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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.