Don’t sleep on the iPhone mini

It was the most exciting iPhone 12.

Chris Velazco / Engadget

Last year, Apple revealed more new iPhones than ever. There was the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro and then the most expensive model, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with Apple’s best camera sensor, a giant screen and an enormous battery to match.

Then there was the iPhone 12 mini, the small iPhone that some of us were clamoring for. Outside of the 5.4-inch screen, it matched the specifications of the bigger, vanilla iPhone 12. You got the same dual cameras, the same powerful A14 Bionic processor, storage and color options. It’s just, well, mini.

To me at least, the smallest phone was the most exciting device from Apple’s big event. A new (in 2020 at least) iPhone form factor for those of us that balked at the size of most phones. We’ve covered the ups and downs of tiny smartphones over the last few years, so it was a surprise — but a welcome one — when Apple decided to cater to this niche. Working in Apple’s favor, smartphone makers weren’t making small phones anymore (barring, perhaps, Sony).

So when we finally got the iPhone 12 mini in our hands, what did we think? Chris Velazco, who reviewed it, said it was, pretty much, an iPhone 12, but smaller. He added that while it was the most potent small phone he’d tested in years, it dodged the problems of typing on smaller screens, because the display stretched to the edges of the 12 mini’s body.

The iPhone SE, by comparison, had to make space for the home button at the bottom and the camera and earpiece at the top, which was a tight squeeze for thumbs on a 4.7-inch screen. (The iPhone 12 mini is physically a smaller phone than the iPhone SE.)

About half a year ago, I switched from my iPhone 12 Pro Max to the iPhone 12 mini. Despite how excited I was about the smallest new iPhone at launch, I still wanted the 12 Pro Max as my main phone. I told myself I needed the cameras.

iPhone mini 12

I had a few reasons for “downgrading” to the iPhone 12 mini. The pandemic had tricked me into beginning a jogging habit. The hulking iPhone 12 Pro Max was not made for running shorts, and I couldn’t use my Apple Watch as it didn’t offer the narrative features of the Couch24K app.

So there was the iPhone mini, provided by Apple when the four phones were first introduced. Small, powerful enough, and I didn’t need high-res pics because I wasn’t going anywhere during London’s lockdown. Also, the iPhone mini’s cameras are fine — good even.

One issue with the iPhone mini is that its smallest (cheapest) configuration comes with only 64GB of storage. But, honestly, I don’t use much on-device storage, so it wasn’t hard to migrate everything.

It’s a nice feeling to be able to fit more than just your phone into your pocket; not to awkwardly stretch your thumb to reach the top of the screen. The iPhone mini is wonderful to use one-handed most of the time.

For roughly six months, the iPhone mini was the perfect petite device for me. My Apple Arcade favorites, including relatively processor-intensive games like Fantasian, ran without issue, and my other daily apps never suffered a hiccup. I could use Fitness+ and while you might think video streaming would be less compelling on a smaller screen, I was mostly in my home. I have a TV!

It wasn’t all perfect, though, and the major issue was exactly what our review pointed to; meager battery life. Perhaps because the iPhone 12 mini matched the bigger iPhone 12 in all specifications barring screen size, there is a physical limit to how big the battery can be.

I didn’t notice that during the first half-year, but that’s probably because I was, well, mostly trapped indoors. Any time the battery dipped below 50 percent, I was immediately near a power output and could easily top the iPhone mini back up to full power.

When the country started opening up again, I went out more. And I wasn’t taking battery packs or charging cables with me. A few times, I cut it real close getting back home (or to a power outlet) before the battery reached single-digit percentages. After too many close calls, the pin went in, the SIM came out, and I left the iPhone 12 mini for the much bigger model.

When stories of slashed iPhone mini 12 production started appearing, I feared that this was a short-lived Apple experiment that had run its course. However, the latest rumors suggest otherwise. Last week, a listing at the FCC suggested that Apple was testing four new devices with its latest MagSafe technology. That should be the Pro Max, the Pro, the base model and the mini.

Other reports suggest that the next series of iPhones, whether they’re called iPhone 13 or something else, will offer some subtle changes improvements to last year’s models. Crucially, one report from March suggests that batteries across the iPhone series will be bigger, while more energy-efficient components, from chipsets through to screens, should also improve battery longevity.

Many phone buyers might have been skeptical that a smaller iPhone — even if new — would be as capable as bigger models. In the evolution story of smartphones, bigger screens always game with better specifications. The iPhone 12 mini was an anomaly, and maybe we weren’t ready to it.

If Apple can make the iPhone mini go the distance, battery-wise, but keep the specifications on par with the bigger model, there wouldn’t be much left for me (or phone reviewers) to complain about. September 14th is pretty soon. Bring it on, Apple.