iPhone 13 mini Long Term Review: The God of Small iPhones!

Blessed - and burdened - by its size

by: - Last updated on: December 23rd, 2021
Key Takeaways
  • This is Apple’s second attempt at making a flagship-level small phone, after the iPhone 12 mini in 2020. It is easily the most compact flagship around.
  • The iPhone 13 mini follows the design of the iPhone 12 mini but rectifies one of its shortcomings – poor battery life.
  • With the same cameras, processor, and software as the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 mini is the only option for those wanting a flagship smartphone in a small form factor.

There was a time when small phones were supposed to be the best. Some ads revolved around how incredibly compact phones were. Then came the phablets, content streaming, high definition gaming, and phones got so much display protein that they became really bulky beasts. So much so that it is scarce to see a smartphone today that one can use easily with one hand. Apple’s iPhone mini series is literally in a zone of its own in this regard. The 12 mini launched last year was the first flagship phone in years to be fighting on its size.

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There had been “slightly smaller” versions of phones before, most notably the Galaxy S10e from Samsung and the Pixel 4a from Google, but the 12 mini was actually a surprisingly small phone – to give you an idea, it was even smaller than the iPhone 6 which was launched way back in 2014, and about the same weight too. So with the iPhone 12 mini, Apple did not just try to make a slightly smaller version of a bigger phone, but actually made a proper compact, small phone. It was a terrific attempt, but by all accounts, it did not quite work out, with a few issues like battery performance dragging down the smallest iPhone of them all (read our take on its lack of success here).

Apple, however, clearly has not given up on the more compact form factor and came back with another mini iPhone this year, the iPhone 13 mini. The big challenge for it is to succeed where its predecessor seemingly failed. We have been using the iPhone 13 mini for a couple of months now, and here is our take on whether it manages to do so.

Small in size

There is no doubting that the iPhone 13 mini is the most noticeable iPhone out there in terms of design. Yes, it has been beautifully crafted in the best Apple tradition, with a ceramic shield front and a glass back (extremely prone to smudges, so please get a cover on this), with an “aerospace-grade aluminum” frame in the middle. But even though its appearance is sleek, what is going to attract the most attention is its size. If you thought the Pixel 4a was small, then think again because the iPhone 13 mini is smaller than even that worthy and seems downright tiny compared to the largest iPhone, the 13 Pro Max.

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In many regards, it seems an almost carbon copy of its predecessor, the iPhone 12 mini. Were it not for the camera placement on the back – diagonally opposite on the 13 mini, and one below the other on the 12 mini – you would find it difficult to distinguish between the two phones. It has the same length (131.5 mm) and width (64.2 mm), and although it is slightly thicker than the previous mini (7.65 mm as compared to 7.4 mm) and just a little bit heavier (140 grams as compared to 133 grams), it remains the most compact smartphone out there, and comes in a new pink shade, as well as blue, midnight, starlight and product red ones.

Big in specs

The specs within that tiny frame are flagship level. The 5.4-inch display is a Super Retina XDR OLED one with a resolution of 2340 x 1080, giving it a staggering pixel density of 476 PPI, the highest in the current iPhone lineup. It is a remarkably bright display, too, with brightness capable of going all the way up to 1200 nits. Powering the device is the A15 Bionic chip seen on the iPhone 13 series, although it has a four-core GPU compared to five cores on its Pro siblings.

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The cameras on the back are dual 12-megapixel cameras, one wide and the other ultrawide, and selfies and face unlock are handled by a 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera. These are very similar to their counterparts found on the other iPhones in the 13 series and only lack a telephoto when compared to the Pro variants. The cameras might have the exact megapixel count as seen on the previous mini, but Apple claims to have added its “biggest wide camera sensor” to the device, the improved low light performance of the ultra-wide camera, and added sensor-shift optical image stabilization to the mix.

Interestingly, the phone’s battery life (the biggest weak point of the iPhone 12 mini, as per many) has been bumped up by a few hours, which might account for its slightly greater thickness and weight. Storage has been doubled, and you now get the device in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB storage variants.

All in all, the iPhone 13 mini is small, slim, and sleek and perhaps the only premium smartphone out there designed to be used by a single hand. We got the midnight (black) shade, and while its color did not turn heads, its size certainly did.

A Palm-friendly flagship…

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Regarding performance, the iPhone 13 mini is very much in the same league as its siblings when it comes to most tasks. The display might have a “normal” refresh rate of 60 Hz, but you are unlikely to notice as the phone simply sails through everything you throw at it, from basic stuff like mails, messaging, and social networking to more heavy-duty tasks like playing Call of Duty and editing images and videos.

This is easily the most powerful “small” phone in the business right now, by some distance. Even the speakers on it are excellent! And of course, it runs on iOS 15, which works smoothly and comes with better privacy controls. You are also assured of at least four years of updates, a rarity in itself.

…and a fistful of photographic dynamite

iPhone 13 mini camera

The cameras are perhaps the most outstanding feature of the phone, after its size. And thanks to its size, the iPhone 13 mini can lay claim to being one of the easiest cameras to use – you can slip it into your pocket, take a snap or record a quick video and even do some edits on it (more on that shortly) and put it all up online literally within a minute.

With the sort of cameras on the iPhone 13 mini, many will often get into the shoot-edit-share routine. The cameras are exactly the same as on the iPhone 13, which means they are very good. Apple has definitely upped its camera game with the 13 series of iPhones, delivering excellent detail and realistic colors. While on the subject of colors, Apple perhaps paid some heed to those who complained that the images from previous iPhones were realistic but a little on the dull side. The introduction of photographic styles looks to change that.

