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iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max: A Roundup of Reviews

Ready for round two? We rounded up reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro after the embargoes broke in “iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro: A Roundup of Reviews” (23 October 2020). Now, similar reviews have started appearing for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. I strongly recommend perusing the earlier reviews if you haven’t because we won’t be covering the basic features of the iPhone 12 lineup again here.

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max are polar opposites. The former is the smallest iPhone in years, while the latter is so large that some people find it hard to hold and difficult to fit in many pockets. While distinguishing the iPhone 12 from the identically sized iPhone 12 Pro was tricky, deciding whether to buy the iPhone 12 mini or the iPhone 12 Pro Max is much easier:

  • iPhone 12 mini: If you’ve been demanding a smaller iPhone, buy the iPhone 12 mini. Bought an iPhone SE earlier this year but find that it’s still larger than you’d like? Sell it and buy the iPhone 12 mini, because Apple may not make another unless it sells well. For everyone else, the screen might be smaller than you remember, and you won’t get the same battery life as the basic iPhone 12. It’s also $100 less than the iPhone 12, which is impressive given that it has all the same capabilities.
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max: It’s only $100 more than the iPhone 12 Pro, so price isn’t the big factor, size is. Do you want the absolute best iPhone camera and don’t mind carrying around a lunch tray? Buy one. You’ll get top-notch battery life to boot.

Those are the basics. Let’s look at what the reviewers had to say. And then, finally, let’s revisit the iPhone purchasing decision.

iPhone 12 mini Reviews

The iPhone 12 mini costs $100 less than its big sibling, but its feature set is identical, except for battery life. In his review for Tom’s Guide, Adam Ismail said:

You expect corners to be cut in downsized premium smartphones, yet the iPhone 12 mini never makes them. As you’ll see in our iPhone 12 mini review, aside from unavoidable sacrifices to battery life, this is still every bit the iPhone you want, at an even cheaper price.

Ismail added:

The iPhone 12 mini is exactly the kind of device I wish more phone makers had the conviction to build. In a way, it really is the most impressive member of the iPhone 12 lineup, because it does everything the larger, more expensive models do, but amazingly fits all that capability into an [impossibly] small frame.

At TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino had the same feeling:

Because the iPhone 12 mini has no appreciable compromises in feature set from the iPhone 12, I consider these one device with two screen sizes.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber is also a fan:

But if we’re talking about value, about bang for the buck, the iPhone 12 Mini is the standout. There was a time when miniaturization in technology cost a premium. Smaller cell phones cost more than larger ones. A smaller camera that captured the exact same quality images cost more than a larger one. That the iPhone 12 Mini costs $100 less than the iPhone 12 feels too good to be true.

So what’s the catch? For one, the small screen may not be as fun as you remember.

Ismail said:

You almost have to relearn how to live with a device and screen this small; I found my thumbs [crashing] into each other more often when typing, for example.

That said, most reviewers praised the return of the small size. Dieter Bohn of The Verge said:

The iPhone 12 mini feels like the first iPhone in a long time with a different goal. It was designed around the human hand and real pockets.

But that small size comes with one drawback: a smaller battery, with the iPhone 12 already suffering from shorter battery life than its predecessor. Bohn said:

I don’t want to sugarcoat it nor be overly dire about it, but the battery life on the iPhone 12 mini is noticeably worse than on the iPhone 12, which itself was a step down from the battery-champ iPhone 11… So it’s not bad, but it’s definitely not great. My feeling after a little less than a week is that getting through a day requires a little bit of battery management.

Despite that, he proclaimed the iPhone 12 mini his favorite of the lineup.

Gruber said:

Yes, I noticed battery life on the Mini wasn’t quite as good as on the 12 and 12 Pro (and the 11 Pro I used for a year, and the XS I’d used the year before that). But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to buy a 12 Mini for this reason. Battery life on the Mini is, at worst, good enough. No one buys the smallest iPhone expecting the longest battery life.

Panzarino, as with his iPhone 12 review, was a bit kinder than other reviewers:

Apple says that the iPhone 12 mini’s battery life is better than the 4.7″ iPhone SE, and that bore out in my testing. I got through a day easily, with maybe a few percentage points difference between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12.

As for video reviews, Marques Brownlee focused on the size difference between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 mini.

And Rene Ritchie appealed to Star Wars fans, calling it the Baby Yoda phone.

iPhone 12 Pro Max Reviews

The big story about the iPhone 12 Pro Max is: it’s big. The only real reason not to opt for the iPhone 12 Pro Max over the iPhone 12 Pro is the size.

Julian Chokkattu of Wired said:

Did I mention this thing is huge? The ‘Max’ in the name doesn’t really do it justice. It’s taller, wider, and heavier than last year’s Max, though not by much. Surprisingly, it’s also thinner.

Nilay Patel, in his review for The Verge, said:

I strongly recommend finding a way to safely see the 12 Pro Max’s size in person before making a call on ordering one.

