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iPhone 12 Mini Review: The Little Master

Best for the game!

by: - Last updated on: December 7th, 2020

“There is nobody in this country who does not want to be Sunil Gavaskar. For Sunil, was he the best in the game? No, he was best for the game.”

One of India’s greatest all-rounders in the game of cricket, Kapil Dev said these words in an interview when asked about his experience playing alongside Sunil Gavaskar. Having watched cricket in an era where Sachin Tendulkar was regarded as God and MS Dhoni hit that unforgettable six at the Wankhede in 2011, the only glimpse of Gavaskar I got was behind the mic in the commentary box.

If he was spoken about with such high regard though, there had to be something special about him. At 5 feet 6 inches, he stood at the crease amassing over 10,000 runs while being dwarfed by the tall and intimidating pacers from West Indies. That too without a helmet. If you’re wondering how he did it, well, Gavaskar stuck to his basics. He had soaked up every page in the batting manual and he looked like a warrior determined to win the battle.

‘Little Master’, they called him.

Now, before you think you clicked on the wrong link, no, you are on the right page. This is a tech blog, not a sports publication. The reason we spoke about Gavaskar is that the iPhone 12 mini, in a lot of ways, resembles the batting great. It gets a lot of the basics right, and can even hit the big guns out of the park despite its tiny appearance.

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The iPhone 5 has a Reincarnation!

The best way to describe the design language of the iPhone 12 mini is to have a throwback to the iPhone 5, or maybe even the iPhone 4. Flat metal sides, flat glass, and more importantly, a footprint that fits in your palm like a newborn in its mother’s arms. Comfortable, and safe. The iPhone 12 mini is a breath of fresh air in the ubiquitous large-phone wannabe tablet era and it’s a change that we certainly welcome.

After all, Steve Jobs was always very vocal about how it was essential for a mobile phone to be “mobile” and increasing screen sizes were just moving away from that notion. In fact, when asked about phones with large screen sizes, Jobs said: “You can’t get your hands around it, no one’s going to buy that.” Of course, the latter part of his statement was proved wrong by the sales numbers of big-screen phones like the Galaxy S and Note Series from Samsung, and by the fact that Apple themselves went on to release ‘Plus’ sized iPhone devices from the iPhone 6 onwards. In fact, the iPhone 12 Pro Max launched recently is among the largest phones out there.

While Samsung set the trend of large displays on a smartphone with the Note series, other brands soon jumped onto the bandwagon since a larger display just made more sense given how a phone was no longer just a communication device, but a portable computer and media consumption portal. Typing long emails and watching content is undeniably more enjoyable on a larger display. This and the onset of bezel-less displays gradually started to phase out small and compact phones.

Apple themselves stuck with a moderately sized 5.8-inch display with the iPhone X, XS, and 11 which while offering a good viewing experience, still managed to keep your thumb stress-free to a certain extent. However, with the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro getting 6.1-inch displays, there was a void that needed to be filled for all the small-phone enthusiasts out there. Yes, the iPhone SE 2020 had just come out a few months back and was technically the small phone we all got, but it was definitely not the small phone we all deserved.

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Thick bezels in 2020, an uninspiring, recycled design, and sub-par battery life were a few factors deterring consumers from getting the iPhone SE 2020. Ever since Apple launched the iPhone X and announced a radical shift in their design philosophy, fans of the original iPhone SE from 2016 have only been asking for one thing – A small phone with a bezel-less display. However, when Apple launched the iPhone SE 2020 with the same design as the iPhone 8, people lost all hopes but that’s when Apple surprised us with the iPhone 12 mini.

While the chassis on the iPhone 12 mini isn’t as mini as the iPhone 5 or the original iPhone SE, it is still smaller than the iPhone 6/6s/7/8/SE 2020 while sporting a considerably larger display. The iPhone 12 mini looks and feels tiny when you pick it up for the first time. This can be a blessing for some, while it might be a deal-breaker for many. While the reduced footprint does offer better handling, some may argue that it compromises on the productivity side of things. This is true to a certain extent since interacting with a larger display while performing certain activities is much easier.

