2020 has been a great year for affordable smartphones (it’s just a shame about everything else). We’ve seen the Pixel 4a set a new standard for cameras on sub-$400 phones, and we’ve witnessed the new iPhone SE do much the same in terms of smartphone performance. Now, Apple has added to the list of great inexpensive smartphones by unveiling the iPhone 12 Mini as part of its iPhone 12 series.

The iPhone 12 Mini is a sub-$700 smartphone that takes the core iPhone 12 features — the powerful A14 Bionic processor and great camera — and puts it in a smaller frame. Its 5.4-inch display allows it to fit more comfortably in your hand, while also cutting the standard iPhone 12’s price by $100.

However, as good as it seems, is it better than the iPhone SE (2020)? We answer this question by comparing the two phones in a head-to-head. By taking a closer look at the specs, designs, displays, performance, cameras, and special features of each phone, we should help you decide which is the best inexpensive Apple smartphone for 2020.

Specs

iPhone SE (2020)
iPhone 12 Mini
Size 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches) 131.5 x 64.2 x 7.4 mm (5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches)
Weight 148 grams (5.22 ounces) 135 grams (4.76 ounces)
Screen size 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
Screen resolution 1334 x 750 pixels (326 pixels per inch) 2340 x 1080 pixels (476 ppi density)
Operating system iOS 14 iOS 14
Storage space 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Apple Pay Apple Pay
Processor Apple A13 Bionic Apple A14 Bionic
RAM 3GB 4GB
Camera Single 12-megapixel rear, 7MP front Dual 12MP wide and 12MP ultrawide rear, 12MP front
Video 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps 4K at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports Lightning Lightning
Fingerprint sensor Yes, front-mounted No
Water resistance IP67 IP68
Battery 1,821mAh

18W fast-charging

Qi wireless charging

TBC

20W fast-charging

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace  Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Black, white, red Black, White, Red, Green, Blue
Price $399 $699
Buy from Apple, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy Apple, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy
Review score 4 stars News

Design, display, durability

iPhone 12 composite
Digital Trends graphic

There’s no skirting around the obvious fact that the iPhone 12 Mini looks much more attractive than the iPhone SE (2020). The iPhone SE has the iPhone 8’s design, with large chin and forehead bezels, which house the Touch ID button and selfie camera. By contrast, the iPhone 12 Mini boasts a design that’s improved even on last year’s iPhone 11. It features flat-edge sides, thinner bezels around the screen, and a narrower notch at the top.

It looks very smart and somehow manages to be smaller and lighter than the iPhone SE, despite housing a larger 5.4-inch screen. This display offers a resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels, which works out at 476 pixels per inch. The iPhone SE falls far short of matching this, with its 4.7-inch screen packing only 326 pixels per inch, making it for a noticeably less detailed and vivid visual experience. This difference is accentuated further by the iPhone 12 Mini’s use of an XDR OLED screen, while the iPhone SE uses a less capable LCD screen, which fails to provide the same richness and deep blacks as the Mini’s display.

While the two phones move closer together when it comes to durability, the iPhone 12 Mini still takes the advantage. It has an IP68 rating compared to an IP67 rating, which indicates that the iPhone 12 Mini can be submerged in slightly deeper water than the iPhone SE. It also comes with Corning’s Ceramic Glass, which should make its display harder to crack or chip.

Taken together, this all points to only one outcome: A win for the iPhone 12 Mini.

Winner: iPhone 12 Mini

Performance, battery life, charging

iPhone SE 2020 Charge Port
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

The iPhone SE famously delivered premium-level performance at uncommonly low cost (at least for an Apple smartphone). As fast as it is, the iPhone 12 Mini still outperforms it. This is largely because the iPhone 12 Mini comes with the latest A14 Bionic processor, while the SE uses last year’s A13. Both chips are highly capable, but the A14’s use of 5nm technology means that it can use a significantly greater number of transistors, which boosts its performance compared to the A13.

The iPhone 12 Mini also looks like it will come with 4GB of RAM, as opposed to the 3GB of the iPhone SE. This hasn’t been confirmed by Apple, but reports elsewhere suggest this is the case, so you should expect a noticeable difference in speed between the two phones. This gap won’t be massive, but it should be detectable, with the iPhone 12 Mini handling apps, games, and multitasking more smoothly than its older sibling.

It’s worth pointing out that both phones provide 64GB of internal storage as standard, and that they also lack a microSD card slot. You will therefore have to pay extra to buy the versions of either phone with more internal memory, assuming you need more memory.

