Apple iPhone 12 Mini review: Proof big things can come in small packages

iphone-12-mini1.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular
  • $699.99

Pros

  • Strong performance
  • Photo quality is fantastic
  • OLED display
  • Small design

Cons

  • Battery life might be an issue for some
  • 5G support isn't widely available to benefit everyone
iPhone 12 models compared: 8 key differences you need to consider

Apple released four new iPhone 12 models in a total of three different sizes. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro both have a screen size of 6.1-inches, while the larger iPhone 12 Pro Max comes in at 6.7-inches; the largest for any iPhone model to date. 

The smallest of the bunch, the $699 iPhone 12 Mini, has a display size of just 5.4-inches. Yes, it's smaller than the iPhone SE, which has a 4.7-inch screen. 

Apple sent me all four iPhone 12 models to test. After using the iPhone 12 Pro, I decided to live with the iPhone 12 Mini as my main phone for about a week. And you know what? After the initial shock of downsizing to a smaller device, I found it to be every bit as good as the iPhone 12 Pro, except for two things: Battery life and camera, but even then, it's close. 

I'm not going to focus on some aspects of the iPhone 12 Mini that overlap with the iPhone 12 Pro, like 5G. The experience on both phones, for me, is the same -- AT&T hasn't launched 5G in southern Colorado. If you want more of my thoughts about 5G, read my iPhone 12 Pro review

apple-iphone-12-lineup.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Design

The entire iPhone 12 lineup uses the same flat-edge design, a pseudo throwback to the iPhone 4. On the right edge, near the bottom, you'll find a cutout that looks a lot like the Apple Pencil 2 charging pad found on the iPad Pro and iPad Air. But it's not for the Pencil, instead, it's a cutout of the mmWave 5G antenna. Just above that is the side button, used to wake and lock the phone. On the opposite edge is Apple's traditional mute switch and the volume up/down buttons. 

Apple didn't make the switch to USB-C ports on the iPhone 12, so you'll find a Lightning port on the bottom of the phone once again this year. 

Top ZDNET Reviews

The iPhone 12 Mini is available in black, white, blue, green and red. Storage options include 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. I do wish Apple had made 128GB the starting storage amount for the non-Pro models, especially with all of Apple's services like Arcade and TV+ with downloadable content. 

As previously mentioned, the 12 Mini has a 5.4-inch display. Apple is using its Super Retina XDR displays across the entire iPhone 12 lineup, instead of limiting the arguably superior screens to the Pro models. 

On the back of the 12 Mini you'll find two cameras. A 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera and a 12-megapixel wide camera. Both cameras take advantage of Apple's Deep Fusion technology to capture more detail, record HDR Dolby Vision 4K video, and can be used to capture night mode photos. 

The key feature of the Mini, of course, is its size. It measures 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29-inches and weighs 4.76 ounces. As a comparison, the 2020 version of the iPhone SE measures 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29-inches and weighs 5.22 ounces. As a reminder, the iPhone SE has a display of 4.7-inches, as well as a home button and a large bezel along the top where the front-facing camera and speaker are found. 

The iPhone 12 Mini's 5.4-inch display goes nearly edge to edge, save for the notch cutout at the top where Apple's TrueDepth camera system that enables Face ID is found. Apple hasn't talked about any speed improvements or changes to Face ID, but it does feel faster across the entire iPhone 12 lineup; perhaps something that the A14 Bionic processor enabled. 

My favorite aspect of the 12 Mini is how easily it fits into my pocket. On more than one occasion I found myself frantically looking for the Mini on my desk, only to realize it was still in my pocket. But after using the iPhone 11 Pro Max for the past year, I was used to knowing when my phone was still in my pocket -- namely because it was ready to fall out nearly all the time. 

iphone-12-mini2.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Performance and battery life

I try to avoid reading any reviews before I have a chance to thoroughly test a device, but I still see headlines in Feedly or on Twitter. So going into my review of the iPhone 12 Mini, I knew that battery life was a common complaint. It makes sense: The Mini is smaller, therefore has a smaller battery, but still powers Apple's A14 Bionic processor and an OLED display. And for the first couple of days, I was disappointed in the Mini's battery life. 

I would see the 20-percent warning pop up around 5 p.m., and a few hours later the Mini would be ready to power down. After the second day of use, I checked the Battery settings to see if there was an errant app causing the excess drain and saw that Photos was using up a lot of juice in the background. 

After investigating some more, I realized that the Photos app was still trying to index my iCloud Photos library -- something that normally happens overnight as you charge your phone. That night as I put the Mini on a MagSafe charger, I opened the Photos app and tapped on the Resume button to ensure that it finished the process while the phone charged. 

