• Beau Steward

iPhone 12 mini

I, recently, purchased an iPhone 12 mini. Since then, I've kinda bought into the whole MagSafe ecosystem. So, how did I get here, and what do I think?


Where I'm Coming From


For a long time, I was an Android user. Early on, I was an Android fanboy and hated Apple devices. But, you know, eventually we have to grow up. My last Android device was a Pixel 2. I had a strong preference for Google reference devices for the pure experience, so I had a few Nexus and a Pixel device. However, I was getting frustrated with the state of Android, the device ecosystem, and Google's plans that no longer included tablets. Not being able to get a reasonable replacement for my Nexus 7 lead me to look towards Apple, where I ended up buying an iPad mini 5th gen. I've used iOS devices in the past and didn't like it. My mindset was if I liked the newer versions of iOS, then I'd consider going iPhone as my next device. If not, I'd stick to Pixel devices.


My Pixel 2 ended up with a puffed battery within the extended warranty period. I couldn't get warranty coverage for it. I wasn't planning to switch to iPhone so quickly and this was, yet another, frustration on the list of frustrations. I couldn't find a battery replacement kit. I needed my phone for work, so I had to do something. I bought an iPhone XR.


Going into iOS 13, and then 14, really improved my opinion of iOS and Apple. I love my iPad and its functionality, and barring some annoyances in hardware/software choices on the iPhone XR, I loved it as well. The XR was big, though. The biggest phone I'd ever had. When I first started using smartphones, this would be referred to as a phablet, combination phone and tablet, due to its size. I hated phablets.


Enter the 12 series of iPhones.


The iPhone 12 mini looked very interesting to me. 5.4 inch screens are absolutely tiny compared to current generation flagship phones. On top of that, with the really tight screen to body ratios in modern phones, the overall size of the device feels tiny compared what what's considered "normal size" in modern phones. But what Apple did, here, was build a "mini" device without reducing specs they didn't have to (more on that later). The last time I saw something like this was earlier Pixel devices. Even though I hadn't quite had my XR for 2 years yet, I wanted to upgrade to the 12 mini for a few reasons.


I've been using it for a few weeks now on Mint Mobile (T-Mobile network) and I want to give my thoughts on it.


Specs


One of the key things I like about the mini is Apple didn't cut the specs for the smaller device. Many device makers assume people want a smaller AND cheaper device, but often, that's not true. I, simply, prefer smaller devices. But if I want a device that meets what I expect out of it, I've had to go bigger. I went from a device with a 3.2 inch display, eventually ending up with one with a 6.1 inch display. Taking a step back without sacrificing power was a huge seller to me.


The 12 mini comes with almost all the same hardware as the base level iPhone 12. Due to the shrinking of the size, some hardware had to be different, such as the screen and the battery. Yes, the iPhone 12 mini is expected to drive the same hardware with a smaller battery. However, keep in mind the biggest battery draw is the screen, so perhaps the smaller screen will help?


Display


The entire iPhone 12 lineup comes with what Apple calls Super Retina XDR OLED. The Pro devices have a higher typical brightness, but all are capable of HDR10 and Dolby Vision with a peak brightness of 1200 nits. Fortunately, Apple didn't simply take the largest display and shrink it, with the same resolution across the board. This would mean the pixel density would increase as the display got smaller and every display would have similar power requirements. The 12 mini has a resolution of 1080x2340 with a pixel density of around 476 ppi. The regular 12 does 1170x2532 with a pixel density of around 460 ppi. Basically, this should mean the smaller display has fewer pixels to drive and, as such, lower power requirements.


But let's be clear, it's not enough of a reduction to make up for the amount of battery capacity loss. More on that later.


The display is absolutely beautiful. The colors are excellent and the contrast providing the deepest blacks that OLED provides really makes it stand out.


I'm not sure the pixel density is quite necessary, though. Maybe something around 400, or even a little less, would be fine, and would allow for some better power savings.


The top notch is a bit exaggerated due to the smaller screen size and needing to fit the sensor suite there. You can't really shrink the sensor suite so the notch can't shrink with the device. Honestly, though, it doesn't bother me much.


Battery


So one of the big concerns with the 12 mini is the comparatively small battery driving such high-end hardware. But, again, it's the display that's the hard draw from the battery.


On my light days, the 12 mini easily gets me through a day. But light days aren't super common. With my typical usage, I could probably kill it.


Why probably? Because I've developed habits that help with this problem.


One of the reasons phones have gotten larger is to cram bigger batteries in and push those runtimes up. We haven't really gotten better at reducing the load on the battery. In fact, we've probably gotten worse. Because I've used phones with, by far, worse battery performance than the 12 mini, I've developed a habit of plugging in, or plonking on a wireless charger when I'm near one to use. Right this moment, my 12 mini is resting on a MagSafe compatible RAVPower wireless charger right next to me.


Because of this, my battery level rarely drops below 75%.


