REVIEW: Apple iPhone 12 mini
Who says bigger is always better?
Oh no, we're not done yet. After running through three of the iPhone 12 quartet, it seems fitting that we'd like to end the 2020 cycle on a big note... with the smallest of the lot.
When it became clear months ago that Apple was going to launch a small — really small — iPhone this year, questions were raised on how it's going to hold up against the rest of the pack. And now we have the answer.
The iPhone 12 mini can easily be equated to the great-things-come-in-small-packages adage. Yes, looks can be deceiving, and while we already knew that it was really a smaller version of the iPhone 12 on paper, experiencing it makes the difference — and it quite took away that scepticism. Let's go.
TALE OF THE TAPE
As you can see, it's a dead heat, save for the obvious difference in size. And we decided against comparing the 12 mini to the second-generation iPhone SE, since the latter was positioned as a budget device.
As its names suggests, this is a small smartphone, and it will remind you if iPhones of several years past. We've heard a lot of comments about it once it was in people's hands, but practically the universal descriptions for it are 'wow, it's so cute!' and 'it's like a toy!'
But this 'cute toy' ain't fooling around: Save for literally a couple of main specs (as shown above), this is also a beast.
Heck, it's so cute that it's even smaller than the already diminuitive second-gen SE — and it still has the bigger screen.
It's so easy to fit in your hand and can be safely tucked into a bag or purse. However, if you're clumsy-dumsy, you could easily misplace it, especially if you're used to bigger phones. Not a clear-and-present danger; just saying.
One minor thing is about the notch. If you look closely, it has the same size just like the rest of those in the iPhone notch family.
And upon even closer inspection, that in turn eats up a considerable portion atop. We took the liberty of whipping out an old-fashioned ruler and, based on our calculations, the notch practically takes away five per cent of the screen, considering the slimmer displays on either side of the notch. You will, however, still see the time/network operator name on the left and the signal/Wi-Fi strength and battery level on the right, albeit cramped.
In any case, its 5.4-inch display is pleasantly bright, also boasting a 2,000,000-to-1 contrast ratio, 1200 nits and everything Dolby.
Again, the 12 mini is a literally downsized version of the iPhone 12. The findings in our iPhone 12 review indeed hold up here, but to recap:
• A14 Bionic: Apple's new chipset, the world's first 5nm processor on a smartphone with over 11 billion transistors. Makes the 12 mini up to 50 per cent faster in terms of performance and graphics
• New Neural Engine: More cores, making it 80 per cent faster and can crunch 11 trillion processes in a second, enough to challenge even laptop performance
• iOS 14: A new App Library, more customisable widgets that you can drag onto homescreens, a minimalistic Siri experience and a smarter overall ride
And as if it can't get any cuter, its base storage is, however — and what we also protested about recently — still stuck at a cute 64GB. Don't worry, you can opt for 128GB or 256GB.
Just like the iPhone 12, you get a dual-camera system that has, once again, the best lenses on an Apple flagship by far: The fastest aperture on an iPhone, 27 per cent more light and Smart HDR 3, among others. Night Mode — with 87 per cent better performance — and Deep Fusion are now on all cameras as well, and don't forget about the ability to shoot in 4K Dolby Vision HDR.
There are no qualms about shots in the right lighting conditions, and the 12 mini also has that nice blur effects on certain aspects of a shot, especially profile ones.
Those were taken at 0.5x, 1x and 5x, the max you can go, which still has a good amount of clarity. Notice, though, how the zoom function was able to give more detail on the sunlight being reflected on the Burj Khalifa.
At night, there tends to be some overexposure, and this seems the camera reacting to the light it detects, therefore brightening up the relative areas on shots.
This next snap's a nice one, with a great balance between the water, buildings and the sky. It is, however, brighter than it actually looks.
But pick your spots and you'll see the real beauty of night mode. These were taken at Barsha Park, and if you've been there you know there are plenty of areas that aren't well-lit; here are two of them.
It seems like there's a light being shone on them, when in reality it's a dark scene that won't look well in lower cameras.
The 12 mini's battery life is practically at par with the 12, even if there's a big difference in actual capacity. It's still good to go for up to two days with light usage, but it'll only be good for one if you really stretch it out.
Especially when you use the cameras often; this has been a recurring observation in our iPhone 12 reviews. In our last review for the 12 Pro Max, we saw 10-15 per cent lost in about half-an-hour; on the 12 mini, those numbers are practically the same, even if the latter only has two cameras working.
In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the 12 mini lost nine per cent, which is pretty much in line with its family members in the 12 line-up.
Which brings us to the other side of the spectrum, our favourite pastime: Watching and waiting how long its battery will fill up. Again, we have runs for both wired — we're using a 30W Apple charger again since, ICYMI, there's no wall plug included in the box — and MagSafe wireless.
Yup, as expected, just like the iPhone 12's results on wired and (say this slowly) slightly faster on MagSafe. You are indeed guaranteed a nice fill-up on wired in an hour.
That's it. We bring this year's iPhone marathon to a close, and the iPhone 12 mini makes us realise that despite the fact that bigger is apparently better with smartphones, it doesn't hurt to scale it back big time and still get the same performance results at par with its higher-end family members.
That said, it could be too small for others, especially those who are so used to bigger displays and who need more of that for productivity. The cramped display can also be an issue when typing, particularly for those who have big fingers.
Nevertheless, those into photography will love this, as it kinda reminds us of the days when we had a small digital camera in our pocket for those times we need a quick snap without making our back sore carrying DSLRs. As I like to put it, it's a 'shooter's' pint-sized weapon.
And, just like how we started, this iPhone — for all its cute size — can definitely give those utterly bigger than it a severe run for its money.
GOODIES: Performance as good as upper-tier iPhone 12s, good cameras and display, convenient and uber-handy
GOOFIES: Battery drains quick with camera use, camera tends to overexpose shots, may be too small for some
EDITOR RATING: This is a pocket-friendly iPhone, both literally and actually. Size matters though, and it will be for some. But hey, didn't we use smaller-screen iPhones before? 4.5/5
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