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Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Small and perfectly formed

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
699
inc VAT (64GB model)

The perfect phone for those who prefer a smaller phone: wonderfully compact and a superb all-rounder

Pros 
Compact and pocket-friendly
More powerful than most flagship Android handsets
Ceramic shield glass keeps scratches at bay
Cons 
Short battery life
Still quite expensive
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Once upon a time, back in the early days of smartphones, a phone with a 5.4in display like the Apple iPhone 12 mini, was considered enormous – something you might poke fun at rather than stand in awe of. Today, with most smartphones toting displays at least six inches in size, compact handsets are a rarity; rarer still are compact phones that are as powerful and capable as their pocket-stretching counterparts.

That’s one area where the Apple iPhone 12 mini is sure to be an instant hit. I’m not one of those who yearns for the past but I acknowledge there are plenty of folk who would prefer something smaller and lighter in their pockets. The advantage the iPhone 12 mini has is that it doesn’t sacrifice camera quality and performance in the process.

Apple iPhone mini review: What you need to know

That’s the key takeaway with the iPhone 12 mini. It may be smaller and cheaper than the iPhone 12 but on most counts aside from battery life it is an equally capable phone.

It comes with the same two cameras at the rear, both of which shoot 12MP images: one is a wide angle f/1.6, the other is an ultrawide f/2.4. It uses the same 5nm Apple A14 Bionic chip and the same amount of RAM as the iPhone 12, too, at 4GB. Plus it’s made from all the same stuff as the iPhone 12, too, and is available in the same range of colours.

And there’s nothing this mini-me misses out on elsewhere, either. It’s IP68 dust and water-resistant and features the same ‘ceramic shield’ glass on the front. It has the same clever magnetic wireless MagSafe charging system as its bigger brethren and there’s 5G support as well. In fact, this is the smallest, lightest 5G phone you can buy right now.

READ NEXT: Apple iPhone 12 review - the best iPhone for most people

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Price and competition

The Apple iPhone 12 mini is the cheapest in Apple’s latest range of smartphones. It costs £699 for the model with 64GB of storage and prices rise to £749 for the 128GB model and £849 for the 256GB model. Contract prices are middling, with monthly prices starting at around £47 per month (the first six months half price at £23.50/mth) and an upfront cost of £29 for 4GB of monthly data (from Three).

It isn’t quite the cheapest iPhone, however. If you want a compact, good-value iPhone for less, the 2020 iPhone SE is available for around £399 (and around . It isn’t as powerful, only has one camera, lacks 5G support and isn’t as robust as the iPhone 12 mini, however.

On the Android side of things there isn’t anything that comes close. Sony’s evergreen Xperia Compact, which took a similar approach in squeezing cutting-edge components into a more pocket-friendly package, hasn’t had an update since the XZ2 in 2018. And there are no other major manufacturers making anything similar.

Our favourite “not massive” Android phone of the moment is the Google Pixel 4a. It costs £349, comes with cutting-edge camera technology and has a larger 5.8in display, but it can’t compete on sheer power with the iPhone 12 mini.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Design and key features

The iPhone 12 mini is effectively the iPhone 12 in miniature – just as you’d expect, really. Every physical feature is in precisely the same place, it’s just smaller; the surprising thing is how much more compact it is than the regular iPhone 12.

It measures 64.2 x 7.4 x 131.5mm (WDH) and weighs 133g, which is 10.4% more compact by volume and 18% lighter than the iPhone 12. And, despite having a larger display than the 4.7in iPhone SE, it’s significantly smaller and lighter than that phone as well. That’s thanks to the fact that the screen doesn’t have the forehead and chin bezels of the older-style SE.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. The iPhone 12 mini really does feel tiny. It’s one of the very few phones you can use comfortably one-handed and it’s the only phone I’ve used in recent times to come close to the first iPhone SE (which was, in turn, based on the design of the iPhone 5). The original 2016 iPhone SE measured 58.6 x 7.6 x 123.8mm and had a 4in display, though; the 12 mini isn’t quite that tiny.

^ The iPhone 12 mini (far left), iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone 12 (far right)

As I said above, there’s nothing this smaller iPhone lacks, aside from girth. Its IP68 dust and water resistance means you can submerge the phone in up to 6m of water for as long as 30 minutes and I’ve so far been very impressed with the Ceramic Shield glass on the front of the phone.

I’ve become used to iPhones of the past quickly picking up micro scratches. These aren’t the sort of marks that are clearly visible at first glance but they can be discerned if you turn off the phone and tilt it so it catches the light just so. The iPhone 12 Pro I’ve been using for the past month is scratch-free.

I’m also a fan of the new MagSafe charging system that remains in place on the iPhone 12 mini, not only because it makes it easier to attach the phone to a wireless charger but also because, in conjunction with the phone’s NFC reader, it enables other clever features. Clip on the brown leather MagSafe case, for example, and you get a colour-matched brown animation onscreen that confirms the phone has been clipped in securely.

And this a system that isn’t going to be restricted to just official (and expensive) Apple products. We’re already beginning to see a small cottage industry in MagSafe accessories appearing online with handy products like the Belkin car mount.

The one thing I’d have liked to see on these new iPhones is the reintroduction of Touch ID as with the excellent iPad Air. Face ID works just as well here as it always has but it would have been nice to have an alternative biometric system when we have to wear face masks so frequently these days.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Display

You’ve probably got the picture by now but, yes, the Apple iPhone 12 mini’s display is just as good as the iPhone 12’s. It’s an AMOLED screen, measuring 5.4in from corner to corner, filling the front of the phone entirely, apart from the large notch housing the handset’s True Depth camera and Face ID sensor.