But if you can handle the size, you’ll be rewarded with a camera that’s significantly better than the iPhone 12 Pro because Apple put larger lenses in the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year. Gruber said in his review:

But it’s also a bigger camera system. This is not obvious at all from Apple’s product marketing photography, and I can’t really take a photo myself that illustrates this in a way that feels true to life, but the 12 Pro Max camera module — the whole raised square bump containing the rear facing cameras, flash, and lidar sensor — is much bigger in surface area than the camera module on the other iPhones 12. In the previous two years, not only were XS Max and 11 Pro Max camera systems identical spec-wise to those on the XS and 11 Pro, they were the same size, too.

That enables the new stabilization system and makes for better night shots. Wired’s Chokkattu explained:

Instead of steadying the lens (which is what optical image stabilization does), Apple’s system keeps the sensor itself steady deep within the phone’s body. This makes the Pro Max more adept at canceling out the micro-movements your hands inevitably make whenever you’re taking a photo or shooting a video. It has a positive impact [on] the image quality, particularly in low light when you need to stand still for several seconds to get a clear shot.

However, Chokkattu cautions that the larger lenses are really only useful at night:

The perks of the larger sensor are harder to discern over the iPhone 12 Pro when the sun is out. You won’t find too many photos you’re disappointed with when you shoot in daylight.

Patel raved about the camera:

The upshot of all this is simple: the wide camera on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is one of the most confident smartphone cameras I’ve ever used. It can take great photos in a huge variety of situations, and rarely feels pushed beyond its limits.

As did Panzarino:

It’s huge and it has a really, really great camera. Probably one of the best cameras ever in a smartphone, if not the best. For those of you coming from an iPhone “Max” or “Plus” model already, it’s a no-brainer. Get it, it’s fantastic. It’s got everything Apple has to offer this year and it’s even a bit thinner than the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

And, of course, a larger phone means there’s room for a larger battery. Chokkattu said:

A big phone also means a big battery, and the good news is battery life here is excellent. I frequently ended up with 45 percent of a charge left by 11 pm after more than five hours of screen-on time.

On the video front, Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal focused on the camera differences between the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Max.

Rene Ritchie’s “mega review” has a bit of everything, with both size and camera comparisons.

And Marques Brownlee’s review is worth watching, if for no other reason than his clever Photoshop intro.

Deciding on an iPhone

Adam Engst walked you through our thinking on the upgrade decision when the iPhone 12 was announced (“The iPhone 12: Here’s What You Need to Know,” 13 October 2020). But with more time and now that reviewers have had experience with these iPhones, let’s take another look for those who are still undecided:

  • If you like your iPhone, keep your iPhone: Unless you’re on an upgrade plan or have money burning a hole in your pocket, keep your iPhone if it’s still working well. Each year, iPhone upgrades become more incremental. A new iPhone likely won’t change your life, and next year’s models will be better yet.
  • Consider the iPhone SE first: The second-generation iPhone SE is the best deal going in the smartphone world. If you need a new iPhone and aren’t particular about having the latest hotness, consider the iPhone SE.
  • Just buy the iPhone 12: If the iPhone SE isn’t enough and you can’t decide, the iPhone 12 is the safe default choice.
  • If you asked for an iPhone 12 mini, buy it: Again, if you’re one of those people (and some of us resemble that remark) who demanded a new small iPhone, you should buy one. Vote with your wallet! If you don’t, the iPhone mini could go the way of the iPhone 5C.
  • Do you want the best camera? The iPhone 12 Pro Max has, hands down, the best iPhone camera ever. At least until next year’s iPhones.

In some ways, the trickiest iPhone to pick is the iPhone 12 Pro. Apart from the telephoto lens, the iPhone 12 does most of what it does, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a better camera. So who is it for?

If I were to buy a new iPhone this year, it would probably be the iPhone 12 Pro for a couple of specific reasons. One is that the iPhone X got me hooked on having a telephoto lens in my pocket. Between the telephoto and wide-angle lenses, I have a lot of options when I’m taking photos of my kids or shooting snaps for articles.

The other is that I like its middle-of-the-road iPhone size. I loved my Plus-sized iPhones, but they were hard to pull out of my pocket, even without a case. Having two young children necessitates protecting my iPhone with a sturdy Otterbox case, so if I bought an iPhone 12 Pro Max, I’d have to carry it around on my belt. The iPhone 12 Pro form factor gives me plenty of screen space in a less-awkward size.

What about you? If you’ve either just bought a new iPhone or are planning to buy one before the iPhone 13 comes out next year, what model would it be? Register your vote in our quick single-question survey and let us know why in the comments.

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Comments About iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max: A Roundup of Reviews

Notable Replies

  1. “Extreme size”? I would object to that moniker for the 12 mini. It’s barely smaller than the 6-SE2.

