Phones are bigger, and one might say bigger than ever, but the Apple iPhone 13 Mini keeps a small smartphone in play for folks who don’t think bigger is necessarily better.
It’s the second round of Apple’s take on a properly small phone with the guts of something bigger, and while the Mortal Kombat dark and brooding voice might be mumbling the word “fight”, we don’t need it, because we already have a victor.
The iPhone 13 Mini is the latest take on the properly small smartphone with no real challengers because no one else makes them quite like this. Small phones don’t typically exist, with the only other major small phone being a foldable from Samsung in the Galaxy Flip 3, and that is something else entirely.
Rather, Apple’s iPhone 13 Mini aims to deliver everything from the standard iPhone 13, except smaller, which is pretty much what we saw in last year’s iPhone 12 Mini, which did the same but for the iPhone 12.
It’s a phone style for people who don’t like carrying big phones and yearn for a smaller screen, something that would almost guarantee a compromise in any other device, giving you lower spec features because big is in. But not with the iPhone Mini, which basically bundles up everything we want from the larger model into something smaller.
Is the iPhone 13 Mini the must have device for someone after a best-in-class device made diminutive?
We’ll start with the design, because it’s the one place that kind of makes sense from first glance: it’s an iPhone 13, but made smaller.
And it is literally that, from the aluminium edge, glass body, and diagonal camera block at the back that makes the camera module look a bit like you’ve rolled a two, even if you’re really on 13. Lucky you.
It’s a great design that’s easy to hold, thanks in part to its small stature and solid build. We loved the 12 Mini’s design, and for much the same reason, we love what Apple is doing in the 13 Mini, because it takes Apple’s larger 13 and debigulates it.
Under what is basically a smaller iPhone 13 design, the parts are nearly identical.
You’ll find that A15 Bionic chip made of a six-core CPU and four-core GPU, plus a 16-core Neural Engine counterpart, all of which makes it speedy and impressive, and paired with a little under 4GB RAM, and a choice of either 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage, none of which can be changed later.
Much like its bigger counterpart, iOS 15 arrives on the Mini out of the box, and works with the inclusion of 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, GPS, NFC for Apple Pay, Ultra Wideband for Apple Tag, and 5G set up for Sub-6 5G in Australia (no mmWave model in Australia, it seems).
Two cameras are included in the rear camera setup with a slightly bigger bump than the previous model, offering two 12 megapixel cameras covering a standard wide set fo F1.6, while the ultra-wide covers F2.4. The cameras can also handle portrait mode, the cinematic video mode, HDR, and 4K video capture, among other things, while the front-facing camera supports similar features and comes in a 12 megapixel F2.2 camera.
The iPhone 13 Mini also comes with Face ID as its form of bio security, wireless charging, and IP68 water resistance.
Grab the phone and start using it, and you may find it’s a little different from your last iPhone. Unless your last iPhone was the iPhone 12 Mini, and frankly, there’s no great reason to upgrade between the two.
However the iPhone 13 Mini may be a small learning curve for folks who haven’t been near a small phone in ages. That wouldn’t be surprising, either: small phones are hard to find, and not just because of their size.
Almost nothing goes below the 5.5 inch mark anymore, and Apple’s 5.4 inch phone manages to feel smaller because of just how much of the body it takes up. Much like the iPhone 12 Mini, the iPhone 13 Mini feels smaller than the iPhone SE, no small task.
However that screen is bigger, and it makes all the difference.
The 5.4 inch screen stretches from top to bottom and left to right so perfectly that by skipping the bezels and home button on the iPhone SE, you get a bigger screen anyway. And it’s actually a little bigger than what you had on the iPhone 12 Mini, thanks to Apple’s improvements to the notch.
Armed with that big screen, you still get all the awesomeness of a big phone wrapped into the skin of a smaller one, though it can sometimes play havoc with your typing fingers, especially if you’re used to larger on-screen keys than what you find on the iPhone 13 Mini.
Our favourite aspect of the 13 Mini was its size, though. This thing is just so small, and can be pocketed so beautifully without risk of it making a dent on your pockets or pants. For much the same reason why we fell in love with the Galaxy Flip 5G, we’re in love with the design of the Mini iPhone range, because it’s just so friendly to being carried.
Using the iPhone 13 Mini means you’re using a slightly smaller screen than its obvious big brother, so that warrants a talk, as well.
Different from the iPhone 13’s 6.1 inch OLED display, the Mini sees a 5.4 inch OLED model running the Full HD+ resolution of 2340×1180, packing in an impressive 476 pixels per inch, which is actually a fraction sharper than the 2532×1170 460 ppi screen of its big sibling. It will be impossible to see, but the iPhone 13 Mini is actually a tiny bit sharper overall, all while managing to keep a smaller body than the iPhone SE, if you can believe it.
Even the notch is a little smaller, which you can really only see when you line the two up side-by-side, or even on top of each other.
There’s no snazzy ProMotion display, mind you, so you don’t get the super slick animations on this small phone, but it’s still easy on the eyes and very bright, complete with strong blacks and great contrast, as you’d expect with an OLED display.
This may well be a small phone, but the screen is flagship quality, and we’ll have no comments to the contrary.
It’s much the same with performance because — shock horror — the chip is the same as well.
You could more or less read our iPhone 13 review and just imagine it in a smaller device, because that’s what you’re getting in this phone, with it very much a “what you see is what you get” approach to releasing models.
