iPhone 12 mini review: The tiny phone we've been waiting for

Matthew Field
·8-min read
iPhone 12 mini review small phone
iPhone 12 mini review small phone

The launch of Apple’s iPhone 4 in 2010 was viewed as the company's most successful iPhone release ever. 

Considered the cutting edge of phones at the time, the tiny device with a 3.5-inch display blew reviewers away with its cameras and screen quality, despite not having 4G.

Technology has  moved on considerably in the last decade. The new iPhone 12 mini, Apple’s smallest release in its new line-up, comes with 5G, powerful twin cameras, an advanced chip and an edge-to-edge screen. 

But in terms of looks,  Apple’s new iPhone 12 mini with its square edges and aluminium sides, harks back to Apple’s early line-up. 

People have been calling for a return to a smaller iPhone form for some time now. As smartphones getting to as large as 7-inches in screen size, it has become increasingly hard for anyone to use a device with one hand, let alone fit it into a pocket without risking a cracked screen. 

The device creating the most excitement out of Apple’s new quartet of devices is the 12 mini. But after years of supersize phones, can small still be mighty?

Where the 12 mini fits

Apple announced four new iPhones last month, creating a huge array of devices for you to get your head around. The main flagship is the iPhone 12 Pro, which we reviewed here. This has a triple rear camera and the most powerful specs of the new line-up. This week, it is also launching its big brother, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has a huge 6.7-inch screen. 

The standard device on offer is the iPhone 12. The 12 mini is the smallest in the new range, with Apple able to claim at its launch the mantel of offering the smallest, lightest 5G phone on the market.

In addition, Apple launched the iPhone SE earlier this year, which I reviewed here, another small phone with a 4.7-inch screen. 

Explained: Apple's new iPhone 12 range
Explained: Apple's new iPhone 12 range

Who is the iPhone 12 mini for?

The iPhone 12 mini slots into this range as the high-powered phone for people who want a small device. It features a 5.4-inch screen and can sit cupped in one hand comfortably. It is even lighter than Apple’s iPhone SE, at just 133g, while coming with the same specs as the iPhone 12.

After so long using phones with 6-inch screens and larger, it can even feel a little cramped on the home screen when typing away. 

However, for people who have been craving a small iPhone, after years of Silicon Valley pandering to big screen enthusiasts, this is the ideal device. 

In particular, it will benefit women who have increasingly been pushed towards buying huge handsets that are frankly impossible for someone with a smaller palm size to hold in one hand.

Here’s what else is different about the iPhone 12 mini

Powerful chip: It has Apple’s latest A14 chip, which Apple says is 50pc faster than any of its previous phones.

Smaller screen: With a 5.4-inch edge-to-edge screen, it is the smallest of Apple’s most powerful iPhone range. 

Display: The 12 mini comes with an OLED screen that makes writing appear sharper with deeper colours, all in all it is easier to read.

Ceramic shield: Apple’s new display material for its screen, a compound make of tiny ceramic and glass parts that make it harder to smash - I haven’t had the guts to try it.

Magsafe: Possibly the most nifty change for the new iPhone that you can’t find on any other device is a magnetic charging plate on the rear that can connect to wireless charging pads or peripherals.

iPhone 12 mini: power and camera

One area that you might think this smaller device would start to lose ground on its bigger chums is in power, but Apple’s new A14 chip appears to work just as smoothly in this smaller device. 

A couple of rounds of Among Us online zipped through without a hitch. Apple Arcade game Outlanders, a world building game, was smooth and looks great on the OLED screen. 

The camera is also impressive and is effectively the same set up as on the regular iPhone 12 model. The dual 12MP camera comes with features including Night Mode and high dynamic range - essentially improving the number of colours you can pick out in a single shot - but lacks a couple of the more advanced features on the iPhone 12 Pro. It has a double rear camera, but no lens for advanced zooming or Lidar laser scanner. For most people, this won’t make much difference.

