The Apple iPhone 13 mini is a pocket powerhouse that comes with better battery life, a better camera and twice the storage
- Twice the storage
- Slightly better cameras
- Improved battery life
- Lens flare is still a problem
- No 120Hz display
The iPhone 13 mini is the cheapest and smallest handset in Apple’s iPhone 13 range. It has a screen that measures a mere 5.4in across the diagonal and it’s even smaller and lighter than the iPhone SE (2020).
And yet, despite its diminutive size – and unlike the iPhone SE – the iPhone 13 mini is nearly as powerful and capable as the biggest, most expensive phones Apple sells. That’s the key to the iPhone 13 mini’s appeal. It delivers the power and capabilities you’d expect from a high-end phone but in a package that’s much smaller and easier on the pocket than most flagships.
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Apple iPhone 13 mini review: What you need to know
For some users, that’s critical and it makes the iPhone 13 mini somewhat of a unique proposition. No other major manufacturer makes a phone this small, powerful and feature-packed; and, where you can find smaller phones, you’re usually restricted to those with slower chipsets, mediocre displays and uninspiring cameras.
This much was true in 2020, however, so what has changed this year with the 13 mini? Aside from a new pink colour, which you see pictured in this review, there’s not been the same kind of dramatic overhaul that we saw in 2020. The iPhone 13 mini adopts the same flat-edged look as last year’s phone and, at first glance, it looks pretty much the same beyond a few small tweaks.
The notch housing the front camera is slightly narrower (although Apple has done nothing with the extra screen space this affords), the body of the phone is a tiny bit thicker and the camera housing is bulkier, with lenses that are now arranged on the diagonal instead of stacked vertically.
That bigger camera housing hides an improved main camera with a larger sensor, accompanied by a similar ultrawide camera to last year. Elsewhere, there’s a performance upgrade from the Apple A14 Bionic chipset to the A15 Bionic and the other big change is to the battery, which has a higher capacity. Don’t expect transformatively better stamina, however: last year’s mini had poor battery life and this year it’s only just acceptable.
Oh, and Apple has also found it in its heart to endow the iPhone 13 mini with a brighter display, with typical peak brightness increased to a quoted 800 nits.
Apple iPhone 13 mini review: Price and competition
Prices are different for this year’s mini as well and, more significantly, you’re getting double the storage. The 64GB base allocation has been abandoned in favour of a far more generous 128GB at a price of £679, while the 128GB model moves up to 256GB (£779) and the top tier iPhone 13 mini now comes with 512GB for £979.
As I’ve mentioned, the smallest size most other manufacturers seem to opt for on flagship phones is 6in, so as a premium, compact 5.4in phone, the iPhone 13 mini stands alone. Indeed, the only realistic alternatives based on size and weight are last year’s iPhone 12 mini – still on sale at £579 for the 64GB version, £629 for the 128GB version – or the iPhone SE (2020).
The latter is much cheaper at £389 for the 64GB model (or £439 for 128GB) but it’s less powerful and has shorter battery life, is slightly larger with a smaller, lower-quality screen, and it lacks the iPhone 13 mini’s ultrawide rear camera.
Apple iPhone 13 mini review: Display
The question is, does the mini justify the extra price you’re paying over the 12 or should you just stick with last year’s phone? Let’s start with the display which, as last year, is a wide gamut OLED unit with fantastically vibrant colours and stupendous, effectively perfect contrast.
It measures 5.4in across the diagonal, has a resolution of 1,080 x 2,340 for a pixel density of 476ppi (slightly higher than the iPhone 13’s 460ppi) and it supports all the important HDR standards: HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision. This year’s “big” upgrade surrounds peak brightness in everyday use, which has received a boost to 800 nits from 625 nits; the maximum of 1,200 nits in HDR video playback remains unchanged.
This is a great screen and the testing measurements back this up. I measured peak everyday brightness at 804cd/m2 (candela per square metre, a measurement unit equivalent to nits). Colour accuracy within the sRGB colour gamut was exceptional as it always is with iPhones, reaching an average delta E colour variance score of 0.9.
And HDR content looks great with searing specular highlights and a natural yet vibrant rendition of colours across the board. I measured peak brightness in HDR mode at 1,170cd/m2, a reading that’s also not far off matching up with Apple’s claims of 1,200cd/m2.
This is all good stuff but, if I’m being honest, the screen isn’t a huge upgrade on the iPhone 12 mini, especially since you’ll only really benefit from that extra brightness when it’s very, very sunny outside.
