Subscribe to Radio Times
Try 10 issues for £10!
Find out our expert's thoughts as we put the new, smallest iPhone to the test.
After years of phones growing larger and wider, Apple broke the mould in 2020 with the launch of the iPhone 12 mini – a 5.4-inch entry-level version of its 6.1-inch iPhone 12. Not only did the launch increase the number of new handsets to four – alongside the iPhone 12, the 12 Pro and the 12 Pro Max – it created a new revenue stream by appealing to a new audience. An audience that doesn’t want to spend more than a grand for a flagship phone, and one that doesn’t want a giant, cumbersome phone bulging out of their pocket or bag.
It was a launch that seemingly paid off. According to Apple’s quarterly earnings for the period following the launch in September 2020, iPhone sales were up more than 18% year-on-year. This explains why Apple recently released a follow-up at its September 2021 event, called the iPhone 13 mini.
For the past month, we’ve been putting the iPhone 13 mini to the test to see how it both performs on its own, and how it compares to other handsets in the iPhone 13 range. You can read our thoughts on its siblings in our iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro reviews.
Jump links to:
The iPhone 13 mini offers almost flagship features for an entry-level price – but its smaller display won’t suit everybody.
Price: £679 (128GB); £779 (256GB); £979 (512GB)
The iPhone 13 mini is the smallest, cheapest handset in the wider iPhone 13 range. It’s closest in design, features and price to the iPhone 13, and both lack the high-end, “professional” specs of the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max.
As the successor to the iPhone 12 mini, released in September 2020, the iPhone 13 mini comes with many of the same specifications. It has the same 5.4-inch, True Tone, Ceramic Shield display. Little separates the camera hardware; the measurements are near-on identical, and both handsets have the same IP68 waterproof rating. Yet the iPhone 13 mini is far more powerful, more energy-efficient, and it comes with software improvements that well and truly set it apart.
Firstly, the iPhone 13 mini runs on Apple’s “fastest, most efficient processor ever”, the A15 Bionic Chip. This chip has a new 16-core Neural Engine – alongside a 6-core CPU and new 4-core GPU – in a system that’s been built to make the 13 mini (and the rest of the iPhone 13 range) better equipped at handling more intense AI and machine learning tasks. In particular, this makes the entire range well equipped for streaming HD video and playing games.
This processor and the rest of the iPhone 13 mini hardware has been optimised to work with the latest generation operating system, iOS 15. This helps boost its power and ability to handle intense tasks, all while improving how long the phone lasts between charges. There are also new storage options, new video and photography modes, and a host of new software features in iOS 15.
There is a Wide and Ultra Wide sensor on the rear in the 12MP dual-camera system, accompanied by a 12MP True Depth sensor on the front. All of which have been optimised to work with iOS 15 and support new modes, including Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles. These new software additions help you take better and more professional looking photos and films.
The iPhone mini range is the cheapest and most accessible way into the Apple ecosystem, and it’s been designed for those who don’t want all the bells and whistles of the more expensive handsets but don’t want to make too many sacrifices either.
Despite coming in at £100 cheaper than the iPhone 13, the two handsets are almost identical. They have the same operating system, camera setup, processor, and storage and are available in exactly the same colours. Your choice between the two will come down to their two main differences – handset size and battery life. The iPhone 13 Mini has a 5.4-inch display and a cited 17-hour battery life. The iPhone 13 is 6.1-inch and 19 hours.
As a result, the iPhone 13 mini is fantastic value for money. It’s full of advanced technology and specs that will suit a large majority of people. And while it might not be the most advanced on the market, it’s not far off, and for a significant amount of money less.
As its name suggests, the iPhone 13 mini takes the vast majority of features seen on the iPhone 13 and presents them in a smaller form. All while offering a number of notable upgrades on its 2020 counterpart, the iPhone 12 mini.
