5Ghz and mmWave 5G, and both have wireless charging onboard.
The Pixel 5 has a much longer-lasting 4,000mAh battery, however, and benefits from a smoother 90Hz refresh rate. On the other hand, the iPhone 12 mini is a much more attractive phone and has more than twice the processing power, according to benchmark testing. Apple’s phone is the more alluring and capable handset of the two, in my view, but Android fans who don’t mind a generic design may appreciate the Pixel 5.
Still need some more time before making a decision? See our guide to the best smartphones.
Tiny and terrificThe mini is the same excellent iPhone 12, but smaller. Aside from a slightly less resilient battery pack, you’re not really losing anything with the hand-friendy iPhone 12 mini. Kudos to Apple for packing such a big, premium smartphone experience into a tiny frame, providing a capable alternative to the mostly-sizable competitors out there.
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