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Size matters: Choosing between the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro

When it comes to the size of the iPhone, a lot of us who tend to buy the most mainstream iPhone are a bit like the proverbial frog in the gradually boiling pot of water. In upgrading from the iPhone 4 to 5, from 5s to 6, and from 7 to X, our phones just keep getting a little bit bigger.

Sure, there were larger options—in the last couple of years, two larger phones bracket the main iPhone on price. But with the exception of the iPhone SE, there were no smaller options.

With the iPhone 12 line, though, Apple has made things interesting. Not only has Apple subtly cranked up the heat on that boiling pot, but it’s provided a place to leap to if the heat is too much for us. Now there are some decisions to make.

The lure of the easy upgrade

At first glance you’d think that the new iPhone 12 Pro is a major size upgrade from the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone XS, and iPhone X. After all, it’s got a 6.1-inch diagonal screen, compared to the 5.8-inch diagonal on those previous models. The move to the iPhone X already made my phone larger than I really felt was necessary, though I adapted. Was this next size boost going to be more than I could handle?

iphone x iphone 12 pro Apple

The iPhone X (left) isn’t much smaller than the new iPhone 12 Pro. (Product images are from Apple’s website and may not be accurately scaled above.)

Here’s the good news: If you’d prefer to let it ride and upgrade an iPhone X-class phone to iPhone 12 Pro, there won’t be as much disruption as you might think. That’s because the new phone is only 0.13 inches (3.1 mm) taller. Its other two dimensions are imperceptibly close to those of predecessors.

The seemingly large screen upgrade is because of two factors. First, diagonal screen measurements are magnified when a phone grows even a little bit in the horizontal or verticle—and this phone is that tiny bit taller. Second, Apple has pushed the “edge-to-edge” OLED display on the iPhone 12 Pro a little bit closer to the actual edge of the phone, picking up some extra space.

The net result is a slightly larger screen (about 220,000 pixels, but who’s counting?) in a phone that isn’t appreciably bigger. That said, every little bit counts. And while I haven’t held one in my own hands, I suspect that those gorgeous new flat sides on the iPhone 12 Pro might actually make it seem thicker than an older curved-edge model.

In the end, I think my concern about the fate of the standard-sized iPhone was overblown. The screen of the iPhone 12 Pro is bigger, but the phone has remained basically the same—and what little growth it had was in height, which won’t make it any harder to hold in your hand.

There! Problem solved. Open your Apple Wallet and make your order.

Except… there’s a complication.

Back to the basics

What if you’ve put up with the increasing heat in that pot over the years, as your iPhone got bigger and bigger, but you’ve never really been happy with it? The iPhone SE, full of last-generation technology, might never have been worth the trouble. But now here’s the iPhone 12 mini, a state-of-the-art iPhone that’s smaller than any iPhone currently being sold.

iphone 12 mini iphone se Apple

iPhone mini (left) and iPhone SE. (Product images are from Apple’s website and may not be accurately scaled above.)

You read that right: The iPhone 12 mini is smaller even than the second-generation iPhone SE, which is based on the iPhone 6/7/8 body. It’s 5.18 inches (131.5 mm) tall, a full quarter of an inch shorter than the iPhone SE, 0.12 inches (3.1 mm) narrower, and 0.46 ounces (13 g) lighter!

And yet with all that, it’s still got a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display. That’s because, unlike the iPhone SE, the iPhone 12 mini has an edge-to-edge display that maximizes the screen real estate even on a tiny phone.

So consider: For a lot less money, you can buy an iPhone that’s packed with almost all of Apple’s new-for-2020 cutting-edge tech… and also fits in your hand!

It’s tempting. Really tempting.

The caveats

I find myself really missing my annual trek to Cupertino for the iPhone announcements this year, because when the event was over, everyone would pour into the lobby and get a chance to hold the new models in their hands.

And because we’re socially distanced and remote this year, I am left guessing about just how the iPhone 12 mini will feel in my hand, and whether its screen will feel too small after all these years with a somewhat bigger iPhone. I’m also unable to provide a first-person account about whether the increased size in the iPhone 12 Pro is at all noticeable.

And it feels like these instant, tactile reactions matter. If you hold an iPhone 12 mini in your hand and recoil, it’s not for you and the 12 Pro is a better choice. If the 12 mini fits like a glove, you’ve found your new phone. I could relay my reactions to you, perhaps it would help—but in the end, you’d probably need to go to a local Apple Store to hold the things in your hand for yourself. And of course, in 2020, that’s a bit problematic, depending on where you live.

In addition, the iPhone 12 mini only has two cameras, compared to the three cameras on the iPhone XS and 11 Pro. I find myself using the telephoto camera on my iPhone 11 Pro a lot, and I would miss it if it vanished—but I’m not sure if I would miss it enough to have it override the size considerations.

Is the iPhone 12 mini right for you? A certain percentage of people considering an upgrade from an iPhone X, XS, 11 Pro will love the new size. For everyone else, the good news is that the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t seem to have enlarged enough for it to become more of a problem. The water only got a tiny bit warmer this year.

As for me, I am going to be sorely tempted by the iPhone 12 mini. I can’t wait to hold one in my hand and see if I’m ready to leap out of the pot and onto a cooler, smaller lily pad.

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