iPhone 12 Mini Australian Review: So Close, Yet So Far

iPhone 12 Mini Australian Review: So Close, Yet So Far

2020 has been the year of the succubus. This unseen demonic beast is insatiable, gobbling up our physical and mental health, our joy and for many, financial stability. Spending less became key for many, and amongst that fiscal pivot, Apple began releasing a slew of surprisingly cheaper products. From the entry-level Apple Watch SE and iPhone SE to making some devices cheaper than their 2019 counterparts, this shift has been gratuitous. Whether this pivot was by design or mere coincidence will probably never be known. But it even extended to its most recent line up of iPhone 12 phones. For the first time ever Apple released a Mini version of its flagship devices… and it’s pretty damn good.

iPhone 12 Mini

iPhone 12 Mini

WHAT IS IT?

Apple's smallest iPhone 12

PRICE

Starts at $1,199

LIKE

Cute size that feels good, premium design, great camera for an entry-level device, good performance

DON'T LIKE

Battery life isn't good

iPhone 12 Mini Camera

 

The central theme of my recent iPhone 12 Pro review was the camera. It’s the first I’ve been truly impressed with in years. And the iPhone 12 Pro Max builds upon that even further.

Sadly, these jaw-dropping features, including the impressive telephoto lens, have not been imparted to the smaller devices.

But the silver lining here is that despite being the baby of the bunch, the iPhone 12 Mini has the exact same dual camera setup as the regular iPhone 12.

This means it comes with 12MP wide and 12MP ultra-wide-lenses at the rear with Night Mode. And on the front you’ll find a 12MP TrueDepth selfie cam.

While the phone photography connoisseurs will probably miss the extra bells and whistles, the Mini does just fine for most situations.

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Point and click

Regular point and click shots are lovely and suck in an impressive amount of detail for such a teeny phone. Similarly, portrait mode produces truly beautiful shots of your subject, whether that’s your colleague from Business Insider or a casual gargoyle you stumble upon in a university corridor.

The front-facing portrait mode is less impressive, losing some detail and more smoothing, but it’s still decent.

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

The rear and front facing portrait modes are still really good

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

The rear and front facing portrait modes are still really good

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

The rear and front facing portrait modes are still really good

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

The rear and front facing portrait modes are still really good

But what was most surprising is how decent Night Mode is. The iPhone 12 Mini performs incredible well in low light situations. While there is a noticeable smoothing effect, it doesn’t turn pictures to absolute mud.

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Examples of what it can do in low light

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Examples of what it can do in low light

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Examples of what it can do in low light

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Examples of what it can do in low light

If you’re tossing up between the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone SE and value photography, I’d absolutely recommend the former.

I stand by what I said about the SE earlier this year – for a $750 iPhone (even cheaper now from some retailers) the camera is impressive. But thanks to the new A14 bionic chip, new hardware and TrueDepth lens, the Mini is far superior.

The only glaring issue is the zoom. This isn’t something I particularly care about, but if you do, yikes. The digital zoom just isn’t capable of producing anything worth looking at past 2x. It caps out at 5x zoom anyway, and doesn’t do a particularly good job.

This is the best 5x shot I was able to get, and it was mostly down to the glory of nature:

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Regular shot vs 5x digital zoom

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Regular shot vs 5x digital zoom

 

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Obligatory food shots

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Obligatory food shots

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Obligatory food shots

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Obligatory food shots

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Obligatory food shots

 

 

Design and performance

iPhone 12 mini review

 

Much like the camera, the iPhone 12 Mini doesn’t have the same stainless steel design as the Pro and Pro Max. But what you will find is the same aluminium design as the regular iPhone 12 and ceramic shield glass found across the entire range.

But it still still feels premium to touch, particularly compared to the iPhone SE. It also has more screen real estate than its younger sibling, which brought the bezel back earlier this year.

Speaking holding the thing, we can’t go past the size. Not only is it cute, but it feels practical. I don’t feel like I’m going to fumble and drop it like many oversized phones. It also doesn’t leave my hand sore after heavy use.

But perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t ask me to compromise a whole lot. Yes, it’s a smaller device, and the cheapest. But the iPhone 12 Mini isn’t asking customers to accept mediocre specs in this smaller package.

The iPhone 12 Mini also has an OLED Super Retina XDR display that is quite similar to the one found in last year’s iPhone 11 Pro. While it’s certainly not the best on the market (don’t expect a 120Hz refresh rate here) it is still incredibly bright and sharp.

Similarly, the A14 bionic chip enables the Mini to run almost as smoothly as the Pro and Pro Max. I didn’t find it struggle with anything, and although I would perhaps prefer one of the more pricey devices for gaming, that’s more about screen size than anything else.

It’s frankly refreshing to see the baseline model of a phone line up be injected with premium hardware like this. It doesn’t leave the user feeling like they have simply bought the cheapest available. Instead, they have bought a more affordable model that still has some luxury trimmings.

However, that seems to have come at a cost.

iPhone 12 Mini Battery

iphone 12 mini review

 

As we mentioned in our iPhone 12 review, the device came in at about fourteen and a half hours in a battery run down test. This is pretty decent, particularly considering the relatively robust display capabilities. But this very same feature seems to be taking quite the toll on the baby iPhone 12 Mini.

Our battery rundown test of the Mini came to around eleven and a half hours — three less than the regular iPhone 12. That’s a substantial amount and it has been a problem even in day-to-day use. In general it drops to 10 – 20% (depending on my usage) by 7 – 8pm. That doesn’t leave me feeling particularly comfortable.

And this is perhaps where we see a key difference between the iPhone 12 Mini and much cheaper devices in market — it’s not really designed for casual use. It’s got some pretty beefy specs and runs full versions of apps. Comparatively, other phones of a similar size often have a more modest setup under the hood and will run Android GO versions of apps to minimise power consumption.

It doesn’t help that the iPhone 12 Mini battery life appears to be just as small as its namesake. While Apple doesn’t reveal its battery sizes, an iFixit teardown has placed it at just 2,227 mAh. Comparatively, the iPhone 12 is said to be 2,815mAh.

Portable MagSafe chargers are an obvious solution to this problem. But the new wireless tech isn’t cheap. And I don’t particularly like the answer to a hardware problem being ‘buy another pricey thing’.

Should you buy it?

iPhone 12 Mini review

I truly wish I could answer this question with a resounding ‘YES!’

As the most affordable of the iPhone 12 line up, I wanted this to be my pick of the bunch. And it was oh so close.

But in my experience, customers generally value two things above all when it comes to phone purchases — battery and camera life. The iPhone 12 Mini more than qualifies when it comes to everyday happy snaps. But when a battery runs the risk of not making it to the end of a day and it still costs $1,200, I can’t give it my full support.

To be fair, the downfall of the battery seems to be for a good reason. I appreciate Apple’s attempt to bestow some premium features into the cheapest handset of the bunch. But when it comes at the cost of one of the most important aspects of a phone, it’s just not enough.

For me, the sweet spot belongs to the iPhone 12 Pro. While I would prefer if it had all the photographic capabilities of the Pro Max, it’s still more than good enough. Plus, it’s not as oppressively large.

The iPhone 12 is also a great choice if you don’t want to drop quite so much cash to enter the premium tier of 2020 iPhones.

Alternatively, there’s always the iPhone SE. If you don’t particularly care about the latest and greatest specs but enjoy a longer battery life, it’s a super reliable handset.

Let’s hope this is just the first step in a greater push by Apple to democratise the iPhone. Despite the one glaring shortcoming in the Mini, its existence shows just how far Apple has come.


Disclosure: the author owns 12 shares in Apple