Software-wise, the iPhone 13 mini runs on iOS 15 – Apple’s latest generation operating system, and this means it has all of Apple’s latest software advancements. This includes redesigned notifications and Weather app, 3D and AR tools in Apple Maps, and new privacy controls in a number of apps, including Siri and Mail.
It also has new Focus features designed to reduce distractions while you work, sleep or spend time with loved ones, and you can now search for photos from the main Search bar: a small but very useful addition.
The software has been optimised to work with the new hardware seen across the iPhone 13 range, and this helps boost both the performance of the iPhone 13 mini and maximises its battery life by as much as five hours compared to the iPhone 12 mini. You can read more about this in the iPhone 13 mini Battery section below.
Although, on paper, the camera setup looks the same on the iPhone 13 mini as was seen on its predecessor – that is, it has a 12MP Wide and Ultra Wide system on the back, and a True Depth camera on the front – Apple has improved the sensors across the board. It has also introduced two new software-led features called Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles. These are superb, and we explain more about these additions in the iPhone 13 mini camera section below.
The phone itself comes with a number of pre-installed Apple apps. These include Camera, Photos, Health, Messages, Mail, Music, Wallet, Safari, Maps, Siri, Calendar, iTunes Store, App Store, Notes, News, Weather, Reminders, Stocks, Calculator, Voice Memos and many more. The new App Library feature from iOS 14 means that these apps are relatively easy to find and manage, although they do take up almost 5GB on their own. This, alongside the 10GB occupied by iOS 15 and System Data, adds up to a loss of 15.1GB before you’ve even got started.
This is standard for all phone manufacturers, yet unlike many of its Android rivals, Apple doesn’t let you physically expand the storage on the iPhone 13 mini or any of its devices. In previous handsets, the relatively poor built-in storage options caused issues. Yet with the iPhone 13 range, Apple has doubled storage across the board without charging extra for it, so this complaint feels less significant.
The entry-level handset now starts at 128GB, and this rises to 512GB. You can remove any or all of the pre-installed apps or pay for up to 2TB of iCloud storage for an additional cost should you need to.
Security-wise, there is a FaceID sensor embedded into the True Depth camera on the front of the device, and this camera and sensor now sit on a slightly smaller, redesigned notch at the top of the display. This notch is definitely more noticeable on the smaller display of the iPhone 13 mini than the rest of the iPhone 13 range, and this can make an, albeit small, difference to viewing and browsing space in apps.
The iPhone 13 mini is a dinky little device. Placed alongside the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it’s comical – and cute – how tiny the iPhone 13 mini looks. It also feels almost like a toy handset in comparison to the larger models. The iPhone 13 mini sits comfortably in our hands, with room to spare, and we don’t have particularly large hands.
In one respect, this makes the iPhone 13 look and feel cheaper than it is. However, as soon as you start using the phone and experience just how responsive and smart it is, it’s almost unbelievable how Apple has managed to make such a small and lightweight device with so many tech creds.
As mentioned, the notch on the iPhone 13 mini is smaller – by around 20% – than that seen on the iPhone 12 mini. This makes more of a difference on the smaller 5.4-inch display than on any of the larger iPhone 13 phones, and it does reduce the space given to games and videos, but chances are if you’re a big gamer or streamer, you won’t be opting for a small device. So this may be a largely moot point.
The iPhone 13 mini is a tad – 7g – heavier than the iPhone 12 mini, but this makes such little difference overall. We’re also willing to make this almost insignificant sacrifice for better battery and power specs.
On the rear, the new camera modules are positioned diagonally in the same way that they are on the iPhone 13. On the iPhone 12 mini, these sensors sat one above the other. Although this means very little in the grand scheme of things, it makes the module wider. This means iPhone 12 mini cases won’t fit.
In terms of colours, the iPhone 13 mini now comes in Starlight, Midnight, Blue, Pink and PRODUCT (RED). Proceeds from the sale of the latter go towards AIDS charities.
Every other feature is identical to the iPhone 12 mini, including the IP68 water-resistant rating. It has a Lightning port, a power button on the right, which can also be used to enable Siri, and volume buttons on the left. The speakers sit on either side of the charging port.
