Greg Morris

Designer, Pretend Photographer, Dad

iPhone 13 Mini Review: Problems Solved

When the iPhone 12 launched I couldn’t make my mind up which one of the all-new line up I wanted. Granted it was a weird year with different release dates, but in the end I ordered them all. Which was an interesting endeavour to see the real-world differences between using them. Most of which are not obvious from simply reading professional reviews. At the time I stuck on the iPhone 12 Pro which I called the Goldilocks phone, but throughout the year I switched between almost all models because I am weak.

They all had advantages and disadvantages. Despite all being great phones, almost all were the same old iPhone and didn’t do anything for me. All apart from the Mini version. If you will allow me to quote myself.

when I set my hands on the iPhone 12 Mini it sparked something in me that I have not felt for a while. It was the same old iOS device I love, but it was different for a change. A truly modern smartphone in a small package with pretty much nothing taken away.

All of those feelings are still strong, every time you handle the mini form factor. It does take a little getting used to, even more so if you’ve used larger phones, but there is much to be said about being able to reach the whole screen with one hand. Packing a 5.4″ screen, it’s only a fraction under the ones used on Plus sized phones in days gone by — but in a tiny little package. However you’re not going to be reading any books or scrolling through stuff for hours on this phone without some eye strain.

The screen retains almost all of the specs from last years model, coming in at 476 ppi and the usual expected quality from Apple displays. Thankfully, it receives a boost in max brightness to 800nits, which only becomes apparent in bright sunshine, but it’s a welcome one. The iPhone 12 line struggled in some conditions despite its 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio and True Tone technology. Thankfully no such issues plague either iPhone 13 version. You’ll also get a smaller notch in the screen too, but if you notice it you’re paying more attention than I do.

Did I mention it’s small? Also light at only 140g, which rids me of the pinky pain that can strike with heavier phones. I know most phone reviews are written by individuals that have a few more years on me so are not bothered about carrying around a huge slab of glass, but for those of us more interested in having something more manageable, how great the phone is to use is already obvious from the words above.

Build quality is exactly what you would expect from a top-of-the-line smartphone from Apple. I am still extremely negative towards the flat sides of the newer iPhones, but thankfully the ‘regular’ line of iPhones lacks the polished stainless-steel edges, so they are more smudge resistant. Unfortunately, the back of my Midnight version is not! The black(ish) version this year is a very dark blue that is a lot lighter than expected, with the glass back showing handling marks constantly.

I usually shy away from spending too much time on the performance and ability of new iPhones. They have been faster and more powerful than users will ever need for some years now and that doesn’t change here. The A15 chip in all the new iPhones features improvements to last years A14 in both performance and battery life. I am sure you can find words about cores and GPUs in other places, but its hard to say anything about specs like this other than its great. Shrug emoji!

Big Shooter

The phone itself is ever so slightly thicker than last year, but you won’t notice it using the mini. Most of the heft is in the bigger camera system. One that takes the wide-angle lens that featured only on the iPhone 12 Max last year, combines it with what is, at first glance, the same ultra-wide from last year and puts it in a new diagonal set up.

The conspiracy theorist in me side eyes the slight tweak to the camera positioning as a way to signal your use of the new phone, but Apple claim they had to move it slightly to fit everything in. Which is an amazing achievement. I find it incredible that the camera lens and sensor shift stabilisation that only featured in the biggest phone last year makes its way to the smallest handset available. Bravo to Apple for not taking the easy way out.

What this means to users is that the new Wide sensor lets in 47% more light and keeps the sensors more stable than ever. The camera on the iPhone 13 is more confident than ever, providing faster capture, longer night mode shots and a better all-round experience than anything that I have used. Sure, not since the iPhone XS have I been disappointed in an iPhone camera update, but this one lives up to the hype.

The iPhone 12 cameras, particularly on the Pro, were excellent shooter, but tended to blow out highlights if you are not paying attention. When things got dark, night mode helped, but without having the steadiest hand in the world, images often left you with a water colour rather than a pin sharp shot. With the new camera system and more processing power the cameras take a big leap forward.

I can confidently wave the camera at almost any scene and get a great shot. Night mode needs around a second less in my testing to achieve better results than last year and shadows retain much more detail. Most people won’t notice the image improvements, because they were great before, but everyone will notice pictures are easy to take.

I would have loved this to also feature the new ƒ/1.8 aperture ultra-wide from the pro models (Apple do claim the ultra-wide lens is ‘faster’) but I can’t have everything I suppose. There’s also no macro mode from the pro models, but in my testing, this isn’t as good as it is made out to be. All in all this is a significant improvement all around. Perhaps not enough to warrant an upgrade from the iPhone 12, but one that will make even pixel peepers happy.

Big Cells

The reality is I don’t use my phone all that much so When Apple introduced a mini version of an up-to-date smartphone it instantly grabbed my attention. The perfect handset for me. Well Almost. The iPhone 12 Mini lacked in battery life so badly that in the times I was away from home (few in 2020) it was always a concern — so I disappointingly went back to a regular 12 and sulked.

In fact, it was the biggest compliant I saw from other users, or potential buyers. The battery life was average, as long as you didn’t expect to use it like a big phone. This year, the Mini sports what Apple claim is 1.5 extra hours of battery life – which is only a useful stat if you have something to compare that too.

Apple figures are almost impossible to follow along with, and they use all sorts of figures to avoid telling you what to expect. In my testing the battery life is around 20% better than last year’s model. The iPhone 13 Mini lasts around as long as the iPhone 11, which is as Apple claim 17 hours of video playback.

In the real world I can easily use my phone for 3–4 hours (I did it for science) and still have around 40% left. However, I don’t have notifications on for anything other than phone calls, messages, and emails, and don’t use many apps outside of banking, Twitter, Instagram etc. The iPhone 13 Mini still won’t stand up to someone using their phone lots (or so-called power users) but this phone is not the appeal for those people.

I don’t have some anti-phone stance, but when I spend my days talking to my family, sat in a meeting with an iPad and Pencil or sat in front of an iMac the Mini is perfect. It fills the gaps I need it to but perhaps it won’t fill yours. It isn’t for everyone.

Less Is More

It’s not all good news though, because the small form factor has some downsides. Modern life seems to point most users towards a larger and larger device, so using a ‘smaller’ phone is not conductive to all tasks. I have small hands, to typing on the mini is great for me but everyone else I have shown it to struggles.

There is a cultural expectation to be small phone adverse which becomes apparent when people ask about your phone. Others use words like “too small for me” or “its tiny” when in fact it isn’t small at all. Many of them are already using phones that are marginally bigger, if at all, but the Mini feels much more compact than it is.

There is not much that can be said about the iPhone 13 Mini that isn’t summed up in a few words. It’s ultimately an iPhone so you know what you are getting, a top-of-the-line phone in a small package. The iPhone 13 Mini is an upgrade as if Apple went through the phone and ironed out the few, but large, issues from the iPhone 12 Mini. Meaning that it has stepped up in my estimations from a good phone to a great phone.

The iPhone 13 Mini is bigger than ever. Bigger camera, bigger battery and sporting a much bigger appeal. I can recommend this phone to other people now, and I think the iPhone 13 Mini will be the phone most people should buy, but they won’t.

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