Using these, one can change colors and contrast levels in photographs without affecting the subject’s skin tones. It actually works, although the changes it brings are more subtle and understated than the eye-popping ones we get on some Android devices. Low light photography too has improved, and although you still get light flares, colors and details are considerably better, and there is very little of that faux yellowish low-light photography that we see from many of its competitors. Portrait mode and Night mode have been improved too and, although not perfect (edges do get blurred), are remarkably consistent.

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[Click here for full resolution images + additional samples]

Videos have been an iPhone strength for a few years, and the 13 mini carries this tradition forward with wonderfully clear and detailed videos (there is support for HDR video recording with Dolby Vision), complete with surprisingly good audio. Cinematic video is a welcome addition to the iPhone’s video arsenal, letting you move the focus from one person or object to another, during and even after having shot the video. In addition, the Photos (gallery) app now lets you do a number of edits on videos, including adding filters, changing orientation, and cropping, so you do not even need a third-party app for most basic video tweaks.

The front-facing 12-megapixel camera has been given a boost as well and comes with almost all the features that you find on the rear cameras, quite a feat in itself. You get the usual portrait mode and photographic styles, night mode, and even cinematic mode for videos. The front-facing cameras on iPhones were always good, but with the 13 series, they have taken an enormous step forward.

All of which makes the iPhone 13 mini pretty much a fistful of photographic dynamite, even though it lacks the macro feature and the telephoto sensor present in the Pro series. As we remarked earlier, its size, which goes against it in some aspects, actually works in its favor when it comes to using the camera.

Battery blues addressed

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One of the biggest shortcomings – indeed, the only shortcoming as per some – of the iPhone 12 mini was its battery life. As a result, the phone struggled to get through a day of normal usage. Although Apple itself never gives out official battery numbers, the iPhone 13 mini comes with the claim of more hours of battery.

With a thicker waist comes better battery life. As a result, the iPhone 13 mini will see you through a day of normal to even heavy usage without too much trouble. However, the point to be kept in mind is that while this is impressive by iPhone mini standards, it is still well behind that of other iPhones, not just in the 13 but also the 12 series. Android flagships, of course, have bigger batteries and faster charging.

Speaking of charging, the iPhone 13 mini can charge at about 18W as per most sources. The phone supports wireless charging, and unlike its predecessor, which charged at 12W, the 13 mini can actually be charged wirelessly at 15W. Unfortunately, there is no charger in the box. It typically charges within about an hour and a half and gets close to 80-90 percent within an hour, which is decent enough, but nowhere near the “full charge in half an hour” crowd.

The battery life of the iPhone 13 mini is a big step forward from the iPhone 12 mini. But it would be unfair to call it great. So instead, let’s simply say it is no longer a deal-breaker (which it was in the 12 mini).

That small size is a double-edged sword

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It has excellent performance, cameras, specs, and now, also reasonable battery life. Combine that with the fact that it is the most affordable iPhone of the 13 series, and you would think that the iPhone 13 mini is a no-brainer for anyone wanting a new iPhone.

Well, not quite. The reason for this is ironically the very feature that makes this phone stand out – its small size. Yes, it is perhaps the only flagship out there that has been designed to fit easily into your hand and actually to be used with one hand. But on the flip side, that small size also means you end up with one of the smallest displays around, in a world bursting with phones with massive 6.5 – 6.7 inch displays, some with higher resolutions and many with higher refresh rates.

The small display is excellent in terms of quality and resolution, but its size is definitely an issue. When you get over the “how cute this phone is” phase, it suddenly hits you that the phone might not be convenient in a big phone world. Everything suddenly seems squeezed into a much smaller area. The sense of atmosphere that you get while playing a game, watching a film, or a TV series is just not there.

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In fact, the size can be a mild hindrance even for extensive typing sessions as not only is the keyboard smaller, but even tilting the phone from portrait to landscape does not really make as much of a difference as it would on bigger devices. We can type out a story on the iPhone 13 mini, but let’s face it, it would be a lot easier on the iPhone 12. And while the iPhone 13 mini is capable of editing videos, the task itself is a tough one because of the smaller editing space.

The smaller size also means that you will not get the sort of battery life on the iPhone 13 mini that you will on other, “normal” sized iPhones. That “mini” tag comes with its compromises. Of course, just how much they matter is up to you.

iPhone 13 mini Review: Should you buy it?

It has the specs and the performance, and it is the most affordable of the new iPhones, starting at Rs 69,900 for the base 128 GB variant (the 256 GB model comes for Rs 79,900 and the 512 GB one for a massive Rs 99,900). But while price and performance are important factors, we think what will really decide its fate is its size. For that is actually its most defining feature. If you are looking for a classic iPhone experience, we would still nudge you in the direction of the iPhone 13.

What makes the mini special, as its name indicates, is the phone’s size. However, it needs to be stressed that while the phone does come with some size compromises, using the iPhone 13 mini is a unique experience in itself. The small size will not bother those who are basically going to use the phone for basic phone functions and photography. However, the small display might become a big issue, getting into more complex functions.

Its only real competition comes from its predecessor, the iPhone 12 mini, which is available at a much lower price (as low as Rs 45,000) from some retailers. However, the 13 mini beats the 12 mini comfortably in terms of performance, cameras, and battery life and is pretty much not just the best, but we would say, the only choice for those wanting a compact flagship smartphone today.

Buy iPhone 13 mini

Pros
  • The most compact flagship around
  • Great cameras
  • Improved battery life
  • Very good display and speakers
  • Smooth, high-end performance
Cons
  • That display can be too small for some
  • Battery life lags behind the competition
  • Remains expensive
Review Overview
Design
Software
Cameras
Performance
Price
SUMMARY

The iPhone 13 mini is a compact smartphone from Apple. It follows the design of the iPhone 12 mini but rectifies one of its shortcomings - poor battery life. Here's our iPhone 13 mini review.

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