Although the display is much smaller than that seen on the rest of the iPhone 13 range, the quality is just as good. Surprisingly so. In fact, the iPhone 13 mini has a better PPI (pixel per inch) than the iPhone 13 – 476 versus 460.
It uses a Super Retina XDR OLED panel and now comes with a peak outdoor brightness of 800 nits. This is 28 per cent higher than on the iPhone 12 mini. When viewing HDR photos or videos, the Super Retina XDR display can even push the brightness up to 1200 nits, making scenes look as close to real-life as we’ve seen on a phone of this size.
This is boosted by the iPhone 13 mini’s support for the P3 wide colour gamut and its True Tone technology. The combination of these various features makes games and HD content shine. Plus, because each OLED pixel has its individual light source, it helps make blacks look deeper and darker and helps improve contrast. For the lower price point, you do get a lower 60Hz refresh rate on the iPhone 13 mini display versus the 120Hz seen on the Pro models. Yet, for everyday tasks, you’ll barely notice this.
This display is then protected by Apple’s Ceramic Shield technology, which the brand claims gives the iPhone 13 mini four times better durability when dropped. The back glass has also been strengthened through what Apple calls a dual ion-exchange process, making it “the toughest glass on a smartphone.” Despite these assurances, we still prefer to put our handsets in a case. – especially when a phone is as light and feels as fragile as the iPhone 13 mini. We’ve found that the best iPhone cases, in terms of protection and style, are those made by Mous, but Apple also sells a wide range.
However, there is a catch. We feel that fantastic and true-to-life display is almost wasted on the iPhone 13 mini because of how small the screen is. We’ve tried using the iPhone 13 mini for streaming Netflix and playing Sim City, and while it’s perfectly capable of doing both, the screen is too small to take full advantage of such activities.
On the face of it, nothing appears to have changed with the camera setup on the iPhone 13 mini. However, there have been a number of improvements behind the scenes that elevate the quality of the photos and videos taken on this phone.
Hardware-wise, the Wide camera now has what Apple describes as the “biggest sensor ever” and which captures 47 per cent more light. The phone also comes with the new sensor-shift optical image stabilisation. This helps make your photos and videos more steady and smooth and is made possible by the way in which the iPhone 13 works with the new neural engine and image processor on the A15 Bionic Chip. There is also a new sensor on the Ultra-Wide camera that reveals more of the dark areas with less noise while capturing four times more scenery. It’s great when taking photos of landscapes or when you don’t have much room or distance from which to take the photo.
Software-wise, the iPhone 13 mini is the smallest and cheapest way to access Apple’s new Cinematic Mode. This mode uses what’s known as “rack focus” – a technique used by cinematographers in feature films to guide the viewers’ attention. It automatically switches focus between subjects and adds a depth-of-field effect. Although this sounds like a small change, we were, and continue to be, blown away by just how professional it makes our videos look.
There is also a new Photographic Styles feature that can be set before you take each photo and which applies one of four styles – Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm, and Cool. As you cycle through these styles, iPhone 13 mini uses a “deep semantic understanding” to apply different adjustments to different parts of photos to change their overall appearance.
It’s akin to adding a filter but is much more nuanced and advanced. Instead of washing the whole image with a single filter, Photographic Styles makes adjustments while taking each individual person’s skin tone or lighting and contrast into account. This makes photos look more realistic and highly professional.
Elsewhere, the iPhone 13 mini comes with Night mode, Deep Fusion, and HDR video recording with Dolby Vision. The latter now supports 4K at 60 fps on all cameras (up from 4K at 30 fps on the iPhone 12). Night mode helps take even better photos at night, while Deep Fusion captures multiple shots at multiple exposures and “fuses” them together to present the best possible image.
On the front of the iPhone 13 mini, the 12MP True Depth camera (which also houses the FaceID sensor) also supports Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles, meaning you can snap and film selfies using these new tools. It similarly supports the same Night mode, Deep Fusion and Dolby Vision HDR recording, up to 4K at 60 fps, as on the rear module. A boon for vloggers.