    So far I’ve been enjoying my mini just fine. It’s smaller than the old 6 I threw away, but it’s still noticeably larger than the original SE I replaced my 6 with. And I’d go so far as to say it feels closer in size to the 6 than then original SE. But it’s beautifully designed, doesn’t feel heavy (despite its heft: 133g vs. the 2016 SE’s 113g—note the 2020 SE is a whopping 148g), and has a stunningly beautiful screen with great cameras. And as to the battery, even after a busy day using it a lot (LTE over wifi almost exclusively though) I never got to below 51% by night time when I plugged it in going to bed. I’d still like it to be a tad smaller, but at least it’s now small enough that I will buy a new iPhone again. :+1::heart::slight_smile:

  2. My very elderly mother (think “little old lady”) who loves her ‘iToys’ has held onto her original SE, coz she refuses to have a big phone. So of course as soon as the 12 Mini was announced, I opted to pre-order on November 6. Then I set it up a few days ago complete with a “wallet phone case” exactly like the one she had before, and man (woman?) is she a happy camper! I might also add that it was a cinch to pair her Apple Watch 5 to it. Instead of unpairing it from the SE then pairing it to the 12 Mini, all that was taken care of during the setup when I simply ‘restored’ the new phone from her iCloud backup.

    In fact, she was napping when I was setting up her 12 Mini, and suddenly she walked into the living room asking what was the matter with her… Apple Watch — which was just completing the setup ‘circle’! So I reassured her that it was perfectly normal, as her AW was only being ‘transferred’ to her brand-new iToy. And not even 2 minutes later, everything was done and she’s been happy as a clam at high tide :innocent:

    What’s more, I was so impressed with her 12 Mini that I also ordered one for myself, trading in my XS (the smallest possible since the original SE, I think) for $300 credit. AND… since I’m with Tmo, I’ll also get a $150 gift card from them. Talk about a… bargain!

    I just picked up my own 12 Mini three hours ago from my local Apple Store, and can hardly wait to set it up. Really looking forward to having it in a small pocket the next time I run errands on my trike (with a big basket in the back)!

  3. I got my battery replaced today on my original SE (third time!!!) and took advantage of being in an Apple Store with my phone out of the case. The Mini is WAY more than I want to spend but I was thrilled to see it’s just a hair bigger than the SE. I have some time to decide though.

    After the fact, I realized the new SE was not near the 12s at all, I have no idea where they were keeping that.

    Diane

  4. Yes the new 12 Mini is only a tad bigger than the original SE, but the display “real estate” is much bigger hence a real plus for my very elderly mother — as well as her daughter :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

    AND…I just saw that Apple is having Black Friday deals on iPhones etc., so maybe you could look into that?

    Plus, depending on your carrier, you may also get a financial incentive (as I did from Tmo, a $150 MasterCard gift card).

    In short, please do mull it over. Oh oh oh, my mom also says her brand-new iToy is much, much faster than the (original) SE, whose battery (already replaced once) was draining fast, too.

  5. That has also been my experience. The 12 mini is notably faster so that for example complex websites render much more quickly. And while I could easily drain my SE after an average day’s worth of use, the 12 mini has so far for me gone no lower than 50% by the time I went to bed.

  6. Yes, I got that 4 day special sale email 30 minutes after I got home from spending $50 on a new battery :frowning: I doubt they’ll take it back.

    Funny because the last time I replace the battery I got a hard sell on a new phone. This time the guy mentioned it was “old” but that was it.

    Diane

  7. iPhone 12 mini? Small screen? I’m upgrading from a 5s. I expect I’ll be amazed (disappointed that it’s too big?) at the bigger size.

  8. It’s not just the increased size of the screen, it’s also the really great popping colors and the fact that it’s so much easier to read when in bright sunlight.

    Just the other day I was driving eastward around sunset and had the sun shining right into the back of my car straight onto my iPhone. I had trouble reading the instruments on my dash it was that bright. I remember the old SE was hard to read in situations like that. The 12 mini’s turn by turn OTOH was still perfectly legible. :slight_smile:

  9. And moving up from 16GB to 128GB will make a huge difference.

  10. That’s a great review roundup. I share your concern about the large size of the Pro Max, though I would always like the best camera.

    I’m sticking with my iPhone X (under month-to-month warranty) for now, but remain curious about the iPhone 12 Pro.

    It’s hard finding shirts with pockets that even comfortably hold my iPhone X. And I prefer keeping my iPhone on me, in my shirt pocket when out. Even though I lost 125 lb and am now at a normal BMI for the first time in my life, I can’t imagine sitting on my iPhone! :slight_smile:

  11. The 12 Mini is only a tad bigger than the 5S, which is the same size as the original SE. But the display “real estate” on the 12 Mini is much bigger (edge to edge with no home button), hence a win-win for those who want a small phone (like my very elderly mother and myself) but great display. Not to mention much, much faster than the 5S and original SE. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do!

  12. I am enjoying it quite a bit. My first test of battery life was 5 days from 100% to 10% or so. Strictly a test of the phone at mostly idle. The second one is of music, and it’s about 2 days or so. Might make 3 as I’m not playing any music today.

    It’s taking some time to get used to not having a home button, but I’m getting there.

  13. Yes it takes a bit of time to get used to no more home button, as was the case with my mom. I also set up 2 back taps to get back to the Home Screen, so she’s an even happier camper. She even participates in our family group iMessages now :wink:

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