The one disappointment is that the iPhone 13 mini, just like the regular iPhone 13, doesn’t get a 120Hz display; it’s capped at 60Hz. That is a major shortcoming in my view, especially since even very cheap Android handsets now come with high refresh displays. I expect to see this change in 2022, so those wanting a cheaper iPhone with a 120Hz display may want to hold off on upgrading until next year.
Apple iPhone 13 mini review: Performance and battery life
Next up: performance, which receives a boost in 2021 from a move to Apple’s latest chip, the A15 Bionic. This predictably lifts benchmark performance over last year’s iPhone mini 12 and, as with the iPhone 13, graphics performance is faster, too. It isn’t as quick as the iPhone 13 Pro, however, which has an extra GPU core.
In short, the iPhone 13 mini is a very powerful phone that’s very nearly as quick as its larger, much more expensive stablemates. The lack of that 120Hz display does make it feel less sprightly and slick than the iPhone 13 Pro, but the raw power is a match for pretty much any other smartphone on sale today, as you can see by the comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Battery life is actually pretty good, too, considering the compact nature of the phone. It lasted 15hrs 17mins in our testing, which is a decent notch longer than last year’s iPhone 12 mini, which lasted 14hrs 49mins in the same test. You’ll still need to charge the phone at the end of every day if you want it to last you the next day as well, but the extra bit of stamina is welcome nonetheless.
Apple iPhone 13 mini review: Cameras
I’m not going to bang on about the cameras in too much depth because you’re getting exactly the same stuff as the iPhone 13. If you want to read about the cameras in a bit more detail, click here and fill your boots.
In summary, though, you have a pair of cameras on the rear of the iPhone 13 mini: one ultrawide f/2.4 (with a 120-degree field of view) and a main f/1.6 camera with sensor-shift stabilisation. Sensor-shift is the smartphone equivalent of the IBIS (in body image stabilisation) tech you get in ‘proper’ cameras, where the sensor moves to compensate for hand shake instead of the lens.
Both of the iPhone 13 mini’s cameras capture 12MP images and 4K video at up to 60fps in Dolby Vision and, this year, in addition to the sensor-shift stabilisation, the sensor is larger on the main camera, too.
The difference this all makes is fairly minor, however. The iPhone 12 mini took cracking photographs and so does the iPhone 13 mini. In low light, there is a difference but it’s small. If you zoom right into darker areas you can see that the iPhone 13 mini’s shots are a little cleaner and have less noise but you have to look quite hard.
What’s more, the camera is afflicted with the same weaknesses as before. It still has major issues with internal reflections and lens flare – to the point where if your photo has a bright neon sign in the photo, you can clearly see it reflected, in reverse, elsewhere in the frame.
The iPhone 13 mini does have a couple of new camera features up its sleeve: Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode (note that only the Pro phones have the superb Macro mode this year). Photographic Styles is a way to switch between different types of overall look for a photo – you can choose between Standard, Cool, Warm, Vibrant and Rich Contrast – without messing with skin tones or turning key things like the blue or grey sky a weird colour. It works quite well but it’s hardly groundbreaking.
Less useful is Cinematic Mode, which is like a Portrait mode for video. It uses facial recognition to isolate and apply a fake background blur behind whoever you’re filming and, in automatic mode, it can switch the “focus point” automatically as one person turns away from the camera to another person in the frame.
When you see this working for the first time, it’s very impressive; the problem is, it only really works reliably when you set it up in this way. If someone doesn’t clearly face away from the camera when another person starts talking, the focus point won’t change at all.
You can edit video clips captured using Cinematic Mode and manually change the focus point after you’ve captured a scene, which is actually more useful, but I can’t escape the feeling that this is a feature you’re going to use once and then forget about. It’s also worth noting that Cinematic Mode is restricted to 1080p at 30fps, due to the intensive nature of the image processing involved.
In summary, then, what you’re looking at here is another incremental improvement. The cameras are still very good on the iPhone 13 mini, and low light performance is slightly improved but you’re not going to see significantly better shots than those the iPhone 12 mini produces.
Apple iPhone 13 mini: Verdict
If you were to list all the improvements the iPhone 13 mini brings with it, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a major step forwards. In reality, however, as with most phone upgrades these days, you’re looking at a fairly small progression.
Yes, the battery life is better and so is the camera, while the bright display will be of benefit to those living in sunny climes. Overall, though, these won’t make a huge difference to your day-to-day life with this phone. If you already own an iPhone 12 mini, I wouldn’t recommend you make the effort to upgrade.
On the other hand, if you’ve decided a small, powerful smartphone is what you absolutely need and you’re deciding between the two, then the iPhone 13 mini is the obvious choice. For not much more than the iPhone 12 it offers all the benefits stated above with the bonus of a double helping of storage.