The iPhone XR was well regarded for its long battery life. It also had a lower pixel density than the XS by a lot. The XR had the same underlying platform as the XS, with 1GB less of RAM. But it had superior battery life. This is easily attributable to the 326 ppi LCD display on the XR compared to the 458 ppi OLED display on the XS.


If you are a light user of your phone, and you have good charging habits, the smaller battery is, really, not going to be an issue. Hell, if you just have good charging habits, that's enough. Grab a few wireless chargers and plonk them where you spend any significant amount of time and it's just a matter of plonking your phone on the charger, no cables to fiddle with. And if you want a MagSafe compatible wireless charger to get optimal wireless charging, the RAVPower charger comes with the plug adapter, unlike the Apple one, for the same price as the Apple one.


Speaking of wireless charging, it's been noted that the 12 mini charges with less power wirelessly. I believe all but the 12 mini charge at 15 watts while the 12 mini charges at 12 watts. This is likely because of the battery, not because of limitations of the charging hardware in a smaller device. The smaller battery likely has a lower charge/discharge capacity and this would be a safety measure. With a smaller capacity to charge, though, this should not be a noticeable problem. The only wireless charging problem I ran into was with one of my 15 watt pads having a bad cable, only allowing about 2-3 watts of charging, which isn't really enough to do much. This is what prompted me to upgrade to the newer RAVPower MagSafe compatible chargers.


Camera


One reason I really loved my Pixel 2 was the computational photography that Google had been working on, and the inclusion of hardware to accelerate this. The camera on the Pixel 2 was phenomenal. I'm not a professional photographer by any means, but I loved how dead simple it was to get a good picture.


The iPhone XR had, by comparison, a garbage camera. Apple had been working on their own computational photography, but apparently didn't include any of those features on the XR. Additionally, it had a rolling shutter problem with photographs...not video, but actual photographs...with certain LED lighting. I found that GE BR30 lights caused terrible rolling color banding, with yellowing bands across the photo. I found using the camera to get good photos on the XR was a huge step backwards from the Pixel 2.


The iPhone 12 lineup has a strong update to their cameras, with a fairly heavy emphasis on improved processing, improved computational photography, and improved capabilities such as the ability to record HDR video...in a phone. I don't have those old GE BR30 LED bulbs anymore, so I can't verify if the horrible color banding is still an issue, but everywhere else the photography is far superior to the XR. Even the night photography is impressive, though still not as impressive as the Pixel 2.


I feel like Apple may still be playing a bit of catch-up with Google's computational photography from 2-3 generations ago, but they definitely have stepped up their game. They do have the expected generational upgrades, such as 4K recording, HDR, etc, but still are lacking in other areas.


Network Performance


The entire iPhone 12 series got 5G low/mid/mmW. That is to say, it got all the 5G capabilities. Knowing what I know of 5G, I only really care about the low and mid bands. However, I have to admit that I disable 5G.


But I have tested it.


My home doesn't get very good mobile coverage by any carrier. I suspect if I were to leave 5G on, it'd probably drain the battery faster as it spent a lot of time searching, connecting, disconnecting, and searching again. LTE/4G used to be like this.


But when I found a solid 5G connection, I tested the speed. And boy is it fast.


So the iPhone does have good mobile connectivity, and it's capable of using it.


I haven't found a usable mmW tower, yet, so I have yet to test it.


Wi-Fi performance is about as good as can be expected. I don't have a Wi-Fi 6 network, so I can't verify those capabilities, but it works well enough for me.


MagSafe


MagSafe wasn't a feature I was expecting to see. And when I saw it, I saw the potential, but I didn't expect to use it. And now it's a prominent feature in my use of the 12 mini.


It started with the wallet. I did order the wallet with the 12 mini, though it was delivered a bit later. Based on what I'd seen from reviewers, I was expecting the hold to be weak.


Let me just tell you it's not weak.


When the wallet is directly against the back of the phone, it sticks on well. I am able to shake it off, but with rigorous shaking. It can slide off pretty easily when pocketing, but the way I grip it when putting it in my pocket, it's not likely to fall off without me noticing.


If you plan to use a case and the wallet, make sure to get a MagSafe case. The magnetism is weakened through other cases.


And really, if you plan to use MagSafe, I highly recommend doing it with a MagSafe case. I got the silicone case later and found I am not able to shake the wallet off without losing grip of the phone altogether. The reason for this is the back of the phone is glass, so there's not much for the wallet to grip on, and can more easily slide away from the magnets. The case, however, is grippy, and the magnetism is enhanced with added magnets.


The wallet only holds 3 cards. 2 of my cards are required for me to carry by law, so that leaves room for a single credit card. I carry my most used card as my third card. The thing is, if you're a user of Apple Pay, this may not be as big an issue as it sounds. I'm still adjusting to how Apple Pay works and building that habit.

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©2020 by Beau Steward.