Battery life is a hard one to comment on, since Apple doesn’t release its battery specs. However, details have leaked from regulatory documents, which suggest that the iPhone 12 Mini houses a 2,227mAh battery. This compares favorably to the 1,821mAh battery used by the iPhone SE, which our review found to have fairly average longevity, lasting only a day under moderate usage.

As with the previous round, pretty much every category suggests that the iPhone 12 Mini offers superior performance. This assessment may change after we review the phone in full, but for now, we’re giving another win to the iPhone 12 Mini.

Winner: iPhone 12 Mini

Camera

iPhone 12 camera

The iPhone SE (2020) has an excellent camera for a phone priced at only $400. Its single 12-megapixel rear lens may underwhelm on a specs sheet, but it performs perfectly well in practice, delivering very usable photos in most situations. Its outdoor shots are realistic and balanced, its dynamic range is pleasing without being excessive, and its Portrait Mode does a good job of capturing subjects in a flattering light.

It will serve most purposes well, but the fact remains that the iPhone 12 Mini offers a better camera experience in pretty much every respect. It comes with a 12MP ultrawide lens in addition to the 12MP main (wide) lens, while many of its core features — optical image stabilization (OIS), Night Mode — have been enhanced, allowing for more detail and more ease when taking pictures. Its main lens also now features a seven-element lens and a wider aperture, the latter of which improves low-light photography.

We haven’t tested the iPhone 12 Mini in full, but we’re very confident that it will be a better camera phone than the iPhone SE overall. This round is therefore another victory for the newer device.

Winner: iPhone 12 Mini

Software and updates

iPhone SE 2020 Screen Front
iPhone SE (2020) Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

It’s safe to say that this round is a tie. Both the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone SE (2020) now run on iOS 14, which provides the biggest update iOS has seen in years. It allows for a greater level of customization than previous iterations, letting you add home-screen widgets, hide less frequently used apps in the App Library, and quickly translate into a variety of languages.

Much the same goes for updates. Apple will roll out new software versions quickly, and both devices will receive them at the same time. They’ve also been released in the same year, so they should be supported for a similarly long time. As a result, this round is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Verizon 5G Super Bowl
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Apple has finally seen the light with the iPhone 12 and introduced 5G compatibility for the first time. This includes the iPhone 12 Mini, which won’t support the fastest mmWave 5G band, but will nonetheless support the longer-range sub-6Hz band. Despite being slower than mmWave, sub-6Hz 5G is still much faster than 4G, so you’ll notice a big difference between the download speeds offered by the SE and 12 Mini.

The iPhone 12 Mini also features MagSafe, which will let you attach magnetic chargers and accessories to the phone. This will include cases, car dashboard mounts, and stands (among other things). The iPhone 12 Mini also includes Apple’s Face ID, which allows you to unlock your device, pay for items (via Apple Pay), and log in to accounts using nothing but the almighty power of your face.

As for the iPhone SE, it doesn’t really have a particularly notable special feature, aside from perhaps Touch ID. Unfortunately, fingerprint sensors are pretty old now, so we’re going to declare another win for the iPhone 12 Mini.

Winner: iPhone 12 Mini

Price and availability

The iPhone SE, on the other hand, is available now from the Apple website for only $400, although the versions with 128GB and 256GB of internal memory will cost $449 and $549. It’s supported by all major carriers and sold by most major retailers.

The iPhone 12 Mini can be pre-ordered from Apple now and should ship from November 13. It starts from $700, but will go up to $749 and $849 for the 128GB and 256GB versions. It’s supported by all major carriers and will be available pretty much everywhere.

Overall winner: iPhone 12 Mini

Overall, there’s little doubt the iPhone 12 Mini is the best reasonably priced Apple smartphone. It looks great, has a gorgeous screen, super-fast performance, highly versatile cameras, 5G support, and (most likely) better battery life. It’s superior to the iPhone SE (2020) in pretty much every department, unless you have a quirky fondness for retro-looking smartphones.

That said, the iPhone SE is $300 cheaper than the iPhone 12 Mini, and this could make it preferable from certain perspectives. Its performance is actually close to the 12 Mini’s, while its single camera lens is as good as a single 12MP lens could possibly be. It also features the same excellent software, so for anyone who wants the core Apple experience in a phone that will operate smoothly, they’d struggle to be disappointed by the iPhone SE.

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