iPhone 12 mini review: This is a revelation

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iPhone 12 mini review: This is a revelation

iPhone 12 mini review: This is a revelation

Our Verdict

The iPhone 12 mini is an affordable and compact yet powerful flagship phone that is truly in a class all its own. Its not only the best small phone there is, but also one of the best smartphones and 5G values, full stop.

ForPerfect for small phone loversCapable dual camerasComprehensive 5G supportIncredible A14 Bionic powerReasonable starting priceAgainstOnly 64GB storage to startNo charger in boxBattery life shorter than other iPhone 12 models

iPhone 12 mini: Specs

Price: $729 unlocked; $699 on contractOS: iOS 14Display: 5.4-inch OLED (2340×1080)CPU: A14 BionicStorage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GBRear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)Size: 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inWeight: 4.76 oz

“How did they make it that small!?”

Thats invariably the reaction of friends and family when I show them the iPhone 12 mini. They cant process how tiny this 5.4-inch device is; they didnt know smartphones could be this small anymore.

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Truthfully, I didnt either. Small phone lover though I am, I have grown accustomed to the gargantuan size of modern flagships; an age where my 5.8-inch iPhone 11 Pro constitutes a “compact” handset, and devices like the 6.7-inch Galaxy S20 Plus that barely fit in your pocket are inexplicably the norm. The iPhone 12 mini feels like it was made for me.

My favorite thing about the iPhone 12 mini, though, isnt merely its diminutive frame; its the fact that this is essentially, pound-for-pound, the very same device as the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Ive already reviewed. You expect corners to be cut in downsized premium smartphones, yet the iPhone 12 mini never makes them. As youll see in our iPhone 12 mini review, aside from unavoidable sacrifices to battery life, this is still every bit the iPhone you want, at an even cheaper price. But its also one that lovers of the best small phones are certain to adore.

iPhone 12 mini review: Price and availability

The iPhone 12 mini starts at $699 on contract, from carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and many others. Off contract, youll pay $729. At that price, youll get 64GB of storage; spend another $50 to double that to 128GB, or another $150 for 256GB.

Buy your iPhone 12 mini from Apple, and you can save up to $250 when you trade-in another device. That’s one of the many best iPhone 12 deals we’re tracking.

You wont get a charging adapter or wired EarPods with the iPhone 12 mini, though you will get a Lightning-to-USB-C cable in the box.

Like the other iPhone 12 models, the iPhone 12 mini is built to support sub-6GHz 5G and millimeter-wave 5G (mmWave) on every network. This should mean youll get similar 5G band support no matter what iPhone 12 you buy; whatever differences you experience in 5G service will be down to each networks specific infrastructure and limitations.

iPhone 12 mini review: Design and MagSafe

I never expected Apple to release a handset small enough to make the iPhone SE look big, but then 2020 has been all about subverting expectations.

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The iPhone 12 mini has a 5.4-inch display that stretches nearly from edge to edge, impeded only by a notch. Because the screen dominates the devices surface area in the way that it does, theres far more available real estate than what the 4.7-inch SE offers, even though the iPhone 12 minis footprint is nearly three-tenths of an inch shorter and a tenth narrower. Thats quite an achievement, considering modern phones wealth of power-guzzling componentry and need for big batteries.

You almost have to relearn how to live with a device and screen this small; I found my thumbs clashing into each other more often when typing, for example. But the adjustment period isnt daunting, and as an iPhone 11 Pro owner, I have to admit theres a part of me that wants to swap out my iPhone for the 12 mini. Its just so easy to hold and reach every corner of the display.

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Aesthetically and structurally, the iPhone 12 mini is identical to the 6.1-inch iPhone 12, only smaller. You have the same flat-edge, matte aluminum design, mostly-glossy glass back and flat display protected by Apples new Ceramic Shield material that promises 4x improved shatter resistance. Cupertino has also improved water resistance yet again, as every iPhone 12 is built to withstand up to about 20 feet of submersion for a maximum of 30 minutes.

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This is a premium-looking, premium-feeling iPhone for $700, and theres almost nothing to complain about. Though, if I were forced to nitpick, Id say the notch is harder to ignore on the iPhone 12 mini. Its essentially the same size as it is on other larger models, and therefore dominates more of the minis tiny display. Nevertheless, the overall package is beautiful.

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The back of the iPhone 12 mini is where youll find Apples new MagSafe system, which can be used for wireless charging or a range of snap-on accessories, like a leather wallet attachments, sleeves, cases and so on.

