iPhone 12 mini vs Apple iPhone SE (2020) full review

If you are someone, or you know someone, who has been complaining that iPhones have got too big over the past few years then you will be glad that Apple has introduced a smaller iPhone with 2020's new iPhone range.

Apple introduced the iPhone 12 mini at an event on 13 October 2020 (although it won't go on sale until 13 November). It shares its features with the slightly larger iPhone 12 model, and it offers many of the features of the pro-focused iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max.

Here we will be comparing it to the second generation iPhone SE that was introduced in April 2020. Like the iPhone 12 mini, the SE is a smaller handset. It features many of the same components as the iPhone 11 series, but significantly has the Home button that many people crave.

Price

With the introduction of the iPhone 12 series Apple has dropped average price of entry to the latest flagship phones with the introduction of the new iPhone 12 mini, which starts at £699/$699.

  • iPhone 12 mini (64GB): £699/$699
  • iPhone 12 mini (128GB): £749/$749
  • iPhone 12 mini (256GB): £849/$849

The iPhone 12 mini won't be available to buy until Friday 13 November, but you will be able to pre-order it here from 6 November.

The iPhone 12 mini is not as cheap as the iPhone SE though, which has seen a price drop in the UK to £399 from £419 (it was always $399 in the US).

  • iPhone SE (64GB): £399/$399
  • iPhone SE (128GB): £449/$449
  • iPhone SE (256GB): £549/$549

If you are looking for a low-cost iPhone then you can't go wrong with the iPhone SE, which is £300 cheaper than the newer model. You can buy the iPhone SE right now from Apple, and you might even find iPhone SE deals (see the latest price cuts below) that could save you even more money.

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But there are still plenty of reasons why the iPhone 12 mini might be the one for you, so read on to find out more.

Read our 2020 iPhone SE review.

Dimensions

Chances are if you are interested in the iPhone 12 mini or the iPhone SE then the size of the handset is a primary motivation for your purchase.

It's a long time since Apple has made an iPhone as small as the iPhone 12 mini, although, of course when Apple introduced the 2020 iPhone SE back in April 2020 we'd have said the same about that handset. Here's how Apple's smallest phones compare:

  • iPhone 12 mini: 131.5mm x 64.2mm x 7.4mm (135g)
  • iPhone SE: 138.4mm x 67.3mm x 7.3mm (148g)

iPhone SE vs iPhone 12 mini

As you can see the iPhone 12 mini is smaller and lighter than the iPhone SE. The SE is a fraction narrower though.

The last time we had a phone smaller than this was in 2013 with the iPhone 5s, which was 123.8mm x 58.6mm x 7.6mm (113g). So it's not as small as the iPhone 5s was, but it is smaller than the iPhone 6 was 138.1 mm x 67mm x 6.9mm (129g).

Of course there is one very big difference between the iPhone 12 mini and these other small iPhones. The iPhone 12 mini has a much bigger display:

  • iPhone 12 mini: 5.4in
  • iPhone SE: 4.7in
  • iPhone 5s: 4in

That 5.4in display is Super Retina XDR, OLED, HDR display, with 2340x1080-pixel resolution at 476 ppi, it also offers 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 1,200 nits max brightness (HDR). That may not mean much to you, but it is a better quality display than that on the SE as you will see if you look at the table below.

Not only is the iPhone 12 mini smaller and lighter than the iPhone SE, it has a larger screen. What's not to like.

Design

The full-screen design that Apple premiered with the iPhone X back in 2017 is possible thanks to the removal of the Home button and Touch ID. This is likely to be a very divisive point in making the decision of which small iPhone to buy.

People are divided when it comes to Touch ID vs Face ID. Both are means by which you can unlock your iPhone, pay for things using Apple Pay, log on to sites and services, and so on. Both are considerably more secure than unlocking your iPhone with a passcode - although you can always override Face ID or Touch ID unlocking with a passcode so that point is really mote (for this reason we would encourage you to have a secure, hard to hack passcode though).

