iPhone 12 Mini review: Apple gave us the small phone we've been asking for
Move over, iPhone SE. This small iPhone is a one-handed phone user's dream.
Updated Dec. 23, 2020 9:26 a.m. PT
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Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Obviously when you make anything smaller, there are going to be trade-offs and I braced myself wondering which features Apple sacrificed to make a small phone in 2020. But the iPhone 12 Mini has everything the iPhone 12 has -- it's just smaller. It has the same flat-sided design, support for
and OLED screen with support for HDR. The screen is covered with Apple's ceramic shield. The body has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance and supports MagSafe wireless charging and accessories. It has the same A14 Bionic processor, runs the same
software and even has the same cameras. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are the same phone. But one is small and one isn't.
The iPhone 12 Mini has a 5.4-inch display and costs $729 (£699, AU$1,199) while the iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch screen and costs $829 (£799, AU$1,349). If you activate either phone on a carrier when you buy it, that price drops $30. Also, carriers are running a number of deals and discounts on these phones, especially if you trade in an old phone.
Earlier, I did an in-depth review of the iPhone 12. Since this is the same phone, all of those criticisms apply. So for this iPhone 12 Mini review, I wanted to see if the convenience its size provides comes at the sacrifice of features I've grown accustomed to on larger phones, such as an all-day battery life. Spoiler alert: It doesn't and easily earns CNET's Editors' Choice.
Watch this: iPhone 12 Mini review: There's a lot to like for a phone so small
Overall, the small physical size, the swipe-friendly navigation in iOS 14 and high screen-to-body ratio make this compact phone nearly perfect... for me. But it might not be for you. That small screen is great for one-handed use, but you might not find it great for reading, or viewing documents. There will be many people who find the keys on the onscreen keyboard too tiny. And that's why there's the iPhone 12 and
iPhone 12 Pro Max
Still, Apple nailed the iPhone 12 Mini. It's a one-handed phone user's dream. And it's good to see Apple go so big on a phone so small.
The iPhone 12 Mini is actually small
With flat aluminum sides and a glossy glass back, the iPhone 12 Mini looks like a premium version of the iPhone 5, which is absolutely a good thing. In fact, it isn't much bigger than an iPhone 5 and it's smaller than the 2020 iPhone SE. The 12 Mini has a much higher screen-to-body ratio than the SE, which is great for watching videos or just having more information displayed on screen, like extra conversation threads in the Messages app.
The glass back picks up fingerprint smudges and dust ridiculously easily. If you're going to put this in a case, it's no biggie. But without one, you're basically carrying around your own personal CSI: Miami crime scene.
As with the rest of the iPhone 12 family, you'll either love or hate those boxy sides. I think they're wonderful, especially on a phone this size. The sides give me a secure grip on the phone without even trying. The flat edges also mean you can stand the 12 Mini on its side to take a photo or watch a video.
Compared to the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, the display looks tiny, especially next to the 6.7-inch screen on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. For some, that small screen will be a reason to stick with the 12. But for others, like me, the small display is the main reason to get the 12 Mini. Using my thumb in a windshield-wiper motion, I can reach every part of the screen. It's satisfying. On even a slightly larger phone like last year's iPhone 11 Pro (which has a 5.8-inch screen and isn't that much bigger) I couldn't reach every part of the screen. And if I tried reaching the top, I either had to strain my thumb or loosen my grip and inevitably drop my phone.
There's a clever software band aid in iOS to assist with one-handed use called Reachability. You swipe down on the bottom edge of the screen and what was at the top of the display moves to the middle so you can reach it. That mode works well but can be tedious when you have multiple interactions in a row with the top of the screen.
The iPhone 12 Mini's petite size means it has natural reachability. You can use iOS Reachability on the iPhone 12 Mini, however, which is meta.
Watch this: We unbox the iPhone 12 Mini and size it up with the iPhone 5 and SE
I found one-handed typing on the 12 Mini faster and more accurate than when I typed on a larger screen one-handed. During my week with the iPhone 12 Mini, I hardly made any mistakes typing. My friends who normally receive a regular stream of typos and corrections in our message threads must have thought I'd finally learned how to type.