Theres no significant difference in the way MagSafe operates on the 12 mini relative to other iPhones, save for the fact that Apple has reduced the phones peak charging speed over MagSafe to 12 watts, down from 15 watts on the other models. Still, because the 12 minis battery is so much smaller than those in the other models, charging speeds are likely to shake out even more on that later.

iPhone 12 mini review: Display

Apple has closed the gap between the regular and Pro iPhone models this year by offering OLED displays on all of its devices. If youre upgrading from an LCD-powered iPhone 8 or earlier, or perhaps the iPhone XR, the iPhone 12 minis screen is going to present a big leap forward.

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Just about everything looks richer on an OLED display. Colors are more vivid, while blacks especially are deeper and truer-to-life. Watching the trailer for The Kid Detective on YouTube, I was drawn to the pastiche of reds, yellows and oranges blanketing the trees of the bucolic autumn suburb in which the film is set.

One thing missing from the iPhone 12 minis display repertoire, however, is a high refresh rate. The non-Pro iPhone 12 models were likely never in the running to receive 120Hz panels, but it has to be said that similarly-priced handsets from other companies including the Google Pixel 5, the OnePlus Nord or Samsungs Galaxy S20 FE all offer 90Hz or 120Hz screens. The Galaxy S21 just $100 more than the iPhone 12 mini offers a display that dynamically adjusts its refresh rate. The iPhone 12 minis display is indeed very colorful and rich, however the overall experience of using the device feels less responsive all around on account of that traditional 60Hz limitation.

Under our light meter, the iPhone 12 minis screen registered a maximum full-screen brightness of 505 nits. Thats far from the best weve ever seen the regular iPhone 12 reached 569 nits, for example, while the Galaxy S20 FE topped out at 679 nits. If we were to wager a guess, the iPhone 12 minis peak brightness is likely curtailed a bit to eke the best possible battery life out of the devices relatively small battery. Still, its easy enough to read the display outdoors on a sunny day.

In terms of color reproduction, the iPhone 12 mini captured 117.8% of the sRGB color space and 83.4% of the wider DCI-P3 gamut, indicating hues that lean toward realism, but may seem a bit muted compared to what other handsets present out of the box. For example, the Galaxy S20 FE registered 133.3% in DCI-P3, which translates to far more saturation.

iPhone 12 mini review: Camera

Even the smallest iPhone 12 benefits from a dual-camera system, and not just any dual-camera system. This is the same slate of optics you get in the $100 more expensive iPhone 12: a 12-megapixel primary lens with an ƒ/1.6 aperture, paired with a 12MP ultrawide featuring an ƒ/2.4 aperture and 120-degree field of view.

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The main sensor is the one thats seen the most improvement for the iPhone 12 line, with Apples fastest-ever ƒ/1.6 lens contributing to a quoted 27% increase in low-light performance and a new optical image stabilization system that can perform 5,000 micro-adjustments per second. That same sensor can also capture 4K HDR video at up to 60 frames per second, or 30 frames per second with Dolby Vision processing enabled.

So what kind of photos can iPhone 12 mini owners expect from that new primary camera? I took Apples smallest flagship and the similarly-priced Pixel 5 out on a peaceful fall day to snap a pair of photos of a river, and came away impressed with the result from both for different reasons. The Pixel 5 does color in more of the river bank and hillside to the left, and the last leaves left hanging on the trees pop just a bit more. However, the iPhone 12 minis rendition is universally sharper. And though its not necessarily the focal point of the frame, the iPhones shot retains more color in the brick wall to the right as well.

Neither the iPhone 12 mini nor the Pixel 5 has a telephoto lens with optical zoom they both rely on processing to sharpen up digital zoom. Previously, this was an area where the iPhones have struggled, but Apple has definitely closed the gap with the iPhone 12 range, and so the biggest difference relates to color balancing and contrast here. Googles phone still may retain a slight advantage in sharpness with its Super Res Zoom system, but the smoke stack itself is clad in considerably more darkness and everything has a bit of a red shift to it, whereas the iPhone 12 mini better picks up the specular highlights bouncing off the brick.

The iPhone 12 mini has an especially wide ultrawide lens compared to the Pixel 5, pulling in more of the surroundings in this example. This does certainly lead to some distortion at the fringes, but the iPhone controls it well, and the result is an image with more color and deeper contrast than what Googles handset has given us here. Whats especially surprising is how Apples imaging system is able to really hone in on details like the window panes and brick texture, achieving a crispness that the Pixel 5 cant match, even though it packs a higher-resolution sensor on paper.