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For example, typing a long email or an article such as this might be cumbersome on the iPhone 12 mini when compared to the standard iPhone 12 or any phone with a larger screen for that matter. Gaming with multiple fingers is not the most pleasant experience either since your fingers might end up covering a large chunk of the already small real-estate. Editing photos or videos where minute corrections are required, touching precise areas of the screen can be daunting if you do not zoom in.

These are some drawbacks that you need to consider while picking up the iPhone 12 mini. However, if you know what you are getting yourself into, the iPhone 12 mini is a treat to use. Be it scrolling on social media feeds or single-handed typing while you’re out and about, the iPhone 12 mini will make sure that your other hand is always free. Let’s just put it this way. If you are considering getting the iPhone 12 mini, you need to ask yourself two questions – Can you reach every single corner of your current smartphone while holding it in one hand? If the answer is no, the second question is does it really matter to you if you can reach all corners of your phone with your thumb or not?

If the answer to the second question is a no, the iPhone 12 mini may not be for you. If the answer is a yes, the iPhone 12 mini’s form factor is the best you are going to find on any recent smartphone out there.

Specs in Sync, Display with a Shrink!

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The iPhone 12 mini is a spec-to-spec replica of the iPhone 12, just in a smaller chassis. The smaller chassis forces two inevitable changes, which is, of course, a smaller display, and a smaller battery. We will address the battery life in the latter part of the review, but for now, let us focus on the display.

Apple used to reserve its OLED panels for its more expensive Pro models only until last year but thankfully, the iPhone 12 series ditches the IPS LCD display for a Super Retina XDR, or in simple terms, and OLED display throughout the series. The OLED panel not only brings a much better contrast ratio, but also produces vibrant colors, deep inky blacks, improved viewing angles, and overall a better viewing experience. Not to forget, the size of the bezels on the iPhone 12 and 12 mini has been cut-down from the iPhone 11 thanks to the OLED displays.

The resolution has been bumped up to Full HD too resulting in a better pixel density on the iPhone 12 mini. The display on the iPhone 12 mini is excellent, as it has been on iPhone devices for the longest time. It gets ample bright outdoors and when viewing HDR content, the display can shoot up all the way up to 1200 nits. Unlike Android smartphones that cost even a third of the iPhone 12 mini, the display still refreshes at 60Hz across the iPhone 12 lineup. While this is not that big of a deal, what might be for you is that notch at the top.

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Personally, the notch has never been a problem for us and it is not on the iPhone 12 mini either. However, what’s disappointing is that Apple has been unable to get rid of the notch for over three years whereas Android OEMs have switched to punch-holes or even under-display cameras. The fact that the iPhone 12 mini has a small-ish display means the notch is more evident than something like the vanilla iPhone 12 or 12 Pro Max.

The FaceID sensors housed inside the notch perform as expected, but probably the biggest gripe we have with not just the iPhone 12 mini but the entire iPhone 12 series is that when you’re out and about in the pandemic with a face mask, FaceID jut fails to work and you have to input your PIN every single time which can get annoying. Apple should have provided us with an option to enroll your face for a second time with a mask on so that it can identify both looks. Or even better, we wish they brought TouchID from the iPad Air onto the power button of the iPhone 12 series.

Frankly, while the display is indeed smaller than most conventional phones launched in the past two or three years, 5.4-inches is still not tiny given that at a point, 5.5-inch displays were regarded as ‘huge’ and were a part of the Plus-sized iPhone devices. You will not have any problems watching videos or TV shows on the display of the 12 mini.

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Gavaskar’s short stature was never a hindrance to his batting prowess. He used his height to his advantage and played his shots accordingly. The iPhone 12 mini’s size does not necessarily limit what you can do on it. It is all about adapting to that form factor after which you will feel right at home while doing any task that you would usually do on a larger smartphone.

But what about endurance?