Video recording has received a notable boost, with the 12 mini packing the ability to shoot in film-like quality Dolby Vision.

iPhone mini
iPhone mini
Night Mode
Night Mode

 

Battery life is down slightly on the larger iPhone models, simply because you cannot squeeze as much into the small frame. Apple estimates you will get 15 hours of video playback, versus 17 on the larger iPhone 12. 

The only snag in its specs is that the base device comes with 64GB of storage, although it is £100 cheaper than the regular iPhone 12. That may seem like a lot but could quickly fill up. 

5G: watch this space

Apple has made big promises about the speed of 5G. This new data mode should allow you to download films faster, stream more easily on the go, and even play online games with low refresh times on your phone.

All its new phones, from the 12 Pro to the mini, come with 5G modem chips that can connect to 5G networks. 

Apple has promised users theoretical speeds of up to 4 gigabits per second with 5G, but you are very unlikely to find such speeds here in the UK. Most likely, you will find 150 to 300 megabits per second under normal circumstances.

But service is still patchy. For instance, my flat is a good 20 minute walk from any 5G coverage, making a mix of Wi-Fi and 4G still my go to. In rural areas, 5G coverage may well be non-existent for the time being.

Even if you do find yourself in a 5G hotspot, there are still some questions about what the real benefit to a user is. While 4G heralded in the arrival of a host of once impossible smartphone apps like Uber, there are not yet really any killer apps for 5G. 

The real benefit is likely to be fairly intangible - that there is just more data to go around, meaning network speeds improve in the round. But that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

One more thing: Magsafe

Possibly the most fun addition to Apple’s new phones is a new way of charging your device and adding extra peripherals and hardware, Magsafe.

This is essentially a hidden magnet on the rear of all the new iPhones set up for wireless charging. It means the new iPhone clips on magnetically to its new wireless charging pad, so it can’t easily slip off.

I also tried out another accessory, a physical leather wallet that can clip to the back of your iPhone. Useful for carrying a credit, Oyster or gym card with you if you need one out and about. All these magnetic clips work with the latest iPhone cases. Magsafe also works with NFC chips so the phone can communicate with the device clipped to its back.

One gripe about the new Magsafe charger is that the default cable it comes with is a little short: it didn’t even reach up to my desk. The charger also costs £39 on its own. 

Another thing to note in these new phones is none of them come with a wall plug or headphones. If you’ve had an Apple device in the last two years you won’t care, but for those with older phones, these devices charge using a USB-C to lightning cable, something you may not own. The wall plug costs £19.

iPhone 12 mini vs 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 mini vs 12 Pro Max

Verdict

The iPhone 12 mini is filling a gap many have been waiting for: a small but powerful iPhone.

It has almost identical features to the regular iPhone 12, but squeezed into a smaller package. In that regard, the iPhone 12 mini succeeds in filling a much-needed niche.

There are, however, some reasons this is not a phone for everyone. I found my fingers creeping back towards my phone with a larger screen when I was using the 12 mini. If you are used to a powerful phone for games or watching video, you might want a bigger screen. 

In a year or two, 5G signals will be everywhere in the UK, but right now connectivity is very patchy. There is also nothing Apple can do about it right now, but Covid and masks have made Face ID on phones a complete pain to use. A fingerprint scanner or Iris scanning may be necessary going forward.

And at £699, while it is the cheapest of Apple’s new premium range of devices, if you just wanted a small but basic phone, the iPhone SE is £200 cheaper. 

Still, I suspect Apple’s return to more hand-friendly devices will be a big hit. So long phablets and hand-cramp, the age of the tiny phone is back.

Pros: 

Fits in the palm of your hand. Diminutive and lightweight, easy to slip into a pocket and forget about it

Packs the power and camera capability of the larger iPhone 12 for £100 less

Magsafe could provide new exciting peripherals, such as camera mounts or tripods

Cons:

One size doesn’t fit all - some users may prefer a slightly larger screen

5G in the UK remains patchy

No charger out of the box - costing you another £19