Head and shoulders above the rest

Apple released four new iPhone models this fall, but only one is undoubtedly worth upgrading to.

Despite being the smallest flagship iPhone since the iPhone 5, the iPhone 12 Mini is a scene-stealing device, and one of the finest handsets Apple has ever produced.

It’s a welcome respite to the years of “bigger is better” maximalism that Apple has leaned into, which has left customers like myself wistful for the days of yore when smaller handsets were the talk of the town. 

Having owned an iPhone 4, 6, 8, XS and 11 Pro over the years, this reporter can confidently call the iPhone 12 Mini my favorite. It has a few drawbacks, but overall the Mini stands head and shoulders above the rest. 

While smaller phones normally have worse features than their larger counterparts, the iPhone 12 Mini is virtually identical in every way to the iPhone 12. It features the same top-of-the-line cameras, the same OLED display, the same materials and build and the same 5G antennas. It even has the same cutting-edge processors as the 12 and 12 Pro models, making it as quick and responsive as any iPhone you can buy. 

A photo taken on the writer's iPhone 12 Mini.
A photo taken on the writer’s iPhone 12 Mini.Nicolas Vega

The only notable difference is the size, with the Mini packing a 5.4 inch display compared to the 12’s huge 6.1-inch display. Swapping out my iPhone 11 Pro for the mini immediately crystalized something I had suspected for a long time: my past two phones were too large. It’s not just the ability to reach all four corners of the screen without adjusting my grip that’s a plus, the 135 gram Mini is 30 percent lighter than the comparably hefty 188 gram 11 Pro. 

No one would ever accuse a larger iPhone of being heavy, but after more than a month of using the Mini, I found the slight, niggling discomfort in my hands and wrists — which I had long attributed to a Twitter addiction and texting habit — disappear. 

The pocketability is also dramatically improved, and it’s nice to be able to slide my phone into my front pants pocket without creating an enormous bulge or seeing it poke out of the top. Likewise, holding my phone with one hand for photos and texting feels more secure than it has in years. 

There are a few tradeoffs for the size, however. Though it’s more comfortable to hold and use, the Mini is undoubtedly less nice to look at photos on. The smaller display can feel cramped at times, particularly for those who have become accustomed to larger phones. I’ve found myself using the phone less to look at photos and videos, opting instead to do that on my computer. 

The Mini’s battery life is nothing to write home about, since fitting all the same components, chips and antennas into the smaller body required Apple to reduce the size of the battery pack. Though it’s brand new, the Mini’s battery lasts noticeably less than even my year-old iPhone 11 Pro. Whereas my old iPhone would carry me through until 8 or 9 p.m. without giving me a low battery warning, the Mini will get me until 6 p.m. or so. 

Apple iPhone 12 mini seen on display at an Apple store.

It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, and tweaks like keeping dark mode on can help extend the battery’s longevity, but it’s something to be cognizant of for power-users who run intensive apps on their phones all day long. 

5G, which Apple has bragged about incessantly, is nowhere near widespread enough to factor into the decision-making for someone on the fence about a new phone. Besides the form factor change, the phone isn’t noticeably faster than its predecessor even when it says it is on a high-speed network. 

At $729, the Mini isn’t cheap, but it feels like a downright bargain next to the $829 iPhone 12 and the $999 iPhone 12 Pro. Reducing my monthly payments while simultaneously reducing wrist discomfort is a welcome development after getting used to bigger and pricier Apple products. 

With the iPhone 12, Apple has extended an olive branch to users with smaller hands, smaller pockets or those who just don’t want a giant smartphone. Hopefully the Mini form factor is here to stay.