Touch ID iPhone SE

The main concern most people have is how easily and quickly they can unlock their iPhone, and this is one reason why a lot of people like Touch ID. Even before we were all finding we could no longer unlock our iPhones because we are wearing masks people were complaining that there were more steps necessary to unlock an iPhone when you don't have a Home button.

With Touch ID unlocking the iPhone is a case of pressing the Home button. With Face ID you have to wake the iPhone up by tapping it or by picking it up, you then have to look at the iPhone so that it can 'see' your face, and if you happen to be wearing a mask you then have to swipe up from the bottom in order to enter your pin to unlock it. It can be frustrating. The question is whether for you the frustration of Face ID and no Home button is enough to warrant the larger screen. For many it is.

The Home button/Touch ID vs bigger screen/Face ID isn't the only design difference. The iPhone SE 2020 copies the design used by the iPhone 8. That's an iPhone design that hasn't changed much since the iPhone 6. In fact even the iPhone 4 wasn't that dissimilar. Three years after the iPhone X arrived the older iPhone design is looking dated. (The image below compares the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 12 mini - as you can see there's not much difference in size).

iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone 6 size

The iPhone 12 on the other hand takes elements of the iPhone 11 design but the sides are a little less curved, which actually harks back to the iPhone 4 design. Some theorise that this design might mean the iPhone 12 doesn't slip out of your hand quite as easily.

With regards to phones slipping our of hands, one design feature of the iPhone 12 range is the Ceramic Shield front, which Apple claims will mean that the iPhone 12 has a tougher screen. In fact Apple claims "4x drop performance" which sounds like marketing speak to us, but theoretically means you'd have to drop your iPhone four times more before you get a crack, or something like that.

If you are particularly clumsy perhaps the iPhone 12 mini could be a better choice then, although we'd suggest which ever iPhone you buy you get a case and a screen protector. Here are our recommended iPhone SE cases.

Features & Specs

The most valued feature of a smartphone these days is rarely its ability to make a phone call, in fact that's probably the last thing you will be doing with your iPhone. When it comes to surfing the web, checking emails, replying to messages, social networking, booking your grocery delivery slot, playing music, watching YouTube and TikTok videos, there is little difference between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone SE.

However, there are a number of new features and tech inside the iPhone 12 mini that make the newer iPhone an attractive proposition.

We'll start with a quick overview:

iPhone 12 mini iPhone SE (2020)
5G, Ultra Wideband chip for spatial awareness 4G
A14 Bionic, Next-generation Neural Engine A13 Bionic, Third-generation Neural Engine
64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Super Retina XDR display, 5.4in OLED, HDR display, 2340x1080-pixel resolution at 476 ppi, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 1,200 nits max brightness (HDR) Retina HD display, 4.7in LCD display with IPS technology, 1334x750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, 1400:1 contrast ratio, 625 nits max brightness
Face ID Touch ID
Dual 12MP cameras: ultra wide ƒ/2.4 aperture and wide ƒ/1.6 aperture, 2x optical zoom and 5x digital zoom, Night mode & Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3, Brighter True Tone flash One 12MP camera: wide ƒ/1.8 aperture, 5x digital zoom, True Tone flash, Smart HDR
Dolby Vision HDR video recording up to 30 fps, 2x optical zoom, Digital zoom up to 3x, Extended dynamic range for video up to 60 fps, audio zoom, Night mode Time-lapse Extended dynamic range for video up to 30 fps, Digital zoom up to 3x
TrueDepth camera, 12MP, Smart HDR 3, Extended dynamic range for video at 30 fps, 4K video recording at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps, HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 30 fps, Night Mode, Deep Fusion, Animoji and Memoji, FaceTime HD (1080p) over 5G or Wi‑Fi FaceTime HD camera, 7MP, Auto HDR, Cinematic video stabilisation (1080p and 720p), 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
Compatible with MagSafe accessories and Qi wireless chargers Qi wireless charging
15 hours video playback 13 hours video playback
Spatial audio playback, Supports Dolby Atmos Stereo playback
HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG Supports Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG
Rated IP68 - Water resistant to 6 metres for up to 30 minutes Rated IP67 - Water resistant to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes

5G

Apple lead on the introduction of 5G when it introduced the iPhone 12 series and the iPhone 12 mini shares 5G with its siblings.