Even though there’s one less graphical core, the iPhone 13 Mini is a fast little device, producing speeds comparable to the standard iPhone 13, and really making it a little phone that just goes. Games look great, apps perform well, and while there’s a hint of lag every so often, it’s not enough to mar the experience at all.
Our benchmarks matched this feeling, with performance close to what we saw on the iPhone 13, improved only slightly, and that may have happened thanks to the slight update to the operating system that we’ve seen in the time since reviewing that first 13 model. Either way, it’s a solid effort for such a small device.
Mobile performance is solid, as well, with the 5G technology on offer producing speeds as high as 118 Mbps in our tests on the Telstra 5G network in Sydney, though your results may differ.
That’s not a bad result, and as the reach of 5G improves, so too should our ability to hit the impressive near gigabit speeds we achieved with its big brother, the iPhone 13 Pro.
With a performance spot on to the iPhone 13, you probably won’t be surprised to find the camera is much the same, and that’s great news.
In the iPhone 13, we found a great camera with improvements on the original, thanks in part to the sensor-shift image stabilisation technology that has trickled down from when it first appeared on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Now it’s everywhere, and alongside improved 12 megapixel sensors, it means low-light works a treat even on this smaller iPhone.
Like the standard 13 model, you’ll find two 12 megapixel cameras in the 13 Mini, catering to a wide and ultra-wide angle. There’s no telephoto here, so instead it’s ultra-wide and standard wide, and that may well be fine.
Images captured on this assortment are typically bright and detailed in daylight, offering strong colour and contrast, while low-light at night fares decently if not for the slight blur, thanks in part to the image stacking of night mode, giving you a second or two of capture for a better image without the obvious light.
The camera also gets the portrait mode working in one viewport, though it may well be our favourite: you’re not too close, but you do get a nicely blurred background and all of your subject in the shot, producing portrait photos that stand out, and can have their aperture simulation (F-stop) changed after you’re done.
Apple has also brought some new things over, such as the facial lock of Cinematic Video mode, which means you’ll keep capturing a sharp face of someone you’re recording, and can modify the focal point in these videos after the fact, while “photographic styles” gives you a way of deciding the rough colour profile for every shot you make, even if it’s not modifiable for folks who actually have a specific photographic style. Baby steps, or maybe pick another app.
Video support on the iPhone 13 Mini sees 4K video still ticking around, complete with the Dolby HDR support from last year, and these will work on both the front and the back cameras, with the former a 12 megapixel camera as well supporting much the same tech as the back.
In short, the iPhone 13 Mini delivers much the same excellent camera experience as its iPhone 13 sibling, something that didn’t surprise us one iota.
About the one area which doesn’t quite match its bigger brother is the battery life, which struggles to hit a day.
Much like we saw in the iPhone 12 Mini a year before it, this compact concept struggles to hit a day, and will more than likely need a charge before the day is through.
Given the pace of the other small phone we tested this year, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, this is probably to be expected, but it can still be a touch unnerving all the same.
Our testing period of the iPhone 13 Mini found it would typically achieve around 15 hours of use with a little below four hours of screen time, no doubt settling this as a phone you’ll want to keep topping up as time goes on. It might survive a little more if you check the phone less and keep that screen off, but battery is not the friend of the iPhone 13 Mini, and something to be aware of.
However price is its friend, and the iPhone 13 Mini may well be one of the best priced and wallet-friendly phones around.
For its $1199 starting price — about $150 less than the iPhone 13 — you’ll the same tech in a smaller body, allowing you to actually genuinely feel like you’re saving money on the same technology.
Granted, you’re getting less battery life in a smaller design, but if that doesn’t bother you and saving money is the preference, it’s easy to see what makes the iPhone 13 Mini so compelling.
What needs work?
About the only things missing from this equation are the things we want from the flagship models in the Pro range: macro mode, a 120Hz screen, and maybe alongside a better battery.
We get it, though. Apple has to leave things for the more expensive model, and those first two definitely sit in that bracket this year.
The better battery is something else entirely. As it is, the iPhone 13 Mini isn’t a day-long phone, and provided you use it, you’ll need to charge it before the day is out. That will be frustrating for folks keen on bringing a compact but capable phone with them, because this is both, but also one that lacks the stamina power to keep with you for the rest of the day.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Despite the battery life dilemma, the iPhone 13 Mini is still something worth checking out, and for much the same reason as the 12 Mini last year: compact powerhouses typically don’t exist anymore, and are usually hampered in some what.
Big phones are the rage. There is no way of getting around that, and anyone and everyone is making them. Big screens dominated the entry-level and mid-range, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they make their presence known in the flagship part of the market, as well. There are some solid reasons why, but chief among them are the improvements to screen technology and the massive space it offers for hardware underneath. Honestly, it’s not rocket science why big phones are preferable to smartphone makers.
For consumers, the big phone is about a bigger screen to do more stuff with. For phone makers, it’s about the stuff you can put under that screen, with a big battery rating high.
The iPhone 13 Mini doesn’t play by those rules, though. It’s not about a bigger experience, or even a bigger battery. It’s more about giving you the Goldilocks experience for a phone that could be too big for you: rather than too big or too little, the iPhone 13 Mini may well be just right, at least in regards to size.
If you’re looking for a small powerhouse, the iPhone 13 Mini is a compact but capable edition worth checking out, even if you’ll want to bring that battery cable with you. It’s an easy recommendation for those who yearn for a small phone.