It’s a good time to buy an iPhone. Not only does this year’s cast offer a wealth of choices spread across different price tiers, but the lineup also introduced pint-sized form factors, allowing buyers to go big by opting small. The iPhone SE 2020 for instance, is a particularly capable phone which isn’t just lighter in your pockets, but also on your wallet. That being said, the phone’s archaic design does leave a little to be desired.
Enter, the iPhone 12 mini, a remarkable ‘small’ phone which doesn’t just offer the latest specs, but it also falls in line with Apple’s modern design aesthetic. In essence, the iPhone 12 Mini is a shrunken iPhone 12 we reviewed a while ago. But, for reasons I’ll talk about in this review, it’s also an entirely different beast altogether.
The iPhone 12 Mini makes a strong case for itself by offering a unique form factor. The icing on the cake is that the handset doesn’t compromise on the build quality, or performance to fit into a smaller chassis. Anyone in the market for a compact flagship will find plenty to like about the iPhone 12 Mini.
As prefaced earlier, the iPhone 12 mini looks exactly like the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup with the only difference being that, well, it’s miniaturised. Consequently, everything that was good about the design of the iPhone 12 (review) holds true here too. Much like its pricier and bigger siblings, the iPhone 12 mini also makes use of premium materials for its construction and employs glass on both, the front as well as the back, sandwiched between a metal rail. That said, the entire iPhone 12 lineup – including the 12 mini – make use of a flat frame which is reminiscent of the iPhone 5 era.
If I had to nitpick, then the glossy back is prone to smudges and the pane’s colour disparity to the frame sticks out like a sore thumb too. But, I’m sure most of you will buy a case to safeguard your expensive purchase, making it a moot point, to begin with.
Now, it goes without saying that a lot of buyers will be eyeing the iPhone 12 mini solely for its price – after all, this is the most affordable iPhone 12 in the new lineup. While the 12 mini’s pricing is quite enticing, I would strongly urge you to visit an offline store and familiarise yourself with the design of the phone. The iPhone 12 mini is quite frankly, a tiny phone and it’s not going to fit everyone’s bill. In fact, when I first unboxed the phone, I was taken aback by the handset’s compact footprint and its featherlight weight of just 133 grams too.
Ipso facto, I had to mould my usage to better suit the iPhone 12 mini. While the phone is a joy for one-handed usage, I felt that the screen was a bit too cramped for two-handed typing and gaming. Although I have acclimated myself to the unit’s narrower-than-usual frame, I still don’t feel as confident in typing on the phone as I would if I was using say, the OnePlus 8T (review). So, make sure you’re buying the iPhone 12 mini for its size, and not its price.
Unlike last year, Apple didn’t restrict OLED displays to its Pro models. Correspondingly, the iPhone 12 mini comes equipped with a 5.4-inch, OLED display with Full HD resolution and a peak brightness of 625 nits. Clearly, the specs check out on paper but how is the screen to use on a day to day basis? In a word – stunning. Not only did I enjoy deep, dark blacks on the panel, but there was no colour shift to speak of either, thanks in part to Apple’s excellent calibration. Speaking of which, the handset does come with support for Dolby Vision HDR and sure enough, compatible media on streaming platforms like Netflix (Marvel’s Daredevil, for instance) did make the most of it. Therefore, so long as you aren’t bogged down by the screen’s relatively smaller size, you will thoroughly enjoy watching movies and sifting through articles on the phone, even under the sun.
So then, is the display on the 12 Mini without fault? Well, not really. See, coming from the OnePlus 8 Pro (review), the animations on the 12 mini’s 60Hz screen did appear a little jarring to me. While the transitions were still swifter when compared to an Android phone with a 60Hz screen, I personally feel that Apple should’ve introduced higher-refresh rate displays on the latest iPhones. It also wouldn’t hurt to trim down the notch, but I for one don’t notice it anymore and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either after you’ve spent some time with the phone. All things considered, the iPhone 12 mini offers one of the best displays in the market, but there’s definitely room for improvement here.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the camera setup on the iPhone 12 mini. The handset offers, in my opinion, one of the best ‘point and shoot’ experiences and I seldom had to manually tweak the exposure, or toy with some other setting to get a more pleasing image out of the 12 mini. Specs-wise, the handset features the exact same setup as seen on the bigger, pricier, iPhone 12. To that note, the 12 mini also comes with two 12MP sensors on the back comprising a standard lens with f/1.6 aperture and an ultra-wide sensor with f/2.4 aperture. For selfies, the smartphone gets a 12MP, f/2.2 aperture shooter upfront. Notably, much like the iPhone 12, the 12 mini also supports Apple’s Smart HDR 3 and offers night mode for all three of its imaging sensors.
As you might’ve guessed by now, the iPhone 12 mini clicks fantastic photos from the word go. The shots I took during the day with the phone were brimming with tasteful colours, reasonably good details and excellent dynamic range. A good example of the same is this shot of my society’s building and here, despite pointing the camera directly towards the source of light, the 12 Mini outputted a stunning composition with ample details in the shadows and good exposure control. The Smart HDR 3 automatically kicks in (you’ll have to turn it on from the camera settings first) and the results are flattering, to say the least.
I will admit that the colours in the photos aren’t the best representation of the scene. They aren’t far off either, but you will notice that the images have a warm tone to them. Moving on though, the wide-angle sensor works as advertised and while it’s impossible to completely eliminate issues like barrel distortion, the 12 Mini does a better job at it than most. I also like how there’s very little colour temperature disparity when switching from the main, to the wide-angle lens.