Resolution is an impressive 2,340 x 1,080, delivering a sharper 476ppi than the regular iPhone 12’s 460ppi . As with previous iPhones, you also get Apple’s True Tone technology, which senses the colour temperature in your immediate surroundings and sets the white point of the screen to match it.

The display also supports the HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG HDR standards, with peak brightness of a claimed 1,200cd/m2. This matters less than it does on the larger screened iPhones, simply because you’ll probably won’t want to watch TV shows or movies quite as much on the mini, but performance is comparable. Set side by side with the iPhone 12, HDR shows on Netflix look just as good.

The display also measured up well in our technical testing. With a measured peak brightness of 640cd/m2 in auto brightness mode it’s going to be readable on the brightest of summer sunny days and its average colour accuracy Delta E score of 0.94 is also exceptionally good. This is a screen on which anything you care to watch will look wonderful, including, most importantly, photos and video shot on the phone itself.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Cameras

Which brings me neatly to the iPhone 12 mini’s twin camera array, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, also absolutely brilliant. As with the iPhone 12, you’re getting two 12MP cameras on the rear (a wide-angle and ultrawide angle) plus a 12MP “True Depth” camera at the front.

The main rear camera has a bright f/1.6 aperture and seven-element lens and the ultrawide delivers a 120-degree field of view with an aperture of f/2.4. The front camera has a slightly wider, brighter aperture of f/2.2.

The iPhone 12 mini doesn’t have the new sensor-shift OIS of the iPhone Pro 12 Max – you get regular OIS on the main camera which adjusts the lens and not the sensor behind it – but there are significant improvements from a hardware perspective over the previous-gen iPhone 11.

The seven-element lens and brighter aperture are two things that lead to sharper images overall and cleaner image capture in low light. You can also now capture Night Mode images on both the ultrawide and True Depth selfie camera, which is something you couldn’t do on the iPhone 11.

The iPhone 12 mini can also capture 10-bit Dolby Vision video, fully stabilised, at up to 30fps. The iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max can do the same but at a slicker 60fps.

As for image quality, that’s pretty much the same as you get with the iPhone 12. It isn’t a world away in terms of quality from the iPhone 11. In low light, on the main camera, you’ll see slightly better colours and a cleaner image than you did before. In good light, however, there’s not an awful lot to choose between last year’s models and the iPhone 12 mini. Not that this is a bad thing as the iPhone 11’s main camera was already pretty good.

Night mode ultrawide images are a decent upgrade, however, as proved in the below shot versus the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 mini is clearly capable of lifting more detail and colours from the scene than the older phone.

It’s a similar story with video. While Dolby Vision is a nice thing to have, improving image quality a little by brightening the image in some areas of the image, you do have to have a compatible product on which to play it back. All the cameras on this year’s iPhone 12 range are undermined by noticeable lens flare, too, which is particularly noticeable in video, where spots of reflected light can often be seen floating around a scene. 

Despite this, the iPhone 12 mini is among the best phones for video you can buy and, if you don’t worry too much about Dolby Vision and up the frame rate from 30fps to 60fps, you get full stabilisation at 4K. That’s still not something all smartphones can deliver.

READ NEXT: Apple iPhone 12 review - the best iPhone for most people

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Performance

As usual, 2020’s iPhones kick ass when it comes to performance. All, including the iPhone 12 mini, employ the same 5nm A14 Bionic chip, which includes a six-core CPU, quad-core GPU and 16-core neural processing unit. It’s also the chip seen inside the 2020 iPad Air and forms the basis for the processing power inside the Apple Silicon MacBooks. The Apple M1 processor, however, is a touch beefier with eight CPU cores and seven or eight GPU cores.

Here, the A14 Bionic is supported by 4GB of RAM, 2GB short of what you see in the iPhone 12 Pro models, not that this makes much of a difference when it comes to the overall performance:

What’s surprising is that, despite the tiny 2,227mAh battery, the iPhone 12 mini lasted as long as it did in our video rundown battery test. 14hrs 28mins isn’t a particularly special result when most flagship Android phones these days approach and exceed the 20-hour mark with regularity but it is at least a better result than the iPhone SE, which couldn’t get past 12 hours.

In real-world use, this means you’ll likely have to charge the phone every day and you may need to top it up during the evening on moderate or heavy use days. Indeed, you may have to charge it even earlier if you take the phone away from a wall socket early in the morning. That’s clearly not ideal but, if you absolutely must have a compact phone, you’re going to have to accept a compromise somewhere along the line.

Apple iPhone 12 mini review: Verdict

Battery life will, ultimately, be the deciding factor for most people. This means that the iPhone 12 will remain the most practical choice. It’s more expensive, but its bigger screen and larger battery give it the edge for me.

For the more open-minded smartphone connoisseur, there’s also a world of superb-value Android-based options at around the same price as the mini and cheaper, from the nearly-as-compact Google Pixel 4a to the larger and stupendously good-value OnePlus 8T.

However, there’s nothing quite like the iPhone 12 mini, and if you think you can put up with a shorter battery life and you desperately want or need a smaller phone, then it’s a five out of five recommendation. There isn’t anything that’s remotely as good or as small with as good a camera as this on the smartphone market today.

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