Improvements to Apples Night mode, along with that aforementioned new wider aperture, certainly help the iPhone 12 mini rein in more light in adverse conditions. Im impressed with how the tiny iPhone navigated this scene, which mixed extremely dark and shadowy regions with white-hot sources of light from lamps. I also prefer the warmer tone and white balance of the iPhones shot, compared to the Pixels rendition here. That said, Googles Night Sight technology is a bit better at lighting those especially dim areas, like the roof of the building immediately ahead and the brick off in the upper left. Googles still got a bit of an edge at night in my opinion, though Apples certainly done well to close the gap with this generation.

To get a sense of how the iPhone 12 minis low-light performance fares against its predecessors, I snapped another pair of images of a nearly pitch-black river, this time comparing it to my iPhone 11 Pro. There isnt much separating the two, though if you look closely, the newer iPhone dials in a bit more sharpness closest to the camera, like with the leaves in the immediate foreground and the reflection of the street lamp in the water. Throughout most of the frame, however, its clear to see Apples hasnt transformed Night Mode with this generation the differences are few and far between.

But the iPhone 12 minis greatest advantage, in my opinion, is the way it navigates selfies and portraits. Compared to Googles effort, Id be much more willing to post Apples showing here to my Instagram. Not only is the iPhones shot generally sharper, retaining more warmth in my skin tone, but it also nails those especially minute details, like the fabric of my winter hat and the texture of the tag on the front. This is Apples Deep Fusion feature at work, snapping and melding multiple exposures together to dial up the fidelity on the most intricate aspects of every scene. Look closely, and youll also notice the iPhone does a better job of isolating my hair and cap from the background bokeh as well.

iPhone 12 mini review: Performance

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are the most powerful smartphones weve ever tested at Toms Guide, and the iPhone 12 mini shares their processor the A14 Bionic. Typically, small phones are short-changed on the performance front, but the iPhone 12 mini is every bit as fast as those larger, pricier variants.

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It really doesnt matter what youre doing on the iPhone 12 mini. Whether gaming, swiping through social media or using the camera, this device never drops a bead of sweat. Asphalt 9 Legends is my graphics-pushing game of choice when I test handsets, and this little iPhone still pushes console-quality visuals at a stable framerate a rare feat for this particular title. I was especially impressed with the smoothness of the motion blur, which really heightened the immersion of racing on this tiny display.

In the system-wide Geekbench 5 multi-core test, the iPhone 12 mini totaled 4,123 points even better than the iPhone 12s 3,859 points, and certainly worlds apart from the Galaxy S20 FE (2,928) and Pixel 5 (1,617). The Galaxy S21, which came out months after the iPhone 12 mini and boasts a fast Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip, still falls short of the iPhone 12 mini’s result, with a 3,302 score.

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Likewise, in our video encoding test, where we convert a 4K clip to 1080p using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result, the iPhone 12 mini needed just 27 seconds to complete the task, compared to the Galaxy S20 FEs 1 minute and 24 seconds. The older iPhone 11 needed 46 seconds, so its not just Android phones that the A14 outperforms.

Finally, bringing it back to graphics, 3DMarks Wild Life benchmark offered yet another glimpse at the iPhone 12 minis power. Apple’s device tallied 39 frames per second in this test identical to the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, and much better than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (25 fps), OnePlus 8T (23 fps) and Pixel 5 (7 fps).

iPhone 12 mini review: 5G

Apple has gone all in on 5G for the iPhone 12 line, and that extends to the iPhone 12 mini as well. While its no longer rare to see 5G handsets for less than $700 anymore, its the iPhone 12 minis complete support of next-generation networks in all their forms that makes it a great 5G value.

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Most inexpensive or mid-range 5G phones support sub-6GHz 5G, which carries long distances across the country, but offers marginally better speeds than what LTE already delivers at best. But theres also millimeter-wave (mmWave) 5G, which is mostly reserved for dense urban areas. Millimeter-wave networks can achieve multi-gigabit downloads, so long as youre close enough to the 5G small cell node and have an unobstructed line-of-sight view.

This latter form of 5G is the kind that most cheaper 5G phones skimp out on to save costs and battery life. However, the iPhone 12 mini supports mmWave 5G on every network, and even if you buy it unlocked. That, coupled with Apples claim that this device supports more 5G bands than any other handset, makes it the most future-proofed choice for a 5G phone on the market right now. Its certainly the smallest 5G phone too, given that 5G phones tend to be larger to fit bigger batteries to offset their increased power draw.