Whether 5G matters to you will possibly depend on what 5G coverage is like where you are based. The UK networks intend to roll out 5G across the UK over the next few years, and some cities already have coverage.

If you are curious to find out what the 5G coverage is in your area of the UK you can check the following coverage checkers:

Chances are that if you aren't based in a big city you won't have 5G coverage yet, so you might be thinking there isn't much point getting a 5G phone. On the contrary, there should be an element of forward planning in your decision, because in the next few years 5G will have been rolled out to more areas.

The other thing about 5G is that it promises a lot but right now even if you have 5G coverage you won't really see its potential. When 5G is really here then the wider bandwidth will accommodate a greater number of connected devices, and the higher speeds and more reliable connections will mean you feel like you are always connected to a super fast network. But practically, 5G will make a difference to the technologies that will emerge around us. From the driverless cars to the wearable devices we haven't even imagined yet.

Whether you want to jump on the 5G bandwagon now, or in a few years time is really a matter of when you see yourself buying your next iPhone. If you reckon you'll get your next phone in a couple of years then by all means go for the SE. If you think it might be longer before you fork out for your next smartphone then it might be a better idea to get 5G now.

Cameras

For many of us our iPhone is the device we take photos and videos on so making the choice between two phones could boil down to which one has the best camera.

In the case of the iPhone 12 mini vs the iPhone SE the iPhone 12 mini has a better camera by a mile. In fact it has two cameras. The iPhone SE has one 12MP camera with a wide ƒ/1.8 aperture, 5x digital zoom, while the iPhone 12 mini has Dual 12MP cameras: ultra wide ƒ/2.4 aperture and wide ƒ/1.6 aperture, 2x optical zoom. It also offers Night mode & Deep Fusion, Smart HDR 3 and Brighter True Tone flash. That's not to say that the iPhone SE doesn't take great photos, it does, it's just that they won't be as good as those taken on the 12 mini - especially in low light.

iPhone 12 mini camera

That's the cameras on the the back of the iPhone. There's also the one on the front - sometimes referred to as the Selfie camera, it's also used for FaceTime and other video calls. In the case of the iPhone 12 mini this is a TrueDepth camera - so called because it includes the technology required to recognise your face for Face ID. This camera is 12MP (compared to 7MP on the SE).

The 12 mini also features Smart HDR 3 as opposed to Auto HDR, offers 4K video recording, HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 30 fps, and Night Mode, Deep Fusion, Animoji and Memoji.

Video & audio playback

This is another significant point of difference, particularly if you are likely to use your iPhone to watch movies.

The iPhone 12 mini offers HDR with Dolby Vision, spatial audio playback, and support for Dolby Atmos. The iPhone SE supports standard Dolby Vision and standard stereo playback.

This will matter to a lot of people who use their iPhones to watch movies, perhaps on the commute, but we rarely use our iPhones to watch content like that. Watching a movie designed for a giant screen on a tiny devices just seems a bit counter intuitive to us.

The iPhone 12 mini does offer a couple more hours of video playback though, which could swing it for you. Apple claims 15 hours video playback, as opposed to 13 hours. But it's less if you are streaming said video.

So we don't think this is a big deal when deciding between these two phones.

Verdict

There are some notable differences between these two small iPhones. The iPhone 12 mini offers better cameras front and back, better audio and video playback, a bigger screen and a more modern design, and of course 5G.

The iPhone SE on the other hand is significantly cheaper and yet the technology gap between the two phones isn't huge. The iPhone SE also has two features that the iPhone 12 mini doesn't and these are features that many are calling out for: a Home button and Touch ID. Had Apple added Touch ID to the power button on the side of the iPhone 12 mini they might have been on to a winner, but as it stands those who want Touch ID or the Home button have only one choice: the iPhone SE.

You may also like to read our comparison of the iPhone 12 vs iPhone XR.

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