The iPhone 13 mini is an improvement over the iPhone 12 mini, but how significant is the difference?
Apple hit a home run with the iPhone 12 mini last year. It managed to cram the same high-end hardware as the iPhone 12 into a body that fits in the palm of your hand — minus the majority of the usual small phone compromises. We found it difficult to criticize in our review. Nonetheless, a year later, Apple has managed to cram a slew of improvements into the same body for its successor: the iPhone 13 mini.
The new iPhone 13 mini addresses the few flaws that kept the 12 mini from becoming a commercial success. The battery, in particular, is 10% larger and promises to last longer on a charge. The rest of the iPhone 13 mini’s package, however, is an incremental upgrade, and with the 12 mini at its lowest price ever, the all-important question is whether the former’s minor improvements are sufficient to justify paying a higher price for it today.
After weeks of comparing the iPhone 13 mini to the iPhone 12 mini, I believe I have found the answer. So, which iPhone mini should you get?
Battery life: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. What difference does a 10% increase in battery size make in real-world use? As it turns out, quite a bit.
The iPhone 13 mini has a 2,438mAh battery, while the iPhone 12 mini has a 2,227mAh battery. Furthermore, the 13 mini’s new A15 Bionic chip is more efficient at managing energy and optimizing how much power apps are allowed to consume. Apple claims that these changes provide up to an hour and a half more runtime on a single charge during normal usage, or that the 13 mini can last three hours longer when streaming videos.
The iPhone 13 mini delivered on Apple’s promises in our testing. While the battery icon on my iPhone 12 mini regularly turned red by the evening, the 13 mini ended the day with 20-30% remaining. The 13 mini also consistently exceeded four and a half hours of screen time, as opposed to the 12 mini, which barely manages four. The difference may appear minor on paper, but the increased endurance is significant enough that I no longer need to carry around a power bank for my mini iPhone.
The iPhone 13 mini also has an advantage over its predecessor in that it supports the maximum 15-watt MagSafe wireless charging speed, whereas the 12 mini is limited to 12-watt power delivery. Wired charging hasn’t been improved, and because the battery size hasn’t increased significantly, both the iPhone 13 mini and 12 mini take roughly the same 90 minutes to charge completely with a 20-watt fast charger.
Design and build: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
Thankfully, a larger battery does not detract from the 13 mini’s usefulness. Despite being seven grams (0.2 ounces) heavier (and 0.1 inches thicker), you can’t tell the difference. According to third-party teardowns, Apple has offset the extra weight by shrinking the vibration engine.
If it weren’t for the rearranged camera lenses and the 20% narrower notch, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 12 mini apart. Except for the slight increase in screen real estate on the 13 mini, none of these changes have any discernible effect on the design, and both phones look nearly identical. They share the same boxy aluminum unibody with IP68 water resistance and a 5.4-inch edge-to-edge screen with a ceramic protective shield.
The only quick way to tell them apart is by their colors. Instead of the six variants found on the iPhone 12 mini, the 13 mini comes in five entirely new colors. The black and white colors have also been changed to appear more navy and off-white. What hasn’t changed is that the dark colors continue to attract a lot of fingerprint smudges.
Display: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 13 mini has the same 5.4-inch OLED display as the iPhone 12 mini, with one significant difference: it’s 28% brighter. The screen on the 12 mini can reach a maximum brightness of 625 nits, while the screen on the 13 mini can reach 800 nits. This is barely noticeable in everyday use, but it comes in handy in direct sunlight. At the beach, for example, I could comfortably read the text on the 13 mini while the 12 mini was barely visible.
The rest of the display’s specs are the same. It has 1080p resolution, HDR support, and Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of the screen based on ambient lighting.
Performance: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 12 mini both have 4GB of memory, but Apple has increased the base storage on the latter. The starting variant of the iPhone 13 mini has twice the storage (128GB) of the 12 mini (64GB). It can also hold up to 512GB, whereas the 12 mini can only hold 256GB.
