Why iPhone 12 mini is Apple’s most compelling new iPhone

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iPhone 12 mini held up
Apple's best new iPhone of the year is also its tiniest.
Photo: Apple

The iPhone 12 mini is, without a doubt, the iPhone I’ll be buying this year. In an upgrade cycle in which I fully expected the iPhone 12 Pro to win me over, the 12 mini emerged as my absolute favorite iPhone of Tuesday’s “Hi, Speed” event — and, perhaps, my most anticipated iPhone in years.

It’s a blend of classic iPhone and modern iPhone: the handset I’ve wanted since Apple devices started growing progressively bigger around the time CEO Tim Cook took the reins at Apple. Here’s what makes the iPhone 12 mini so compelling.

There was something old-school about the iPhone 12 mini from the moment Apple announced it. The company’s slick, socially distanced virtual keynotes aren’t short of impressive visuals, but they’ve not exactly been overflowing with levity. However, the gag with the Russian doll suitcases — the latches on a large one being flipped open to reveal a smaller one inside, which is opened to reveal a smaller one, which is opened to reveal an even tinier one and, finally, the iPhone 12 mini — was just plain fun. It reminded me of the lightheartedness of a Steve Jobs-era keynote.

And using that John Barry’s “James Bond Theme” to accompany it? They could have whipped out anything from that box and I’d have been inclined to like it.

But with that said, Apple still managed to outdo itself with the iPhone 12 mini. It delivered a feature-packed iPhone with a small form factor that many people will love — and at a reasonable price!

Everything you could want in an iPhone

While a large iPhone is, on paper, great, I’ve often hankered for the smaller form factor of the earlier models. I want a phone that can fit easily in my pocket and that doesn’t require both hands to use. The iPhone 12 mini, with its 5.4-inch display, boasts a screen that’s almost an inch bigger than the 4.7-inch 2020 iPhone SE handset. But, through Apple’s extension of the screen to the very edges of the device, it’s a physically smaller handset. It’s still bigger than, say, the iPhone 5, but it’s a cheerfully compact device nonetheless.

With the two iPhone SE models, Apple catered to people who want a smaller iPhone. However, there was no getting around it: Both of these handsets were lower-tier devices that gave a slight tweak to yesterday’s tech and packaged it up as something fresh. With the 2020 iPhone SE< there is no edge-to-edge display. There is no Face ID. Not so with the iPhone 12 mini.

This is an iPhone that offers virtually the same specs as every other iPhone 12 device. You get this year’s fancy redesign. You get the new Ultra Wide camera lens of the larger iPhone 12 and the same 12MP resolution as the other iPhone 12 series cameras. There’s an OLED display with approximately the same pixel density as the other iPhone 12 models. And you also get Apple’s A14 Bionic chip, the all-important 5G support, and the MagSafe tech. It’s all there in a form factor that looks like it’s been zapped with a shrink ray. What a perfect piece of engineering.

Selling point of the Pro models is the photography features

In fact, the only thing you’re really lacking from the iPhone 12 Pro models — which cost several hundred dollars more — is the extra photography features. That’s not to diminish anyone who uses the iPhone as their main camera, of course. For some people, paying an extra few hundred bucks for the iPhone 12 Pro Max is going to be money very well spent. But for someone who uses their iPhone for taking casual snaps? I’m happy to leave the telephoto lens on the table. What you get with the iPhone 12 mini is still a great camera; it’s just not quite the greatest iPhone camera Apple has ever built. And I’m OK with that.

I was blown away by the iPhone 12 mini during Apple’s presentation Tuesday. At a time when Apple’s keen to sell us content like Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, both of which reward a larger screen, it’s brilliant to see Apple cater to folks who want a smaller handset, but without compromising on the premium features.

Critics often accuse Apple of trying to upsell customers and hit them with the dreaded “Apple Tax.” This year, Apple introduced an iPhone at a very reasonable price point (it starts at $699) that offers the overwhelming majority of its Pro-series features. You can’t get any fairer than that. This could be the iPhone that 2020’s upgrade cycle is remembered for.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.