iPhone 13 Mini Review : Why Small Phones Should Be The Norm
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
In a world that thinks bigger is better, it can be odd to imagine shrinking back down to a body this tiny. But the iPhone 13 mini shows us how good things can come and should come in small packages.
The iPhone 13 and 13 mini are practically the same - except in size and battery life - so whatever we’re going to be talking about will mostly apply to the iPhone 13 too. Let’s get to it. In a world where big phones have become the norm, the differentiating factor for the iPhone 13 Mini is its compact form factor. You get a 5.4-inch display in a flat-edged design, just like its predecessor the iPhone 12 mini, while the standard iPhone 13 comes in at 6.1 inches. Although this might look small in the context of today’s larger phones, if you really think about it - a 5.4-inch display is already bigger than the iPhone 8, what was considered a ‘regular phone’, just four years ago. It’s been a long while since I’ve handled a small phone. At some point, our hand muscles adapted to handling bigger and bigger phones, and it’s only when you switch back down do you really notice it. It takes getting used to - I find my hands over-gripping the phone because of its smaller size, slightly uncomfortable after long periods, especially if you type with both hands, but the transition period is brief. If you do most things one-handed, type with SwiftKey or are mainly just scrolling, then this is a comfortable fit. On the flip side, it looks and fits great in your pocket, even in annoyingly small ones on women’s clothing. It’s definitely lighter than regular phones at 141 grams, so light that it sometimes feels like it’s not there. The smaller real estate though means this may not be your first choice for gaming, watching movies or intensive working. The Super Retina XDR OLED display now comes with a 20% smaller notch and gets a lot brighter at up to 800 nits max brightness. It does well outdoors in the bright sunlight. The new iPhone 13 series now has increased drop resistance and is said to be even more durable with the ceramic shield on the glass. Surprisingly though, it comes with a standard 60Hz refresh rate, unlike the Pro and Pro Max which have just leapfrogged to an adaptive 120Hz, reflective of a flagship of its time. It leaves quite a gap between the models, especially in a season when even midrange phones are regularly bringing in at least 90Hz. But let’s not go off-topic. This screen size is not really the best for long hours of entertainment consumption anyway, so the standard refresh rate may not bother you. It definitely didn’t bother me. Although I do find myself zooming in to review the pictures and videos I’ve taken (but hey - it could just be my eyesight), I originally thought I would be Airdropping footage out into my larger phone, an iPhone 11, to do things like editing. But it turns out, we humans can get used to anything pretty quickly and switching down to working on a smaller body is manageable if you really put your mind to it. It runs on the new, faster A15 Bionic chip with 4GB of RAM and storage options for 128GB, 256GB and 512GB, finally removing the 64GB storage option, long overdue in my opinion. From our Geekbench tests, we got a single-core score of 1723 and a multi-core score of 4591. It uses the same A15 Bionic chip as the iPhone 13 Pro Max so it will be as fast. As expected the score is very close to the other higher spec iPhone 13 variation. For comparison’s sake, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 records average scores of 966 for Single-Core and 3045 for Multi-Core - so the iPhone 13 series is leading the pack in terms of processing power. You get a 12MP wide lens and 12MP ultra-wide lens in a diagonal setup, and the cameras in the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini is basically the ones from the iPhone 12 Pro It’s pretty impressive that they’ve managed to squeeze these nice big cameras into such a small body (compare to my iPhone 11). When it comes to marketing - there’s always the overemphasis on how high the MPs go in cameras - but I’ve always liked how that never comes up with iPhones. Sure it’s only 12MP - but look at what it can do with 12MP. Pictures that are realistic with great colours, performing beautifully in well-lit situations. But I also really appreciate how far iPhone’s low light performance has come, especially with Night Mode bringing in good detail and vivid colours. Apple has also introduced Photographic Styles, which allows you to customise the look of your photos directly in the camera app for tone and warmth. It definitely feels more natural than slapping a filter on, personally, I didn’t use this much because I like how the Standard ‘iPhone look’ looks already. Video recording goes up to 4K at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps. The Cinematic Mode now available in the iPhone 13 series means you can now shoot videos with that bokeh effect. Sometimes the bokeh-ness effect can be pretty obvious and there are times when the camera isn’t quite sure what to focus on especially if your subject is not a person, but you’ll be able to change the focus or adjust the depth effect or turn off Cinematic all together, even after you’ve shot the footage. The battery life though is the one thing that made me pause, but as always, it depends on how you use the phone. Realistically, there’s only so much battery you can fit into a small body, and Apple has improved on the battery life compared to the iPhone 12 mini, claiming an extra 1.5 hours. If I’m going out for a day of casual use, it’ll be fine till I get home. But when I use my phone a little more extensively, like shooting for social media, by 2pm it’ll be dipping into low battery mode, so a power bank or a MagSafe Battery Pack is likely to be a part of life for days that you really need to keep going. On the other hand, I find myself being mindful of my usage, even if it is by necessity rather than by choice. And that can only be a good thing - considering how addicted most of us are to our devices. A couple of things you could do to manage that range anxiety is put it into Low Power Mode all the time, switch to dark mode and such to stretch it a little further. While iPhones, and phones in general, have been getting bigger, the screen-to-body ratios have also gone way up over the last few years, so you’re not really sacrificing screen size or specs. Small phones have also shown us they are worth serious consideration, like the unique foldable experience of the Samsung Z Flip3 or the ASUS Zenfone 8, which is also a high-performance phone with a Snapdragon 888 chipset. The Zenfone has a taller build which can make for a more comfortable grip, but it focuses a little less on cameras. I think the iPhone 13 Mini balances out the era of the giant phone nicely, with a little moderation. Maybe we don’t actually need phones to get bigger - the iPhone 13 Mini is about portability, taking great pictures and videos and being in a casual relationship with your phone while performing at the top of its class. So I’m team small phone now, or shall I say, a regular phone. It’s the other phones that are oversized. iPhone 13 Mini starts from RM 3,399 or S$ 1,149 and the iPhone 13 starts from RM3,899 or S$1,299.
So is a small phone for you? If you’re ready for a possibly healthier casual relationship with your phone and still get pretty much all the good stuff in a compact body - then the iPhone 13 mini makes a good case. I guess good things really do come in small packages.