EVALUATION

iPhone 13 Mini Review: The Best Value Phone of 2021

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Apple iPhone 13 Mini

9.50 / 10

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The iPhone 13 Mini is Apple’s second phone in the Mini lineup. While this is the smallest phone Apple offers, it shares most of the same features as its bigger and more expensive models.

Key Features

  • Ceramic Shield, tougher than any smartphone glass
  • New sensor-shift optical image stabilization keeps shots more steady
  • New camera features: cinematic mode & photographic styles
  • Dolby Vision HDR video recording
  • New dual 12MP rear cameras with larger sensors
Specifications

  • Brand: Apple
  • Storage: 128, 256, 512GB
  • CPU: A15 Bionic
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Operating System: iOS 15
  • Battery: 2406 mAh
  • Ports: Lightning
  • Display (Size, Resolution): 2,340 by 1,080 pixels
  • Camera (Front): 12MP camera ƒ/2.2
  • Cameras (Rear): Dual 12MP: Wide ƒ/1.6, Ultra Wide ƒ/2.4 (120° fov)
  • Price: $699
  • Dimensions: 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.3 inches
Pros

  • Incredible performance in a small form factor
  • One of the best value phones of 2021
  • Cinematic mode works great for vlogging and under ideal conditions
  • All 3 cameras take sharper and cleaner photos, especially in low light
  • Base storage now starts at 128GB
Cons

  • Design remains mostly unchanged compared to the 12 series
  • If upgrading from the 12 series, you may feel underwhelmed
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Starting at just $699 for 128GB, the iPhone 13 Mini offers incredible performance in a compact form factor. Whether you're considering upgrading from the previous 12 Mini or are new to the series altogether, there are several reasons the iPhone 13 Mini should be on your shortlist… pun intended.

At this size, Android doesn't have any phones that can really compete. For a lot of users like myself, the 13 Mini is the perfect combination of specs and size. Rumors are strong, however, that this may be the last generation in the Mini series. Maybe if enough people see the mightiness of the Mini, there might be hope for keeping this incredible series alive a little bit longer.

What to Expect

I pre-ordered the iPhone 13 Mini and have been using it daily for the past two weeks. I will share my experience and perspective upgrading from the iPhone 12 Mini and before that, the iPhone 11. While the upgrades compared to the 12 Mini may not be as significant compared to coming from the 11 series or anything older, I'll share some of the key differences that might make this year's model a compelling choice.

Throughout this review, I will be focusing on the excellent value and conveniences you get with Apple’s 13 Mini. For photo and video samples taken with the iPhone 13 Mini, please watch our video review.

iPhone 13 Mini - Handheld next to iPhone 12 Mini

At a Glance: iPhone 12 Mini vs iPhone 13 Mini

  • Both rear cameras on the 13 Mini have been upgraded; the selfie camera remains unchanged.
  • Base storage now starts at 128GB vs last year's 64GB.
  • The 13 Mini has a bigger battery giving you about 1-2 hours extra screen on time.
  • Both look nearly identical, but the 13 Mini is slightly thicker and heavier.
  • The new Mini has a 20% smaller notch, but it's not too noticeable.
  • The 13 Mini’s screen can get brighter, which can be helpful outdoors.
  • The new Apple A15 is faster, but you still have 4GB RAM.

Key Specs, Features & Value

One of the biggest things going in favor of the iPhone 13 Mini is that it shares the same specs as the iPhone 13, and even many of the same core features of the much pricier iPhone 13 Pro, which start at $999.

If you’re a fan of smaller and lighter phones and don’t mind foregoing some of the exclusive “pro” features such as the telephoto lens, an extra GPU core, and the new 120Hz screens, the 13 Mini continues to be Apple’s best value phone for most.

iPhone 13 Mini - With AirPods Pro & Apple Watch

Storage: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB

At last, Apple has finally upgraded its base storage to 128GB. Even many budget phones have ditched 64GB for some time now. Doubling the starting storage alone could be a key reason to upgrade to the 13 Mini. When you consider that a 128GB iPhone 12 Mini is only $50 cheaper (from Apple.com directly), it's pretty much a no-brainer to go with the newer model.

My iPhone 12 Mini was only 64GB and I was frequently struggling to free up space. Even with offloading apps, I could easily run out of space after a long day of taking photos and videos on the phone. This was especially frustrating when I was working on the go and didn't have time to backup or transfer my media. Since the upgrade, I haven't run into these issues even with extended periods of not backing up my files.

Display: Super Retina XDR display

The display specs between the 13 Mini and 12 Mini are identical except for the increased brightness to 800 nits. This is not to be confused with the 1200 nits max brightness (HDR) which remains the same between both.

iPhone 13 Mini - Screen

You’re stuck with the same 60Hz display as last year unless you upgrade to the iPhone 13 Pro. As someone who has an iPad Pro with 120Hz, it would be nice to have, but I don’t really feel like I’m missing out without it. Apple’s optimized software and UI still makes these phones feel snappier and more fluid than most of its competition.