Images snapped after the sun has set look just as beautiful, mind you. The 12 mini’s night mode kicks in automatically if the camera has less than ideal light to play with, but you do get the option to turn it off too. That said, images clicked with the night mode enabled offer better visibility and more details, so I don’t see why anyone would disable it. One thing to note here is that the smartphone struggled to keep instances like lens flaring under check. So, try and avoid capturing photos at night near a streetlamp.
Moving on, the iPhone 12 mini ships with an excellent selfie camera which will undoubtedly take your Snapchat game to the next level. The selfies I clicked with the phone were flush with details and the handset captured my skin tone accurately too. The selfie portraits looked just as good, and the phone created a convincing bokeh effect around my face. Interestingly, seeing how the iPhone 12 mini’s front camera also supports night mode, you can get away with a serviceable selfie even in lowlight scenarios now.
Now, it goes without saying that some Android phones can click images that are on par and at times, even better than the photos captured by Apple’s latest iPhones. However, I feel that iPhones are still the undisputed champs when it comes to shooting videos. And, this year, the new iPhones take it one step further as the entire lineup – including the 12 mini – can shoot in Dolby Vision HDR. Unsurprisingly, you’ll need to view the videos on a device that’s compliant with the format to enjoy them to the fullest. Still, it’s a fantastic utility to have in your arsenal.
Performance and software
The iPhone 12 mini makes use of Apple’s latest A14 Bionic chip, a 5nm SoC with tremendous compute capabilities. Unsurprisingly, the iPhone 12 mini blitzed through anything I threw at it and the same is evident from the handset’s synthetic benchmark scores too. As can be seen from the snippets I’ve attached below, the 12 mini scored north of 6.3 lac points on Antutu, easily surpassing similarly priced Android handsets. I was also able to hold around a dozen apps in memory, including some resource-hungry utilities like Snapchat, Instagram, and Slack and the phone never stuttered as I was jumping from one app to another.
Evidently, the 12 mini could run all my favourite mobile games too, including graphically intensive titles like Call of Duty Mobile without breaking a sweat. That said, the phone’s tiny screen did make it a little difficult to use on-screen inputs and I found myself constantly running out of screen real estate. A bigger concern for me, however, had to do with the phone’s thermals. The iPhone 12 mini gets quite warm to the touch and the handset’s temperatures spiked around the metal frame after playing games on the phone for around half an hour. Thankfully, the rising temps didn’t translate into thermal throttling on the phone and I didn’t notice any frame drops pop up during my gaming sessions.
As for software, the iPhone 12 mini boots iOS 14 which has seen a major revamp over its previous iterations. I will not go too in-depth with the software on offer, seeing how we’ve already covered it in detail in our iPhone 12 review. However, the TL;DR of iOS 14 is as follows –
- You can now add widgets to iOS 14, most of which can be resized to fit a part of your home screen.
- The latest refresh also comes with a built-in app drawer, meaning you don’t have to club unwanted apps in a ‘trash’ folder anymore and can simply remove them from the home screen.
- Despite all the improvements and enhancements, iOS 14 still plays second fiddle to Android when it comes to customisation.
Audio, haptics and Face ID
Don’t let its size fool you – the iPhone 12 mini packs a wallop in the audio department and features a stereo speaker setup that gets audaciously loud. Unsurprisingly, there’s very little depth to the beats outputted by the 12 mini’s speakers but the sheer loudness and clarity more than make up for it. In a similar fashion, I thoroughly enjoyed the haptics on Apple’s latest iPhone – the feedback was tight and concise, which paved way for a satisfying typing experience.
For biometrics, the 12 mini comes with Apple’s Face ID which in my testing, was incredibly quick to get me to my home screen. The phone did struggle to recognise my face in pitch darkness or when I was wearing a face mask. But, at other times of the day, I had no qualms with the phone’s biometric authentication.
Battery life and connectivity
I don’t want to beat around the bush at all – the iPhone 12 mini’s battery life is average, at best. During my week with the phone, I was routinely averaging around 4.5-5 hours of screen on time with the phone, with my usage including staying connected on various social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp, along with reverting to emails and some internet browsing. On the days that I did game on the phone, the battery percentage dipped much quicker. Suffice it to say, the smaller form factor of the iPhone 12 mini does come with some compromises, with the sub-par battery life being the biggest culprit.
On the connectivity front, the scenery was much better. I tested the handset on Airtel’s postpaid network in Dwarka, Delhi and the 12 Mini didn’t give me any reason to complain – the download speeds were to my satisfaction and I didn’t run into any instances of call drops either.
So, for its starting price of Rs 69,990, should you buy the iPhone 12 mini? Well, if you have been in the market for a compact flagship, then the iPhone 12 mini is your best bet. In fact, if you’ve been on the hunt for a small phone which doesn’t compromise on performance, cameras or build quality, then I’d say it’s your only option. Consequently, buyers upgrading from an iPhone 6/7/8 will feel right at home with the iPhone 12 mini.
On the other hand, if you’re solely looking to buy the iPhone 12 mini because of its relatively affordable price tag, then you might be disappointed with the phone’s middling battery life. More importantly, the handset’s USP – that being its size – is not everyone’s cup of tea and some users might feel the 12 mini’s footprint a bit limiting.
In closing, the 12 mini is a fantastic phone, and its form factor comes across as a breath of fresh air. It’s not for everyone and yet, is still one of the best phones launched in 2020.
Editor’s rating: 4.5 / 5
- Unique form factor
- Excellent performer
- Capable cameras
- Sub-par battery life
- Compact design is not for everyone