CNET's Vanessa Hand-Orellana once told me a phone isn't truly small unless it has "pocketability." The pockets on my clothes fit most phones comfortably, but I realize there are many people whose clothes don't have pockets and when they do, those pockets can be tiny. To test the iPhone 12 Mini, I found the smallest pocket in my household, which was the inner pocket on a pair of jeans. (Fun fact: It's called a watch pocket.) The iPhone 12 Mini got mixed results. It fitted into the pocket, but the top stuck out. For the record, I don't know of any mainstream phone sold today that can fit into a watch pocket.
There's big camera power in the tiny iPhone 12 Mini
Lucky for us, the 12 Mini's pocketability doesn't come at the expense of camera hardware. In fact, the 12 Mini has the same wide, ultrawide and selfie cameras found on the iPhone 12. They capture excellent photos and video and consistently deliver terrific images. The Mini can even record videos up to 4K 60 frames per second and up to 4K 30 fps in Dolby Vision.
Having all of this camera power packaged into such a small device had a curious consequence: I used it more. The 12 Mini is much more inconspicuous than taking a photo or video with a larger phone like the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
It's easy to take photos and record videos one-handed. The phone nestles between my pinky and index fingers, allowing my thumb to maneuver the iOS camera app. I appreciated the quick settings drawer next to the shutter button. It allowed me to easily adjust exposure, aspect ratio and even the length of time for a Night Mode shot all one-handed.
Check out some photos I took with the 12 Mini below.
The iPhone 12 Mini is the smallest 5G phone
Apple managed to build the same 5G antennas from the 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max into the 12 Mini. Currently, the iPhone 12 Mini is the smallest 5G phone you can buy. I tested it in Greenville, South Carolina, on both
5G network and
Nationwide 5G. The consistency of 5G speeds weren't consistent.
Using the app SpeedTest, the iPhone 12 Mini on T-Mobile recorded download speeds between 2.53 and 14.9 megabits per second, while on Verizon it got between 48.7 and 104Mbps for downloads. For reference, the average download speed in the US on a home broadband connection is 135Mbps.
iPhone 12 Mini looks like a premium iPhone 5 and that's a good thing
A small phone means a small battery life -- sort of
If there's one consequence of having a small phone, it's battery life. Apple doesn't share the size of the batteries in its phones. But it's obvious that the 12 Mini has a smaller battery than the 12 or 12 Pro. You wouldn't expect a two-seat convertible car to hold as much gas as an SUV, and the same applies here with battery life.
During the week I used it, the iPhone 12 Mini got good battery life for its size. The 12 Mini made it through a day of regular use with no problem. I ran a battery test playing a looped video while the phone was in airplane mode. Apple's website states the 12 Mini should last 15 hours. In my test it lasted 14 hours, 48 minutes.
The iPhone 12 Mini has the same A14 processor as of the iPhone 12 family. In use the phone was peppy and fast. Animations looked smooth. The camera opened fast. Editing photos was easy. Gameplay was smooth though sometimes the 12 Mini did get warm after a few minutes.
MagSafe for the Mini
Even though it's the smallest iPhone you can buy, the 12 Mini is built for Apple's MagSafe wireless charging system. Magnets inside the phone and charger nestle them into an ideal position for the most efficient charge. Having MagSafe on a phone this small was fantastic. I could see buying a MagSafe charger and
along with the Mini for an ultimate minimalist phone setup.
I did try out Apple's $129 MagSafe leather sleeve, which looks really cool. There's a little window for a quick peek at the time. It even has a wrist strap and a shield pocket to hold a few credit cards or ID. The leather sleeve made the phone bulky, which I didn't like. Though I can definitely envision people having the leather sleeve for their phone and putting a few credit cards in it for going out… whenever we get to do that again.
iPhone 12 specs compared to iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max