The 13 mini also receives annual silicon updates from Apple and is powered by the latest A15 Bionic processor. The new 6-core CPU is “up to 50% faster than the competition,” according to Apple, and the 4-core GPU is “30% faster at handling visuals and lighting effects in graphic-intensive games.” The A15 processor is reportedly 10% more powerful than the A14 Bionic in the 12 mini, and it does so while consuming less energy. We discovered that the A15 scored over 20% more points than the A14 on benchmarks such as Antutu.
In real-world use, however, I have yet to notice any practical differences between the 13 mini and 12 mini. Even when I multitask across resource-intensive apps like games and 4K video editing, both the 13 mini and 12 mini performed admirably. The only time I noticed the 13 mini’s internal improvements was when exporting an edited 2-minute 4K clip from iMovie, which took the 12 mini 15 seconds longer.
Aside from that, I believe the 13 mini’s advancements will be useful in a couple of years because it will receive more updates than the 12 mini. This is especially important if you intend to keep your mini iPhone for a long time, as rumors suggest it will be the last one Apple produces.
Connectivity: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 12 mini both have the same connectivity features, such as 5G (sub-6 GHz), Bluetooth 5, and Wi-Fi 6, with one exception: the former can run two e-sim cards simultaneously. The iPhone 12 mini supports only one regular nano sim card and one e-sim.
Cameras: iPhone 13 mini vs. iPhone 12 mini
Aside from the battery, the iPhone 13 mini’s biggest improvements are hidden beneath that protruding square camera bump on the back.
Despite the fact that both cameras use the same dual-camera system — a 12-megapixel wide lens and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens — the 13 mini has a larger primary sensor that allows it to capture nearly 47 percent more light. It also includes the sensor-shift optical stabilization module found on iPhone 13 Pro models, resulting in noticeably more steady and blur-free photos and videos. That isn’t all. The ultra-wide camera has also been updated, producing more detailed results at night without adding additional noise.
The cameras on the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 12 mini capture nearly identical photos during the day. They’re well-lit and detailed, with rich, accurate colors and a healthy balance of highlights and shadows.
I expected the 13 mini’s improvements to make a difference in low-light situations, but to be honest, the improvement in quality is minor. It’s difficult to notice unless you compare shots from both phones on a large screen or if you’re shooting in difficult lighting conditions.
Because the 13 mini has more light to work with, it excels in low-light situations or when your subject is moving. Because of the 13 mini’s improved stabilization and larger sensor, the night mode produces less blurry and more detailed images and videos. This additional hardware support also gives the 13 mini more room to compose the white balance of your scenes accurately. However, these differences are not visible in normal nighttime scenarios, such as when you’re in a well-lit restaurant. In such cases, both the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini perform admirably, capturing vibrant and bright images.
In addition, the iPhone 13 mini comes with a slew of new software features. It has the ability to record videos in “Cinematic” mode. Consider it like Portrait mode for videos, where you can switch the focus between subjects while shooting or even after. It also includes “Photographic Styles,” a new tool that allows you to change how the default camera app handles colors and exposure. If you prefer the oversaturated look of photos from Samsung phones, for example, you can select the vibrant photographic style, and your iPhone will always boost the colors in the viewfinder. Furthermore, the iPhone 13 mini can record videos at [email protected], whereas the iPhone 12 mini can only record at [email protected]
Unfortunately, the 12-megapixel selfie camera has not changed. Although Apple claims that the HDR technology has been updated, I was unable to detect any progress.
Finally, the iPhone 13 mini is objectively superior to the iPhone 12 mini. Despite being an iterative successor, it includes a longer-lasting battery, more storage, a faster processor, a brighter screen, better cameras, and other improvements. But, in my experience with both phones, I couldn’t tell them apart in terms of both appearance and functionality.
However, in the end, I believe the iPhone 13 mini is a better investment because it will run more smoothly and receive more software updates. Of course, the iPhone 12 mini is no slouch, but in terms of pure value, it falls short unless you can get it for less than $500. In a year or two, as the battery degrades and you install more advanced updates, the 12 mini’s more limited endurance will continue to dwindle, and it will become much more difficult to live with than it is now.