Wouldn’t it be nice to deprioritize screens? Even if that means just using one that’s slightly smaller? That’s what it felt like to switch to the iPhone 12 Mini. It’s still a smartphone. It’s not this kind of baby phone. But I just felt like I had more control over my phone. It’s so light, so airy. It fit into the small side pocket of the stretch pants I’ve been wearing more than I care to admit.
Its screen is big enough to read emails, scroll on Twitter, or look at maps when it’s docked in your car, but it’s small enough that watching more than one episode of a Netflix series gets annoying. This was my experience, anyway; I watched an hour-long episode of The Queen’s Gambit on it, but by the following episode I was tired of watching on my baby phone and went to bed. It can be used as an entertainment device, for how-to videos on YouTube or dance duets on TikTok, but the iPhone 12 Mini just didn’t suck me in the same way my larger phone does. I found myself hitting the edges, both physically and metaphorically, of the amount of stuff I’d look at or watch or read. That’s a good thing.
Its tininess has its downsides. I am in awe of some of the non-words I have almost sent in text messages this week, autocorrect be damned. Its speakers aren’t spectacular, as you might expect from a physically smaller device. It’s fine enough for watching videos, but phone calls at high volumes sometimes sound distorted. Since I make a lot of calls on speakerphone (I know, I’m sorry, I only do this when I am alone), this felt like an actual drawback.
Blame It on the Juice
The iPhone 12 Mini’s battery life was better than I expected—but still not great. On a particularly active day last week, I took the fully juiced phone off its charger at 11 am, used Google Maps for 20 minutes or so, listened to a couple of podcasts, snapped photos and videos, made a few phone calls (including one lasting over an hour), browsed Twitter and Instagram, and watched Netflix at night. I hit the 10 percent battery mark around 10 pm. So the phone wouldn’t have lasted a “full day” had my phone test started earlier that morning.
Also, I wasn’t connected to a 5G wireless network. I was using my 4G SIM card that particular day. After that I swapped in a 5G SIM, but 5G isn’t widely available where I live, and as I experienced when I reviewed the regular iPhone 12, I only noticed the iPhone 12 Mini connect to a 5G network on one occasion. So I can’t say how regularly connecting to 5G will affect battery life on this phone. This is something to consider if you plan to try to squeeze years out of this phone, as ideally you would with any consumer electronic.
As for the iPhone 12 Mini’s camera—it’s the iPhone 12’s camera! (You’ll notice a theme here.) The rear camera module contains both a wide camera and an ultrawide camera. The selfie-camera (which is part of the Face ID system) is a single wide lens. Apple has made some improvements in computational photography over the past year, though, which means the camera software is better. The faster chip in the iPhone 12s helps a lot too. And here, again, is where the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 Mini stands out from the similarly sized, less expensive iPhone SE; the iPhone SE doesn’t take wide-angle photos, can’t capture objects in Portrait mode, and doesn’t handle high-contrast settings nearly as well as the Mini. Obvious product differentiation aside, it’s kind of remarkable that these two phones were released just six months apart.
Have I convinced you that a slightly smaller iPhone might be what you need? A phone you’ll carry comfortably on walks and jogs, lose between the couch cushions, and fish for in the dark space of your bag or backpack? A phone that won’t take up too much space on your nightstand, or on the dinner table when we can all go back to eating together again? A phone that won’t suck up too much space in your brain?
I’m not suggesting a small iPhone will cure our collective obsession with phones. But maybe, with all the big things we’re facing every day, a phone doesn’t have to be one of them. It could be one less thing.