Camera: Dual 12MP camera system (Wide: ƒ/1.6 and Ultra-Wide: ƒ/2.4)

The updated cameras bring improved low-light performance, sharpness, and stabilization. On the software end, Apple also introduces a few new software features including Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode which might be appreciated by some.

iPhone 13 Mini - New Camera Sensors

Hardware: A15 Bionic, 4GB RAM

Coming from last year's A14 Bionic, you probably won't notice any real-world speed or performance differences. Even with more CPU-intensive tasks like photo or video editing, the performance between the two felt on-par. Although both the 13 Mini and 12 Mini have 4GB of RAM, it seemed like the newer 13 Mini was able to keep apps in RAM for longer whereas the 12 Mini cleared them out sooner.

Battery: 2438 mAh

While Apple does not specify its battery capacity, teardowns revealed that the iPhone 13 Mini uses a 2,406mAh battery. Compared to the 12 Mini's 2227mAh battery, that is about a 10% increase. This is likely where the extra thickness and weight of the 13 Mini comes from.

In addition to the physical battery bump, Apple claims that the new Bionic 15 is also more efficient, helping provide longer battery life.

With mixed usage, I was getting between 1-2 hours of extra use out of the 13 Mini. Many decided against buying the iPhone 12 Mini last year, or if they did, complained of its mediocre battery performance. This year's improvements should get most users through a full day of average use.

Size, Design, and a Smaller Notch: Will You Notice the Difference?

While at first glance the 5.4in iPhone 13 Mini may look identical to the 12 Mini, similar to the rest of the 13 lineup, it is marginally thicker and heavier than last years’ models. You will be very hard-pressed to notice these differences.

iPhone 13 Mini - Smaller Notch

The iPhone 13 Mini has the same squared-off edges and is still IP68-certified, allowing it to survive up to six meters underwater for 30 minutes. The ports, buttons, speakers, and even the radio antennas are identical. I’d be willing to bet if someone didn’t know about the 13 Mini and you swapped their old 12 Mini out for the newer model, they’d be none-the-wiser… so long as they don’t look at the cameras on the back that is.

New Camera Design

This year brings bigger sensors to the two rear cameras. To fit them in the same area as last year’s models, Apple went with a 45-degree approach compared to being vertical. In addition to being wider, the sensors are also slighter thicker as well.

While the new cameras do bring some decent improvements and a few new modes, they might not be as noticeable as you’d expect. I’ll share some interesting observations later in this review in the Cameras section.

Will Your Old Cases Work? Maybe

One of my biggest questions when upgrading was, would my old case fit the 13 Mini? I have the Smarttish Wallet Case which fits up to 3 credit cards on the back while still retaining a very slim form factor. I find it convenient as it eliminates the need for carrying a wallet. Although Apple now offers the Mag Safe Wallet case, mine has no risk of falling off despite being a fraction of the cost.

iPhone 13 Mini - Fits in Old 12 Mini Case

The camera cutout on the back of the case still fits the new diagonal camera design of the 13 Mini without issue. The 13 Mini feels a little snugger in my older case, but nonetheless still works great.

I also tried using a basic generic case and had similarly successful results. While I can't test every iPhone 12 Mini case, there is some hope that your old case may work too. That said, the only real reason this would be worth considering is if you have an old case that you wanted to keep using rather than buying a new one.

The Perfect Sized Screen, Now Brighter With a Smaller Notch

The 13 Mini and 12 Mini both share a nearly identical 5.4" OLED screen. 5.4” might seem small by today’s standards of 6"+ phones. When I was originally deciding to switch from my iPhone 11 with its 6.1” screen, I was hesitant and concerned that I might regret going with a smaller screen. My experience was much the opposite and I’m glad to have a smaller phone now. A lot of people who I know who have made the switch have had a similar experience.

iPhone 13 Mini - One hand navigation

Whether we like to admit it, our phones consume our lives. For many tasks, they’ve replaced our PCs, tablets, and other gadgets. That’s great for convenience but can come at the expense of comfort. One hand holding larger phones, including the iPhone 11 can be fatiguing, especially after extended use. Trying to reach over to the corners of the iPhone 11 with one hand would actually cause cramping and require me to take a break from using it frequently. Its size combined with its heavier weight led me to use it with two hands more frequently.

Whether you're lounging, going for a run, or just using your phone on the go, the Mini’s are easier to hold and carry. If you’re coming from a larger phone, the 13 Mini might take a bit of getting used to and might actually feel a bit cramped at first. Give it a week or two and your hands should adjust and you can begin to appreciate that smaller size and weight.

Color & Brightness

Colors might be ever so slightly cooler on the iPhone 13 Mini, which may be a welcome change for those who felt last year’s 12 series displays were too warm. More importantly, though, the 13 Mini can get achieve a max brightness of 800 nits compared to the 12 Mini’s 625 nits. This extra brightness can be especially helpful when using your phone outdoors in direct sunlight. I often struggled to see my 12 Mini’s screen unless I went under shade. Especially when using my phone as a monitor while flying my drone, I really appreciate this improvement.

