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iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini: What should you buy?

iphone 12 vs. iphone 12 mini
(Image credit: Apple)

Among Apple's new set of iPhones, you'll find a number of notable differences in an iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison. That's not the case with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, which are virtually carbon copies of each other.

Oh, there are some noticeable differences. The iPhone 12 is the bigger of the two models, while the iPhone 12 mini offers the lower price. But in terms of the things that determine how a phone performs in everyday use — processor, cameras and so forth — Apple's two least expensive iPhone 12 models share a lot of the same parts.

If you're trying to decide which new iPhone to get, our iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini face-off details the similarities and differences between these two models. We've also taken a broader look at the iPhone 12 mini vs. iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max, in which all four phones are compared.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini specs

iPhone 12 miniiPhone
Starting price$699$799
Screen size (Resolution)5.4-inch OLED (2340 x 1080)6.1-inch OLED (2532x1170)
CPUA14 BionicA14 Bionic
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera12MP (ƒ/2.2)12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)Not yet tested 8:25 (5G); 10:24 (LTE)
Size5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches5.78 x 2.81 x 0.29 inches
Weight4.76 ounces5.78 ounces
5G compatibilitySub 6Ghz, mmWaveSub 6Ghz, mmWave

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini: What's the same

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini have some differences, as we'll get to. But on balance, these two phones have a lot in common, from the way they look to how they perform. Here's a look at the iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini similarities.

Processor: The A14 Bionic powers each and every member of the iPhone 12 family, from the mini all the way up to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. So performance will likely be the same between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 mini, especially since rumors suggest Apple will include the same amount of RAM in both phones. (Apple doesn't comment on how much memory it puts in phones, so we'll need to wait for teardowns so that we can confirm the amount of RAM inside.)

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We've run iPhone 12 benchmark tests. On the Geekbench 5 general performance, it posted single- and multicore scores of 1,593 and 3,859, respectively. Considering those numbers more or less matched what the iPhone 12 Pro produced (1,595 and 3,880), we wouldn't expect much variation from the iPhone 12 mini.

5G connectivity: Just as all the iPhone 12 models run on the A14 Bionic, they also all connect to 5G. That means every kind of 5G, as Apple included support for a wide variety of bands. In other words, both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini will be able to work on any kind of 5G network, whether it's built on the far-reaching sub-6GHz spectrum or uses faster mmWave technology.

Cameras: Apple made subtle changes to the different lenses used by the iPhone 12 Pro models, which will likely produce different shots once we get a chance to compare the iPhone 12 Pro with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. (The latter phone hasn't shipped yet.) There's no such distinction with the iPhone 12 and iPhone mini.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini each feature two rear cameras — a 12MP wide angle lens with a larger f/1.6 aperture and a 12MP ultrawide angle lens. Along with the f/1.6 aperture on the main camera, Apple now uses a 7-element lens, and those changes should improve low-light performance by 27%.

Software changes are the same across both phones as well. Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini support the enhancements Apple's made to Deep Fusion and Smart HDR for more detailed images than previous iPhones could capture.

Displays: Ignore the size difference for a moment, and focus on the fact that Apple now uses OLED panels across its entire iPhone lineup. That's a change from last year when the iPhone 11 still made do with an LCD screen. Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini offer a 60Hz refresh rate — a similarity you probably wish they didn't have in a world where a growing number of phones offer faster refresh rates for smoother scrolling.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Apple)

Design: Apple didn't skimp on the design flourishes for the less expensive iPhone 12 mini. It's made out of the same materials as the iPhone 12, including the Ceramic Shield display which Apple claims is four times more likely to survive a drop than previous phones. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini both have Apple's improved IP68 water resistance rating, allowing them to survive in up to 6 meters of water for 30 minutes.  

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini: What's different

As much as the two phones have in common, there are some noteworthy differences between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini. 

Price and release date. The larger screen and bigger battery translate to a $100 price difference for the iPhone 12, which is currently available for $799 (or $829 if you buy the phone unlocked). The iPhone 12 mini matches the iPhone 11's old starting price of $699 ($729 for an unlocked iPhone 12 mini).

You can buy the iPhone 12 right now. You have to wait to get your hands on the iPhone 12 mini, as that won't ship until Nov. 13. Pre-orders start a week earlier on Nov. 6, though you can reserve your phone now if you're part of the iPhone Upgrade Program.

Screen Size: While the iPhone 12 features a 6.1-inch display, the iPhone 12 mini goes small with a 5.4-inch display that will surely appeal to compact phone fans. In fact, Apple pulled off a neat trick with the iPhone 12 mini: even though it's got a bigger display than the iPhone SE, the mini is both shorter and not as wide as that latter phone.

iPhone 12 vs iPhone 12 mini

(Image credit: Future)

As you might imagine, the different screens require different-sized phones to accommodate them. The 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.29-inch iPhone 12 is noticeably taller and wider than the 5.2 x 2.5 x 0.29-inch iPhone 12 mini. The iPhone 12 also outweighs the mini by more than 1 ounce.

Battery size: Here's one difference that's not visible to the naked eye nor has it actually been confirmed. But logic dictates that the smaller form factor on the iPhone 12 mini means that its battery is smaller than the one inside the iPhone 12.

iphone 12 vs iphone 12 mini

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rumors have suggested the iPhone 12 mini has a 2,227 mAh battery to the iPhone 12's 2,815 mAh power pack, though that hasn’t been officially confirmed. (Apple doesn't list how big its batteries are, but one iPhone 12 teardown pegged the phone’s battery at 2,815 mAh.) We do know that Apple expects the iPhone 12 to provide up to 17 hours of video playback and 65 hours of audio playback; for the iPhone 12 mini, those numbers are down to 15 and 50 hours, respectively.

If the iPhone 12 mini's battery is smaller than the iPhone 12's, that doesn't bode well for battery life. Our iPhone 12 battery testing did not impress, with Apple's 6.1-inch phone only lasting 8 hours and 25 minutes in our battery test involving continuous surfing over a cellular connection. Only turning off 5G on that phone improved the result to an above average time of 10 hours and 23 minutes. We shudder to think of how a smaller battery will perform, though the iPhone 12 mini does have a smaller screen to keep powered.

MagSafe charging speed: One change that Apple has confirmed, via a support document, is that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini charge at different speeds when using the new MagSafe accessories. While MagSafe has a top speed of 15 watts, the iPhone 12 mini tops out at 12 watts.

There's no official reason given for the difference, but we suspect it has something to do with preventing the smaller phone from overheating when charging.

iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini: Outlook

Our iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini face-off finds two phones so evenly matched that which one you get will ultimately come down to your personal preference. If you like phones with small screens or you want to pay the least amount possible and still walk away with all the key upgrades, the iPhone 12 mini model is for you. But fans of larger screens will find the 6.1-inch display on the iPhone 12 more to their liking.

We'll know more definitively if the iPhone 12 holds a definite edge over the iPhone 12 mini once we test the latter's battery life. But for now, it looks like the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini choice comes down to a question of size.