Gavaskar, in 1975, carried his bat after scoring 36 of 174 against England. Facing 174 deliveries and lasting the entire innings might sound like a prime exhibition of endurance, except it was an ODI and not a test, and India were chasing a mammoth 334 set by England.

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The iPhone 12 mini, while sipping through the battery thanks to the 5nm-based A14 Bionic, can only do so while playing the backfoot defence straight to silly point. What we are trying to say, is when you use the iPhone 12 mini for simple tasks like watching content on YouTube or Netflix, browse the internet using Safari, text on WhatsApp, and scroll through Twitter and Instagram, the phone will make its way to the end of the innings, or in this case, end of the day with about 6 hours of screen on time. In our opinion, this can be considered good battery life especially given the tiny battery on the 12 mini. If you are a light user and are mostly connected to Wi-Fi, the iPhone 12 mini will get you through a day’s usage.

It is a bonus if you are around chargers sometime during your day which will help you top-up the iPhone 12 mini, perhaps in your car or at your workplace in case you want it to last some extra few hours. Propping it up on a wireless charger on your desk, or snapping on the new MagSafe charger is a good option. With the abovementioned usage, the iPhone 12 mini’s battery life turned out to be better than we expected.

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Where the iPhone 12 mini’s battery falls short, though, is when you ask the phone to play in T20 mode and bring out the big slogs. If you are going to game on the iPhone 12 mini, the battery is going to take a hit and the 6 hours we mentioned earlier now comes down to about 4 hours of screen on time. The same applies when you are using the cameras a lot, especially while recording videos.

If you are going to be using a mix of both Wi-Fi and cellular data for a few hours, you can expect a screen on time of about 5 hours. However, do note that in India, there is no 5G connectivity yet so the stats we mentioned are when using the iPhone 12 mini with a 4G connection. 5G is known to drain the battery faster, so the numbers might change if you are going to use 5G on a regular basis. Compared to the iPhone SE 2020, the iPhone 12 mini has considerably better battery life, but we wouldn’t suggest stepping out without a power bank if you have a long day ahead of you, or if you’re on a road trip.

No Compromise Cameras

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When the iPhone SE 2020 came out earlier this year, we were not too happy about having a single rear shooter on a smartphone in 2020. The iPhone 12 mini thankfully retains the same dual cameras from the iPhone 12 without sacrificing any features or the size of the sensors themselves given the smaller chassis. The 12MP shooters deliver consistent performance when used in all scenarios. The details are good, the dynamic range is one of the best we’ve seen on any smartphone thanks to Smart HDR 3, and the colors, just like in true iPhone fashion, look natural.

Something we have observed over the years on iPhone cameras is that the pictures captured have a slightly warm tone to them and the same applies to the images taken using the iPhone 12 mini too. One area which very few phones tend to nail is the parity of colors across both the wide and ultra-wide sensors and the iPhone 12 mini gets that right too.

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Night mode on the iPhone made its debut last year and has made its way to the ultra-wide and front-facing camera too with the iPhone 12 series. Shots in low light also look good and Apple’s noise-reduction algorithm seems impressive here. Shots taken from the ultra-wide camera look softer in low-light, but that is to be expected given the narrower aperture. The front-facing camera also delivers some good-looking selfies with accurate skin tones and excellent dynamic range.

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While we have addressed most of the attributes of the cameras on the iPhone 12 mini, the best one is yet to be talked about, and that is the video recording capabilities on the phone. The iPhone 12 mini can shoot videos in up to 4K at 60fps using all three cameras and the footage looks as stable as Earth. While the iPhone has had one of the best video cameras on any smartphone for a while now, what takes it up a notch with the iPhone 12 series is the addition of Dolby Vision HDR recording.

The iPhone 12 mini can record videos in Dolby Vision HDR at 1080p 30fps and the fact that a tiny phone such as the 12 mini has professional-grade video shooting capabilities is commendable. You can even edit the HDR videos right from the iPhone 12 mini itself. While the quality is great, you might want to keep an eye on the battery life while shooting videos for an extended period with your iPhone 12 mini. It also tends to get warmer than usual while recording 4K videos, but nothing alarming.