The Notch

When switching back and forth between the 13 Mini and 12 Mini they still feel identical to me. In fact, even with the notch which is 20% smaller this year, I quickly forgot about it. While it is not as wide, the notch is actually a little bit taller. Looking closely at the top of their screens you might be able to notice that the icons; clock, signal bar and battery bar are ever so slightly larger than on the 12 Mini. Interestingly, you’d think this extra screen real estate, Apple would at least give us the option to display more information like battery percentage.

iPhone 13 Mini - Smaller Notch

Cameras

Larger camera sensors let in more light quickly, producing better images. Apple is using the same ultra-wide sensor from last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max which gave it an advantage over other 12 series iPhone models. Now both cameras can take night mode shots.

Another new upgrade is in the wide camera’s sensor-shift optical image stabilization compared to last year’s optical only stabilization. This helps offset shaky movement in videos and lets you take long exposure images handheld.

In addition to the usual software improvements that each year brings, Apple has also introduced two new camera modes with the iPhone 13: Photographic Profiles and Cinematic Mode.

Cinematic Mode

Cinematic Mode is a new feature that I was very skeptical about when I first saw its announcement and demo during Apple’s keynote event. I actually like the new Cinematic mode, especially for vlogging or just doing a quick video on the go. However, I wouldn’t go as far as Apple did and give users the impression that they can replace their dedicated cameras and make high-quality films with this mode.

iPhone 13 Mini - Cinematic Mode

Similar to Portrait Mode for stills, this mode allows you to lock on to a subject and blur out the background digitally. Unlike with dedicated cameras and lenses which are physically racking focus, you are relying on AI to fake this look.

When filming multiple people, the phone can auto-switch between subjects depending on who is looking at the lens. Likewise, you can manually switch between subjects by clicking on the tracking box on their faces. You can also change the focus after filming, but this is currently limited to Apple Photos or Final Cut.

Under ideal conditions, results can be decent but it has its share of quirks. More complex subjects can confuse the camera. Just as with using portrait mode for people, Cinematic mode can struggle with hair, hats, glasses and other details. You’ll get that weird cutout effect that can often be less cinematic than if the mode was off.

The bigger issue in my opinion is that this mode is limited to 1080p 30fps. When you have a camera that can shoot 4k 60fps HDR video, there’s a big trade off to be made. Furthermore, this mode (as expected) does not work well or at all in low light.

Low Light & Night Mode Performance

Overall, all three cameras, including the selfie, have better low light performance compared to the 12 series. It may not be too obvious at first, however. If you simply look at the images side by side on each phone, it may actually look like the 12 Mini produces better images.

What I mostly see is improved white balance and color accuracy with night mode. When taking a closer look, further differences become more apparent.

Overall, the iPhone 13 is able to take the same low light shot as the iPhone 12 with either faster exposures or lower ISO.

When pixel-peeping it becomes clear that while the iPhone 13 images may appear as dark, or even darker compared to the iPhone 12, its images are cleaner and have less noise. I was able to make some minor adjustments to the iPhone 13 images to bring up the brightness and shadows to give a similar exposure and look to the iPhone 12, but one that retained much more info and detail.

Photographic Profiles

Photographic Profiles are quick new way to bake in custom looks of the images you take. You can adjust the the tone and contrast of how your images look. After testing them out for a bit, I reverted back to the standard look. These looks can be easily applied when editing them and I’d rather have the flexibility to make those changes as I see fit rather than having them baked in.

iPhone 13 Mini - Photographic Styles

I imagine this feature would be helpful to those just looking to capture an image they like and are happy to share straight out of camera without having to make any edits after the fact. In that sense, it’s cool, but I would have much rather preferred to have a RAW mode instead.

No Telephoto, LiDAR or Native RAW

As mentioned earlier, Apple is still reserving some of its features to its Pro models. Similar to the iPhone 12 lineup LiDAR and the telephoto lens are absent this year.

Given the choice, I would have preferred a telephoto lens over the ultra-wide. More importantly, I think it's time for Apple to give native RAW capabilities to all their phones and not just the Pro models. The images you can capture are already extremely impressive and at times can compete against very large and pricey “pro-level” DSLRs. RAW would further solidify the notion that iPhones can be used as professional tools. Being that isn’t a hardware constraint, but rather an arbitrary software decision preventing the other iPhones from shooting RAW, this is annoying.

Is the iPhone 13 Mini a Good Fit?

This might be the last year to buy the Mini, but hopefully, Apple decides to continue this model in the future. The iPhone 13 Mini gives users incredible specs and features in a smaller package. Once in hand, you'll see that a 5.4 -nch screen isn't actually that small and for many, might be a perfect size.

iPhone 13 Mini - With AirPods Pro & Apple Watch

Compared to buying last year's 12 Mini which is only $50 less (if you opt for the 128GB mode), the 13 Mini offers a number of improvements and new features that make it the much better choice when purchasing new.

If, however, you're trying to decide if you should upgrade to the latest iPhone 13 Mini from the 12 Mini, or other 12 series phones, the differences may not be compelling enough to justify the switch.

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