iPhone 12 mini long-term review: Living with Apple's smaller phone

iPhone 12 mini long-term review
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For years, smartphone makers have pushed for more — more power, more screen, and more cameras. To accommodate all that, our phones evolved into mammoths. Apple’s most affordable flagship, the iPhone 12 mini, defies that trend. 

There’s no way around it: the iPhone 12 mini is tiny. Not as tiny as the non-Pro iPhone 12 but just a hair taller than the 8-year-old iPhone 5 and almost half the weight of the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s truly a small phone, even by yesteryear’s standards. 

Yet, believe it or not, there are no major “buts.” The iPhone 12 mini shrinks the modern smartphone into a size that fits flagship hardware in the palm of your hand and even the smallest of pockets.  

The iPhone 12 mini is the first smartphone in ages that feels like it’s made to ergonomically adapt to you, instead of the other way around — expertise in finger acrobatics not required. It may end up being Apple’s worst-selling smartphone, but for people like me, who have been hanging onto their (sort of) compact phones for dear life, the iPhone 12 mini is probably the decade’s greatest smartphone. 

The iPhone 12 mini’s appeal is not simply its compact dimensions; it’s that it can do everything the regular iPhone 12 does in such a handy size. The rest of these phones’ specifications — except for the battery — are identical, which means your decision to buy the mini variant hinges solely on how strongly you detest large phones. 

Of course, bite-sized phones are rare, and since you’re still paying a premium for the iPhone 12 mini, there are a slate of genuine concerns: Do I have to live in battery life hell, are apps still optimized for small screens, or am I missing out on the latest and whizziest hardware? 

After spending more than a month with my personal iPhone 12 mini, I can finally answer these questions. Here’s what it’s like to live with the Apple iPhone 12 mini. 

What you should know before buying the iPhone 12 mini 

While I, along with many other people, have always felt more at home with small phones (like the Pixel 3, in my case), that might not be true about you. Giant devices succeeded for several reasons and they do offer a superior experience in some ways. 

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Larger screens are better for watching movies, playing games, editing spreadsheets and more. Although the iPhone 12 mini comes equipped with a respectable 5.4-inch OLED display, it can’t match its bigger peers for any of these use cases. What does that translate to in real-life? I often found myself zooming in and out of documents and other text to find a comfortable view for reading. 

Plus, since the notch’s size remains the same, it seems a bit chunkier on the mini and the cramped keyboard can also take a while to get used to. 

There’s another important thing you should know. The few people I handed the iPhone 12 mini to nearly dropped it. There is a chance you may not like the iPhone 12 mini’s ergonomics if your fingers are naturally accustomed to a larger phone. 

iPhone 12 mini long-term battery review

Arguably, the most significant downside of stuffing high-end internals into a miniature body is that there’s not enough space left for the battery. The iPhone 12 mini’s 2227mAh battery is puny by today’s standards, especially compared to the iPhone 12’s 2815mAh or the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 3687mAh cells, which still have battery life issues of their own. Real-life runtimes tell the same story. 

The iPhone 12 mini is no endurance champ, as expected. However, even on heavy use, it lasted a full day for me with a consistent screen-on time of over 4 hours. If I were careful about my consumption, its battery life can very well extend to a second day. 

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For someone who games and streams videos, the iPhone 12 mini’s battery will not prove adequate, but for people who aren’t as active on their device, it won’t be a dealbreaker. On top of that, the iPhone 12 mini supports quick charging, you’ll need to buy an iPhone 12 charger separately of course, but with my 18W adapter I can top it up to 100% from 0% in about 75 minutes. 

One other perk the iPhone 12 mini loses due to its restricted size is 15W fast wireless charging. Instead, it maxes out at 12W, which might be sufficient for such a small battery, but it can’t match wired top-up speeds. 

A no-compromise app experience

Apps run fine on the iPhone 12 mini’s 5.4-inch screen. Given that models like the iPhone 7 are still some of the most popular iPhones, I’m not concerned about long-term developer support either. Apple is also said to be working on a successor, which should further allay the mini’s compatibility concerns. 

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I knew about the iPhone 12 mini’s trade-offs and what I was signing up for when I bought it. It’s not the kind of phone that’s built for cinematic and immersive movie sessions, or for competitive Call of Duty: Mobile gameplay. It’s strictly for people who value a handy form factor above all else. 

How does the iPhone 12 mini fare as a regular flagship phone? 

Even if you’re not that person and are just tired of constantly stretching your fingers to reach the opposite side of your phone’s screen, the iPhone 12 mini does not disappoint. And it offers the premium experience you’d expect from a phone of its caliber and cost. 

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The iPhone 12 mini’s most striking element is its sleek, iPhone 5-like design, which swaps curved edges for squared-off aluminum ones. The flat sides add to the mini’s already excellent grip by offering you more room to rest your fingers. While the rails are matte, the glass back has a glossy finish and is, therefore, a fingerprint magnet. You can opt for the lighter colour variants where the smudges aren’t as apparent as they are on the darker models. 

iPhone 12 mini long-term performance review

The iPhone 12 mini comes equipped with the usual trappings we’ve come to expect from an Apple flagship phone: a high-res screen that automatically tunes its colours based on the room’s light temperature, snappy performance, long-lasting software support, facial authentication, top-drawer haptics and 5G connectivity. 

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For over a month, the iPhone 12 mini delivered handsomely in each of those areas. Despite its compact footprint, it handled everything from recording 4K HDR videos to producing music in the GarageBand app without getting too warm. The battery life, however, does take a dramatic hit if you click hundreds of pictures in one go or do any other resource-intensive task. Even the speakers are loud and clear enough to not constantly remind me of how small the phone is. 

The iPhone 12 mini has the same dual-camera system as the iPhone 12: a pair of 12-megapixel sensors on the back, one of which is an ultrawide shooter. Both of these cameras are capable of taking vibrant and detailed pictures in daylight as well as low-light situations. 

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Apple’s HDR technology, which automatically balances the highlights and shadows in a high-contrast setting, has come a long way and can now go toe-to-toe with Google’s industry-leading Pixel series. My only pet peeve with this camera is its tendency to overexpose scenes, but that’s something Apple has chosen to do on all iPhones, and you can easily fix it in the edit. 

On top of that, the iPhone 12 mini offers excellent video-recording capabilities, and despite its cramped size, it effortlessly captured lengthy 4K videos without breaking a sweat. 

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For a more in-depth look into the iPhone 12 Mini’s hardware, cameras, and performance, make sure to check out our iPhone 12 mini review

Should you buy the iPhone 12 mini over the iPhone 12? 

With the iPhone 12 mini, Apple has pulled off the seemingly impossible. It has made a truly compact flagship smartphone that doesn’t cut any major corners. Apart from the relatively subpar battery life, Apple does everything you’d expect a $729 phone to do . I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have reservations about the iPhone 12 mini’s performance, but after a month, the phone has successfully put them to rest. 

Whether you should buy the iPhone 12 mini over the regular iPhone 12 depends on your preferences and how comfortable you are with the evident downsides of owning a small phone. All I can say as an iPhone 12 mini user is that I’m looking forward to not performing finger gymnastics every time I want to read my notifications — at least for a few more years. 

Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, HuffPost, and more. You can reach out to him on Twitter