Power in every Stroke

Every single of the 35 international centuries scored by Gavaskar involved powerful stroke play to all parts of the ground. The iPhone 12 mini, in a similar fashion, takes care of every delivery with finesse and dispatches it to the boundary all thanks to the A14 Bionic chip underneath.

We mentioned earlier how it’s not the best experience to play games on the small display of the iPhone 12 mini. However, if you decide to do so, the iPhone 12 mini can handle the most graphics-intensive titles with ease, that too at the highest settings and frame rates. Not just gaming, but other intensive tasks like video editing is also a breeze on the iPhone 12 mini. Scrolling through the timeline on iMovie is smooth and rendering times are quick too. One thing we noticed while using the 12 mini for heavy duties over extended durations is that it tends to get warmer than usual but with a case on, it’s not very evident.

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Even when the 12 mini gets warm, there is no performance throttling which is good. Day-to-day performance is also solid on the iPhone 12 mini just as one would expect. The optimization of iOS 14 and the way Apple’s hardware works in tandem with the software offers a smooth, stutter-free experience throughout the UI. A higher refresh rate would have made things appear smoother, but animations on iOS are fluid already.

iPhone devices are mainly about providing sustained performance and holding up well over a period of few years and that is where the power of the A14 Bionic and the prolonged software support for iOS comes into play. Along with the addition of 5G, it seems like Apple has also updated the Wi-Fi antennas on the iPhone 12 series as we have been experiencing better and more stable connectivity.

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Apart from this, the iPhone 12 mini has a set of stereo speakers that do not get too loud when compared to some other phones, but they are sufficient for media consumption. The 12 mini is also IP 68 rated for water resistance and is compatible with MagSafe accessories. When charging via the lightning port, the iPhone 12 mini can charge up to 20W and through MagSafe, it comes down to 12W compared to 15W on the bigger iPhone 12 devices.

iPhone 12 mini review: Who is it for?

It is important to know before you make a buying decision that the iPhone 12 mini is meant for a specific audience and not for everyone. It caters to a particular niche that really wants a small phone and is not too bothered by the advantages of having a bigger display and a bigger battery. If you plan on buying the iPhone 12 mini, buy it for its size, and not its price. The iPhone 12 mini is the cheapest iPhone 12 series phone you can get, but that should not be the only reason for you to go out and get yourself the 12 mini.

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If you want a good iPhone without spending too much, the iPhone 11 in 2020 is still a solid option. You get better battery life, similar performance, a larger display, and a phone that might be more practical for some. Get the iPhone 12 mini only if you really want a small phone and the smaller display and footprint appeals to you rather than putting you off. The iPhone 12 mini, despite its small appearance, stands tall to the competition comprising of hefty, intimidating opponents, but maintains its own and emerges on top.

“For iPhone 12 mini, is it the best in the game? No, it is the best for the game.”

Apple has been known to set trends in the smartphone market and the iPhone 12 mini might just push other OEMs in the Android space to bring out smaller phones and provide a wider range of options to consumers, making it a move that is best for the game.

‘Little Master’, we call the 12 mini.

Buy the iPhone 12 mini.

Pros
  • Real one-hand use
  • Great display
  • Snappy performance
  • All-round cameras
Cons
  • Average battery life
  • Small form factor might need some getting used to
  • Tends to get warm with prolonged usage
Review Overview
Build & design
Display
Performance
Cameras
Price
SUMMARY

Apple surprised a lot of people by launching the super cute iPhone 12 mini. But how mini is the Mini? Who is it for? Who is it NOT for? We try to answer them all in our iPhone 12 mini review. With more than a dash of cricket analogies.

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  1. I personally really like this size and the features integrated in the iPhone Mini. It is a suitable smartphone for a regular consumer who likes power-packed but compact devices.