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That said, dont expect phenomenal speeds everywhere, especially over those low-band, sub-6GHz networks. In eatsern Pennsylvania I only saw download speeds hovering around 50Mbps over AT&Ts 5G in my testing. State-of-the-art LTE Advanced networks can download five times faster than that, so the presence of a 5G indicator on your iPhones screen doesnt mean its going to be lightyears faster in every instance.

5G also can consume a lot of power, which explains one of the iPhone 12s other new features Smart Data Mode. Enabled by default, Smart Data Mode drops the device back down to LTE to consume less power, typically when background processes are running or data is being streamed when the screen is off. If you notice Smart Data Mode resulting in longer downloads or not tapping into those faster data speeds as readily as you like, you could always turn it off though, given the kinds of situations under which it operates, thats probably unlikely.

iPhone 12 mini review: Battery life and charging

With such a small frame, the iPhone 12 cant help but lose out to its brethren where battery life is concerned. Apple doesnt publish battery life figures youll have to wait for teardowns to reveal that information but we do know that the larger iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro pack 2,815-mAh units.

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The 6.1-inch iPhone 12 lasted 8 hours and 25 minutes in our battery test, where devices repeatedly load web pages over mobile data (in this case, AT&T 5G) while set to 150 nits of screen brightness. The iPhone 12 mini, on the other hand, averaged 7 hours and 28 minutes on the same network.

Any result in our test under 8 hours isnt ideal; the Pixel 5, for example, lasted two hours longer, also on 5G, likely thanks to a significantly larger 4,000-mAh battery. At one point during my testing of the 12 mini, I streamed video and briefly gamed for three straight hours, and the phones battery life dropped to 50%. This probably wont be the best device for users who really need every minute of longevity they can get during the day.

The iPhone 12 mini doesnt ship with a charger, though using Apples new 20-watt brick, we saw 60% in 30 minutes. The new MagSafe charging system, which offers peak speed of 15 watts, actually tops out at 12 watts for the iPhone 12 mini in particular. Given the smaller size of the minis battery, 12 watts should be fast enough to equal the other, larger iPhone 12 models in terms of charging times, but it is a small stipulation to be aware of nevertheless.

iPhone 12 mini review: iOS 14

All iPhone 12 models launch with iOS 14 the latest version of Apples mobile operating system that actually packs a number of sizable changes and upgrades compared to iOS 13. Most notably, the update adds support for more colorful, informative widgets that can be placed on any home screen, and introduces the App Library which organizes your apps into folders by type.

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Notifications are now more compact, obscuring less of the screen; Maps and Messages have been redesigned a bit to add extra functionality; and theres a picture-in-picture mode that allows you to watch or listen to video no matter what app youre currently using, among many other additions. For a deeper look into all of iOS 14s features, check out our iOS 14 review.

iPhone 12 mini review: Verdict

The iPhone 12 mini is exactly the kind of device I wish more phone makers had the conviction to build. In a way, it really is the most impressive member of the iPhone 12 lineup, because it does everything the larger, more expensive models do, but amazingly fits all that capability into an impossible small frame.

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As I said when the iPhone 12 mini was announced, the arrival of 5G has forced us to accept so many compromises in the phones we buy. Theyve had to become significantly bigger, to accommodate more spacious batteries and all the necessary antennas and modems to support next-generation networks (especially the mmWave kind). Theyve also had to become more expensive, to offset the cost of all these new and emerging technologies and components.

One could argue that the iPhone 12 mini isnt as great a “deal” as it may seem. Sure, it starts at $699 on contract, mind you but its also likely smaller than many consumers would be comfortable with. The majority of shoppers may flock to the 6.1-inch iPhone 12, which is notably more expensive, also starts with just 64GB of storage and also lacks a charger or wired headphones in the box.

For some discerning buyers, though, this will be exactly the iPhone theyve been waiting for, at a very agreeable price. The iPhone 12 mini answers the call for a premium small iPhone, and in doing so immediately rockets to the top of our list of the best small phones. It is an achievement of packaging, and a device without a true competitor because while there are lots of handsets under $700 these days, none are as pocketable and simultaneously powerful, with a comparable camera or 5G connectivity. So long as you can put up with a slight hit to battery life, the iPhone 12 mini is truly a phone in a class all its own.

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