Review: The iPhone 12 Mini is Kind of A Big Deal

This miniature member of the iPhone 12 lineup still makes a big impression, even with a couple of minor drawbacks.

At $699, the iPhone 12 mini is not Apple’s cheapest iPhone. That title still belongs to the $399 iPhone SE 2020, but the mini is indeed the cheapest iPhone with 5G. It is also the cheapest iPhone with Face ID, the latest CPU, and Apple’s dual-camera system. But what is really impressive is that it is also the smallest iPhone with all of the above features!

Even though Apple launches a new flagship iPhone every year, like many iPhone owners, I typically skip a generation. However, I chose to upgrade early because of several new features in the iPhone 12 family that made it worth it.

If you’re looking for value for your money, the iPhone 12 mini does just about everything the iPhone 12 does, but in a smaller form and at a cheaper price. It offers Wide and Ultra Wide camera lenses with optical zoom, the new MagSafe system for fast and reliable wireless charging, Ceramic Shield front glass (promising even more durability than previous generations), the new A14 Bionic chip, the fastest CPU in any smartphone, and 5G connectivity.

All In on 5G

MagSafe technology and a better camera were attractive reasons to upgrade, but the most compelling reason, for me, was 5G. While my iPhone 12 mini hasn’t yet connected to 5G here in Rochester, New York, where I live, I think of 5G as an investment. Carriers are in the process of rolling out support for 5G to cover more and more territory. Right now, betting on 5G is a bit of a leap of faith depending on where you live, but I’m OK with that.

Mini Battery

As the name suggests, the iPhone 12 mini is the smallest in the iPhone 12 family. Naturally, it also has the smallest physical battery. But if you are upgrading from the iPhone 6, 7, 8, or even the 2020 iPhone SE, then you will actually be taking a step up in battery size.

The SE 2020, which I upgraded from, has a 1,821 mAh battery, whereas the iPhone 12 mini has a 2,227 mAh battery that supports 15 hours of video playback! The iPhone 12 does use more power for 5G and drives a higher-resolution screen, so it’s not an apples to apples (no pun intended) comparison, but for most of us, the iPhone 12 mini will last all day with room to spare.

The Smallest Phone with Face ID

Switching from the iPhone SE 2020 means switching to Face ID instead of Touch ID. That change might take some getting used to for some, especially when wearing a face mask. But it helps that the latest version of iOS supports recognition with and without a mask. It does require a bit of trickery—just go into your iPhone settings and set up an alternate appearance with half your face covered by the mask.

Related: Compare the iPhone 12 Models: How to Decide Which New iPhone to Buy

Small Phone, Big Screen

The smaller size of the iPhone 12 mini means it just fits. That applies to my front jeans pocket or my jacket pocket, or—more importantly—my palm. I like that I have the most powerful iPhone Apple has ever made (with some exceptions . . . the Pro offers a better camera) in the smallest form available.

While the iPhone 12 mini is physically slightly smaller than my previous 4.7-inch iPhone SE, the mini’s edge-to-edge display means I actually get more usable screen real estate, except for the notch at the top for the cameras.

Apple is De-Accessorizing

With the iPhone 12, Apple has eliminated the included A/C to USB wall charger and earbuds, saving them some money and packaging. There’s no indication, however, that those savings are passed on to you. Indeed, you may have to go out and buy a new adapter since Apple switched to USB-C cabling. At least they included a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box.

Spring for More Storage

Compared to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, keep in mind that the non-Pro iPhone models only offer 64 GB of storage standard. I recommend spending $50 more for the 128 GB model, which is how much storage the Pro models start with. As with most Apple purchases, it becomes a slippery slope as you consider options and upgrades.

MagSafe

Another reason I wanted to upgrade was that I was intrigued by MagSafe. I appreciate Qi wireless charging, but I recognize that it is not perfect. If I place my iPhone on the wireless charger on my nightstand and it isn’t properly aligned, it could end up not charging all night. MagSafe addresses this through magnets built into the actual phone, surrounding the Qi charging coil, which align with specially designed MagSafe Qi chargers from Apple, Belkin, and others.

It also charges your phone with twice the power of a regular Qi charger! I tried Apple’s MagSafe charger and, frankly, I returned it. For what it offered, at $40, it was overpriced. I found a wireless charger on Amazon for half that price, and instead of boring white, it was available in an attractive color to match my blue iPhone 12 mini. Just make sure that if you do this, you're only using chargers that won't damage your device.

I’m looking forward to trying MagSafe car chargers that can hold an iPhone 12 in place on the dash, but the current crop delivers mixed results as the magnets are not that strong and may not hold the iPhone securely, especially with a heavy case. I’m partial to the MagEZ line from Pitaka that offers cases with embedded steel plates to ensure alignment with its chargers that come with magnets built in.

Dual Cameras

If you already have a recent high-end iPhone, you are used to the dual-camera feature, but my SE just had the one rear-facing camera. Upgrading to the iPhone 12 mini gives me better options, especially for wide-angle photos and 2x optical zoom. To most casual iPhoneographers, this is plenty of power.

I don’t get to take advantage of the iPhone 12 Pro’s advanced photography features, namely 4x optical zoom and LiDAR, the fancy depth-sensing feature found in the iPhone 12 Pro models as well as the latest iPad Pros. Sure, some cool augmented-reality projects and Night mode portraits leverage LiDAR, but for most, the lack of LiDAR shouldn’t be a problem.

Pros:

  • 5G speeds, if you have coverage in your area
  • Fits comfortably in any size hand
  • Most features of the iPhone 12 at a more affordable price
  • MagSafe could be a game changer
  • Ceramic Shield screen adds more durability
  • Flat-edge design, reminiscent of iPhone 4 and 5

Cons:

  • Magnets in MagSafe can mess with your case, credit cards, or hotel keys
  • Some users may prefer the rounded edges of the iPhone 6, 7, 8, and 11
  • Lacks the LiDAR camera and some advanced photography features of the Pro and Pro Max
  • Smaller battery
  • Does not include earburds or a USB-C wall-charger for the new USB-C to Lightning cable
  • MagSafe chargers are expensive

The Final Verdict:

Not everyone wants a jumbo-sized smartphone. Finally, Apple has released a smartphone for the rest of us. Yes, there are a few features reserved for the Pro and Pro Max, but for all but the most demanding iPhoneographers, the 12 mini delivers comparable functionality. The fact that the iPhone 12 mini costs less, by $100 or more, is a nice touch and you can use the savings to buy accessories!

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Author Details

Todd Bernhard's picture

Author Details

Todd Bernhard

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.