The speed and performance of the iPhone 13 instantly impressed us. While it’s not noticeably faster or slower than the rest of the iPhone 13 range, we didn’t expect such a small phone to perform so well. This is because despite being so much smaller than its siblings, it’s still powered by the A15 Bionic Chip. Apple spent a large portion of its launch event bigging up this chip, claiming its new 6-core CPU is up to 50 per cent faster than the competition, “the fastest in any smartphone”, while the new 4-core GPU is up to 30 per cent faster.
This setup, alongside a new 16-core Neural Engine, makes the entire iPhone 13 range capable of handling anything we throw at it. Even the compact iPhone 13 mini. We never once experienced a lag while using the phone, not as we switched between apps or ran multiple tasks. We even pushed it to the point where we were playing music through Spotify, had directions running via Google Maps in the background, while playing Sim City in the back of a car, and having the latest episode of Squid Game playing over 4G in a pop-out video. The iPhone 13 mini handled all of this effortlessly, even if it was fiddly to do all of that on a smaller screen.
The power boost, combined with the Super Retina Display and support for Dolby Vision, makes gaming quick and responsive, but it’s not as immersive as on the iPhone 13 and above due to the smaller display.
In terms of battery life, the iPhone 13 mini also impressed us. Apple claims the handset will last up to 17 hours when watching videos and up to 55 hours when listening to audio. This is up from the 15 and 50-hour claims made, respectively, for the iPhone 12 mini.
In our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat at 70% brightness with aeroplane mode enabled, the iPhone mini 13 lasted 17 hours and 20 minutes – on par with Apple’s claims. However, when we used the phone daily, the iPhone 13 mini lasted 23 hours. Our daily use during the testing period included streaming at least one episode of Married at First Sight, sending WhatsApp messages, playing Sim City, watching TikTok and a couple of audio calls.
While this is impressive, particularly for a small phone, it falls a little short of what the rest of the iPhone 13 range is capable of, though, which is worth noting.
You can set up the iPhone 13 by either signing into the device using your Apple ID, by using Apple’s Move to iOS app if you’re joining from Android, or manually configuring the phone. Whichever route you take, Apple will guide you through setting up, or disabling, FaceID, Siri and sharing settings via a step-by-step guide.
With the launch of iOS 15, Apple now additionally lets you temporarily use iCloud Backup to move your data to the new device, even if you’re low on storage. Previously, if you didn’t have sufficient storage either on the handset itself or in the cloud, you’d have to delete apps, remove content and so on to make sure everything was backed up. With this new feature, Apple now gives you as much iCloud space as you need to complete a temporary backup, free of charge, and this lasts for up to three weeks from when you buy the iPhone.
The iPhone 13 mini has many of the hallmarks of an entry-level device – namely its lower price and smaller size – yet offers a whole host of hardware and software features to make it feel more flagship. It’s powerful, it lasts almost all day, the quality of the photos and videos you can take on it are far and above what we’d expect for an entry-level handset, and it looks great.
There is enough about the iPhone 13 mini to warrant an upgrade from last year’s 12 mini. There is even enough about the 13 mini to warrant recommending it over the more expensive iPhone 13. Especially if it’s a smaller handset that you’re after. However, this smaller display does, at times, cause issues. If you’re an avid gamer or use your phone to stream a lot of TV shows and films, you may find the iPhone 13 mini lacking. That’s not to say it can’t handle these tasks; it’s just not seemingly built for them, and you may find yourself wishing you’d bought a larger device.
The iPhone 13 mini does come into its own, however, with people looking to enter the world of smartphones. Whether that’s teenagers, and their parents, looking for a way to increase independence and older or less tech-savvy people who have never owned a device like this before. The combination of great design, easy-to-use software and premium tech makes it a great starting point.
The iPhone 13 mini is available at a number of UK retailers.