Hardware

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Apple’s smallest iPhone gets a big battery update – and more

The iPhone mini’s had a bad time of it over this past year, with reports claiming it’s sold below expectations. Someone at Apple must be a fan, though, because contrary to rumors the iPhone mini would be axed, we’ve got this refreshed model.

If you’ve never used an iPhone mini, the experience is initially bizarre. It bucks the smartphone trend toward increasingly surfboard-sized proportions, instead harking back to a time when phones were truly pocketable. The iPhone 13 mini’s footprint is similar to the original iPhone’s, but it’s much thinner. And it weighs just 4.97oz/141g – or about half an iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The iPhone 13 mini next to the iPhone 13. It really is mini!

The form factor has pros and cons. The lack of heft is great for portability and reducing strain on your wrists and hands – there’s no temptation to rest this phone on your little finger, and many folks will be able to use the device one-handed. But its dimensions leave the display – while bright and the sharpest of any iPhone – lacking in impact when it comes to video playback and gaming. That said, even an iPhone Pro Max is sub-optimal for watching films.

It can feel fiddly. Typing can be annoying with the small virtual keys, and when playing games you might find your thumbs cover too much of the screen or have trouble reaching virtual controls packed too closely together. (A Backbone controller can swiftly rectify that, though, transforming the mini into a fantastic handheld.)

Still, all that was true of the iPhone 12 mini, and so what’s new? What has Apple done to tempt people to buy a smaller phone?

The mini might be tiny, but the camera makes a big impression and is capable of shots like this

There’s the standard processor upgrade – the A15, we’re told is “faster than the competition” and is more than you’ll ever need in a phone. But this year’s upgrade is mostly a story of cameras and batteries. The revamped dual-camera system gains optical image stabilization from last year’s flagship iPhone, a bigger wide lens sensor that reduces noise, and fancy video tricks you’ll probably never use. You don’t get the telephoto lens found on the Pro models, nor their snazzy new macro mode, but shots you get from the mini nonetheless impress.

The bigger battery is very welcome. Battery life was a sore point with iPhone 12 mini users, who’d complain their device could rarely get through a day without a charge. The extra boost – Apple claims an hour and a half – still leaves the phone lagging behind other iPhone 13 models, but it beats last year’s iPhone 12 (let alone iPhone 12 mini) and satisfactorily addresses the biggest drawback from last year’s equivalent model.

iPhone 13 mini (2021) verdict

We fell for the iPhone 13 mini. It’s a lovely thing; and after carting about heavy phones for years, the sheer lack of weight was wonderful. But you need to balance that advantage against the device’s drawbacks – namely, that small display and a smaller battery than any other device in the iPhone 13 line.

If your iPhone is your primary computing device, consider the iPhone 13 instead – or the iPhone 13 Pro, if you want a fancier camera. But if you work and relax with an iPad or Mac and therefore prefer a phone that’s capable but also extremely portable and pocketable, the iPhone 13 mini is a great choice.