With the sync finished in the morning, battery life was almost on par with the iPhone 12 Pro. Meaning it would get through a full day of use for me, but just barely. If I were traveling or out of the house, where charging isn't easily accessible, battery life would be something on my mind with the Mini, however, it's not a deal-breaker. 

According to iFixit's teardown, the 12 Mini has a 2,227mAh battery, while the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro share a 2,815mAh battery. The 12 Mini is also limited to 12W of wireless charging through a MagSafe adapter, while the other iPhone 12 models all charge at 15W. 

iphone-12-mini-picture-sample.jpg

No matter which iPhone 12 model I end up buying, I'm using it as my main camera going forward. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

As for performance, the iPhone 12 Mini is just as impressively fast and responsive as the Pro is. But that's not really a surprise, since the entire iPhone 12 lineup shares the same core design, inside and out. 

The main differences between all four models comes down to the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 lacking a Lidar sensor and telephoto camera found in the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, and the housing of the former pair is made of aluminum instead of stainless steel as we see in the Pro models. 

One consistent bug I've seen across all four models is that often when I begin typing in the Messages app, the first 10 keystrokes or so don't show up for a second or two. I have to actually stop typing, wait until the phone catches up, and then continue typing. The rest of the conversation is fine unless I leave the app for a while and then come back. It's a weird bug, but hopefully, one Apple fixes in an update. 

Otherwise, the iPhone 12 Mini's performance is on par with the 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. 

iphone-12-pro-max-vs-iphone-12-mini.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Bottom line

Ultimately, the iPhone 12 Mini isn't for me, simply because I want it to have the same camera versatility as the Pro models. But even then, the camera takes clear and crisp photos that almost anyone would be happy with. 

Battery life should only be a concern if you're a frequent traveler or someone who lives on their phone. 

If you despise large phones and look forward to the day the trend of larger displays vanishes, then the iPhone 12 Mini is for you. By the end of my week of testing, I found myself truly enjoying the pocketable size of the Mini. I know I'm dreaming of the day Apple makes a small iPhone with a three-camera array and Lidar sensor.

Specifications

Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type smartphone
Navigation BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS, Galileo, QZSS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified, Verizon Wireless
Operating System Family iOS
Payment Technology Apple Pay
Intelligent Assistant Siri
SIM Card Type Electronic SIM card (e-SIM), nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty dual-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Details
SAR Value 1.09 W/kg (body), 1.16 W/kg (head)
Body Color Blue, Black
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, 3-axis gyro sensor, digital compass, barometer
Additional Features AirDrop function, Audio zoom function, MIMO technology, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, QuickType keyboard, Night Shift, Apple TV support (2nd or later), FaceTime audio, Next-generation Neural Engine, Apple MagSafe, Express Transit cards with power reserve, 4K HDR AirPlay Mirroring, FaceTime HD (1080p), RTT/TTY compatible
Security Devices Face ID
Miscellaneous
Compliant Standards IEC 60529 IP68, HAC (Hearing Aid Compatible)
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Included Accessories Lightning to USB-C cable
Communications
Data Transmission DC-HSDPA, EV-DO, FDD-LTE, HSPA+, TDD-LTE, VoLTE, VoWiFi
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
Processor
Type Apple A14 Bionic
Manufacturer Apple
Processor Core Qty 6-core
Display
Technology Super Retina XDR Display
Pixel Density (ppi) 476
Contrast Ratio 2000000:1
Diagonal Size 5.4 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13.7 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.4 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Australian English, Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, French Canadian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, UK English, US English, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Features Edge-to-Edge screen, True Tone display
Manufacturer Warranty
Service & Support Limited warranty - 1 year
Technical support - consulting - 90 days
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards M-JPEG, H.264, HEVC, MPEG-4 Part 2, HEIF
Supported Digital Audio Standards Audible, MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AC-3, AAC-LC, LPCM, HE-AAC, Audible AAX, Audible AAX+, protected AAC, EAC3, HE-AAC v2
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Battery
Technology Lithium ion
Run Time Details Playback (video): up to 15 hrs
Playback (streamed video): up to 10 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 50 hrs
Fast Charging Technology Apple fast charging technology
Wireless Charging Yes
Digital Camera
Special Effects Natural
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices Face ID
Additional Features AirDrop function, Apple TV support (2nd or later), Audio zoom function, MIMO technology, Night Shift, QuickType keyboard, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC-LC, AC-3, Apple Lossless, Audible, Audible AAX, EAC3, FLAC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, LPCM, MP3, protected AAC
Supported Digital Video Standards H.264, HEIF, HEVC, M-JPEG, MPEG-4 Part 2
Sound Enhancements Dolby Atmos sound technology, Dolby Digital Plus sound, Dolby Digital sound
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 12 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Features Animoji, Auto image stabilization
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Top ZDNET Reviews

Where To Buy

Apple iPhone 12 Mini (64GB, Black)

Part Number: MG6K3LL/A