The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max didn’t captivate me enough to pull the trigger on one of Apple’s most expensive smartphones. The iPhone 13 mini was therefore my self-engineered ’interesting’ iPhone upgrade.
I’m happy to say that this strategy worked, brilliantly. I’ve not talked as animatedly about an iPhone for years as I have done about the iPhone 13 mini.
But I had two key concerns about this phone. The first was the battery life (the iPhone 12 mini was a notoriously poor performer in that regard), and the second was the physical size of the device.
Would it be too small? Would it get me through a day?
Here’s what I’ve learned.
According to iOS, in the last ten days, I’ve averaged three hours, 17 minutes of screen on time and four hours, 12 minutes of screen off time.
That doesn’t sound great. But, admittedly, I have no idea what those numbers mean. I flicked briefly through the breakdown of battery life by app and day but immediately found myself wanting to do something more interesting.
This is why I’m never particularly fussed about benchmarking – it rarely speaks the same language as everyday, real-life experience. It’s also immeasurably boring.
A case in point: the iPhone 13 mini battery is superb – regardless of the aforementioned statistics. Mine was taken off charge at 6 am yesterday morning, and only hit the 20% low-power mode warning at 11 pm after a full day of use.
That’ll do me just fine, thank you.
If you’re worried about the iPhone 13 mini’s battery life, don’t be. Whatever Apple has done both to the internals of this phone and iOS 15 has fixed it.
When I unboxed the iPhone 13 mini I was immediately surprised by its size.
This was, arguably, a bigger worry for me than the battery life. I’ve used large smartphones for a number of years now, and the idea of switching to the smallest screen Apple offers felt like a huge punt.
It paid off, though – big time. The iPhone 13 mini is brilliantly small; it fits perfectly into any pocket (you barely know it’s there) and the screen doesn’t actually feel that small at all. It’s also far more at home with MagSafe accessories than my iPhone 12 Pro ever was.
I’d been expecting a device that resembled the iPhone 5, with a similarly small screen. But it isn’t, of course. The mini sports a 5.4-inch screen with tiny bezels and a slightly reduced notch. After two weeks of using the phone, that amount of screen estate feels utterly normal and not hindered in any way. By comparison, my iPhone 12 Pro feels huge.
But where this phone really sings is during one-handed use. My most memorable moment with the iPhone 13 mini came during the first dog walk with my brand-new, tiny phone. Gaining the ability to operate the phone safely with one hand felt like a release. For years, I’ve struggled to text or make quick notes on my phone while walking the dog. Not so with this little device; you can do everything with one hand, without any form of finger gymnastics.
The size is clearly the iPhone 13’s biggest selling point, and I now feel like I’ve been missing out on this form factor for the last few years.
The camera: stills
As always, Apple focused practically all of their iPhone launch event on the improvements made to the camera system.
I can see why they’re proud of it. The stuff the iPhone 13 mini can do with both stills photography and video is absolutely mind-boggling.
However, one of my favourite elements of the camera package on the iPhone 13 mini is the fact that it has gained most of the top-end tech from last year’s Pro models. For instance, sensor shift is now present on the mini, which is a form of image stabilisation only previously found on the top-end iPhone.
There’s a new ultra-wide lens, too, and the upgrade in both glass and sensor is clear to see if you compare the size of the camera bump on the iPhone 13 mini to last year’s model. It’s massive.
There are also four ‘photographic styles’ to choose from, which offer different combinations of white balance, contrast and vibrancy to provide the look you want every time you take a photo without having to make edits to the image. Clearly, this is Apple saying, “ok, fine – if you want your photos to look like Samsung photos or what your mate gets out of her Pixel, choose one of these settings”. But, I’m glad they’ve included it.
The camera: video
Arguably, the biggest change to the camera system on the iPhone 13 mini resides within video capture. It’s still a superb 4K shooter in that regard, but this year, we also get to play with something called Cinematic Mode.
This is basically a computational version of rack focusing. For the uninitiated, rack focusing is when focus is shifted from one subject to another. It happens all of the time in TV shows and movies, and the most common example is when focus is shifted from a person in the foreground of the frame to someone behind them.
The iPhone 13 mini can do this without relying on expensive lenses or large sensors. It can even do so automatically by detecting when a subject turns their head to look behind them, and automatically shifting focus to whatever lies in the background.
It’s ridiculously clever, but there are two caveats. The first is that Cinematic Mode is only available at a resolution of 1080p and 30fps. The second is that it feels very beta-like. The focus ‘hunts’ a little too much for my liking, and the background blur (or ‘bokeh’, as it is often referred to), struggles to maintain consistency unless the lighting is absolutely perfect.
This renders Cinematic Mode a lovely toy and a great tool for anyone who’s interested in studying and developing their storytelling ability with video. But it isn’t quite a professional tool just yet.
The limitations and rough edges that come with Cinematic Mode reveal just how difficult this stuff is. It needs time to develop, but to have such an interesting set of photographic tools to play with in such a small package is a lovely thing.
The pocketability, one-handed prowess, and all-day battery life make the iPhone 13 the easiest phone I’ve lived with for quite some time. My initial concerns were quashed, immediately – and yours will be too if you’re currently holding off buying the mini because of the battery life or screen size.
Don’t wait. Buy one. I’d argue that for anyone with a regular iPhone 12, Pro, or Pro Max, the iPhone 13 mini represents a far more interesting upgrade, simply because it is so different and convenient.
Apple is never going to make a wacky iPhone. These devices will continue to be utilitarian, functional, and outwardly conservative. But it works for Tim and co., and, providing this isn’t the swan song for the mini, there’s a little gem in the lineup waiting to be discovered by someone like you.