The delightful iPhone 12 mini

This started off as a quick reply on Mastodon to Nick Heer’s The iPhone 12 Pro: A Three-Year Review, but it became immediately clear that there was too much to conveniently say there.

I’ll start with the cameras first: Overall my feelings on the photos it produces are – taking into account the lack of the 2x lens – broadly similar to his. Portrait Mode, while a dramatic improvement over the iPhone X (which was also my previous phone), still misses more than I’d like, likely in part due to the lack of that 2x lens.

Speaking of which: Have I missed having the 2x lens for the past (almost) 3 years? That’s a complicated question to answer, because I don’t have any way of knowing what proportion of my photos I would have taken with it had it been available. “Don’t know what I’m missing”, “ignorance is bliss”, and all that. I suspect quite a few, and there have definitely been times when it would have been appreciated. That said, most of the times when I would have felt the lack most acutely I also had my Sony APS-C mirrorless camera – and a 55-200mm lens (82-300mm equivalent) – with me. Halide’s macro mode would be much better with the pro cameras, but the Sony with the addition of inexpensive macro extensions allows for some truly wonderful photos.

A better question is: do I regret the choice to get the mini for it’s size over the Pro with the extra camera? No.

The battery life is less than ideal. As he said, the 12 generation all had a slight regression in battery life, and the mini in particular felt that even when new – and it’s at 83% now. That being said, between chargers at home and in the car it’s rarely been a problem, though a long afternoon at Royal Tyrrell Museum pushed it to the edge.

I didn’t use MagSafe at all until last year, when I purchased a MagSafe-compatible charging mount for the car. That was worth every penny during our road trip last fall – the convenience of slapping it on there every time we got in the car while still being convenient to grab for a quick photo, or to look something up when we pulled over, was amazing and the main reason I never worried about battery life on that trip. I’ve since been given a genuine MagSafe puck, which will soon find a home as part of a custom bedside stand for use with iOS 17’s Standby mode, but the majority of my charging is still done via a cable.

5G support rolled out fairly early for us, but early on it was spotty enough that – in the interest of conserving battery – I left it off, but for the past couple of years I’ve left it on auto. In most places I go locally it’s not night and day faster but it’s usually noticeably so, and I’ve had spots where it pushes up well over 500 Mbps.

Worth noting: my plan already included 5G support at the time I got the mini, so I never needed to make the decision of whether it was worth a more expensive plan. Our LTE speeds are quite good, so I probably wouldn’t have paid extra.

As for appearance and feel in hand: I loved my black iPhone 5, and it’s still a sentimental favourite, but this black 12 mini is not only the best phone I’ve ever owned, but it’s my favourite. I love the form factor, the matte black sides, and the feel of it in hand and how light it is for what it does are still delightful every time I pick it up.

While I often use a case when travelling (particularly if I’m expecting to be hiking or some such), usually I leave it caseless other than a thin leather skin on the back. It’s picked up a few nicks and dings, but suprisingly few all things considered, and it still looks great.

The future

I agonized over the decision to get the mini vs a 12 Pro at the time. Not so much the cost – at the time I would have happily paid the difference – but the tradeoffs: form factor vs cameras and battery life. I don’t regret the choice at all.

But would I make the same choice again, if a mini size was available? If a mini-sized phone with the Pro camera system was available, it would be an easy decision, but that seems unlikely even if the mini form factor were to return. My eyes are 3 years older, and I’m getting to the point in life where I would appreciate a larger screen… but I’d probably still go with the mini for one more cycle if I could.

It’s moot of course, since it appears even the once-speculated return of the mini as the next SE is highly unlikely. So my choices are a large phone, or a very large phone, with or without the Pro cameras. It would be hard to give up the mini’s form factor without gaining the Pro cameras, but the 14 Pro is 52% heavier than the 12 mini – it feels ridiculously heavy after 3 years with the mini.

A titanium frame would help with that, of course, though I wonder how much of a price bump that will carry with it. We’ll see what gets announced next week, but I believe I will hold off until next spring, see where my needs and priorities for features are, and decide to what – or even whether – I’m going to upgrade at that point.

I’ll still be quite happy with my 12 mini until then.