iPhone 12 Mini: First Impressions

The smallest iPhone is every bit as capable as the regular iPhone 12, but cooler

Key Takeaways

  • The only difference between the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12 mini is the size, and a slightly smaller battery.
  • The mini is like a grown up iPhone 5. If you liked that, you’ll love this.
  • The square edges and glossy back make it harder to drop than the old round-edged iPhones.
The iPhone 12 mini.
 Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

If you miss the small, human-hand-sized iPhones 4 and 5, then you're going to love the iPhone 12 mini. It's bigger than the 5, but a lot smaller—and lighter—than the rest of the iPhone lineup, all while being just as capable as the regular iPhone 12. 

The iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max arrive three weeks after the regular-sized iPhones, but the wait was worth it. The mini packs in the same OLED screen, the same fancy new cameras, and the same everything else as the regular 12, but in a smaller package. The only difference is the smaller battery, which is roughly 85% the size of the battery in the bigger phone. So, how is it?

Size

Here's the iPhone 12 mini next to an old iPhone 5. It's clearly bigger, but not by much. I have long wanted an iPhone 5-sized phone, but with the edge-to-edge screen of Apple's X-series iPhones, the ones with no home button, and no "forehead and chin".

The iPhone 12 Mini beside the iPhone 5.
 Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

This is it, more or less, and it's fantastic. You can reach every part of the screen with a thumb, so the phone is truly one-handed. If you have very big hands, then you may have trouble typing on the smaller screen, but if you managed before phones started to get huge, then you'll soon get used to it again. My hands are large-ish, and I have no problem. 

Shape and Grippiness

The other problem with all iPhones from the 6 onwards is the slippery shape. The rounded edges make it feel like a slippery bar of soap. The 12 has the same squared off edges as the old iPhone 5, and the current iPads Air and Pro.

This, combined with the glossy glass back make it a lot more secure in the hand. It might be possible to go case-less for the first time since the iPhone 5, and not feel like you're about to drop it the whole time. 

5G

There's only one thing I want to know about 5G: How to switch it off. 5G coverage is still spotty around the world, and the 5G cellular radio inside the iPhone 12 uses more power than the time-honed 4G an LTE radios that came before. Perhaps when we can go out again, 5G will be more relevant. Until then, it's easy to switch it off. 

OLED Display

If you're coming from the iPhone X, Xs, or 11 Pro, then you're already used to the iPhone's OLED screen. Last year's non-pro iPhone 11 had a regular LCD screen that looked almost as good, but OLED is technically better. It has darker blacks, and is capable of HDR video playback.

The screen is excellent. But so are the screens on most high-end phones these days. The best part is that the screen is so big, and yet the phone's body is so small. Without a case, it's like you're just hold a screen without anything around it. 

The Camera

This is just a first-impressions post, so I haven’t taken the camera for a spin yet, but it looks pretty great. The upgrade from last year’s iPhone 11 isn’t huge, but if you’re coming from anything before that, it’s pretty amazing.

One thing to note is that there is no telephoto camera on this model—you need to buy the pro to get that. On the other hand, the regular camera is good enough that you can use a 2x digital zoom to get the same effect. 

The iPhone 12 mini, in the box.
 Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

Also improved is the portrait mode. On the iPhone Xs, for example, the camera was very finicky about locking on to a subject. You also had to use the telephoto camera to shoot. With the 12, you can use the regular camera.

The downside is that it fakes the portrait mode by guessing where your subject ends, and the background begins, instead of using the two cameras to calculate a depth map. But in practice it works just as well. 

In conclusion, then, the iPhone 12 mini is impressive. It feels just like a modern iPhone, but it also feels like the classic iPhone 5. If that sounds like something you want, and you’re willing to take a small hit on battery life, then you should just get one. You’ll love it.