November 27, 2020

iPhone 12 Mini vs. iPhone SE: What you get for an extra $300, besides 5G

Apple’s four-member iPhone 12 family. 


Back in October, Apple introduced an entirely new iPhone model called  the iPhone 12 Mini. Out of the four iPhone 12 variants, the iPhone Mini is the most compact and most affordable, starting at $729 (£699; AU$1,199). But it’s not the only iPhone designed for value-driven shoppers who want the latest and greatest from their iPhones. There’s also the iPhone SE 2020, which launched in April. The iPhone SE is smaller than the 12 Mini and it’s cheaper. Starting at $399, £419 and AU$749, the iPhone SE sits squarely in the budget category. 

To see which of Apple’s most-affordable new iPhones is for you, we compared the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone SE to see what exactly that $330 (£280 / AU$450) difference gets you.

iPhone 12 Mini’s display is larger, more premium and more durable

The display is one of the major differentiators between the two iPhones. The iPhone 12 Mini has a 5.4-inch display, while the iPhone SE 2020 has a 4.7-inch screen, making it the smallest (screened) iPhone currently available. 

The iPhone 12 Mini also has an all-around better display than the iPhone SE. It has an OLED panel that’s advertised to have four times better drop protection than the LCD screen seen on the iPhone SE, thanks to a new ceramic-hardened glass display. 

iPhone 12 drop tests conducted by CNET Senior Editor Vanessa Hand Orellana concluded that the Ceramic Shield is “as tough as it sounds.” The iPhone 12’s screen survived without a crack after it was dropped six times on a sidewalk, including three back-to-back drops from a height of 9 feet. We haven’t yet conducted a durability test on the iPhone SE, which has Gorilla Glass on the back and the front, but it’s expected to perform similarly to the iPhone 8, given it has a  similar design. In that case, the iPhone 8 suffered a cracked screen when it was dropped from 5 feet.



iPhone 12 Mini has 5G support

The iPhone SE is 4G-enabled while the iPhone 12 Mini, like its three siblings, is 5G-enabled. It’s part of the first crop of iPhones to get this much-hyped feature. Paying that extra money for the iPhone 12 Mini ensures that your phone is future-proof as 5G continues to roll out this year and next. But 5G coverage is patchy across the US, and your experience will vary depending on where you live. Some areas have absolutely zero coverage, while other parts (especially big cities) have 5G networks from all major US carriers, meaning you can enjoy speeds nearly twice as fast as 4G. Either way, it’s important to research the 5G coverage in your area to help get a sense of the kind of experience you can expect. 

Read more: The best 5G phones of 2020

iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic processor is faster

The iPhone 12 Mini relies on Apple’s newest processor, the A14 Bionic. It’s the first to be made using the cutting-edge five-nanometer manufacturing process, a miniaturization development that allows Apple to cram in more circuitry than with earlier chips. Since the iPhone 12 Mini hasn’t shipped yet, we don’t have data on benchmark testing. When we do have those numbers in, I’ll update this piece, but we expect it to score high marks. That’s because the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, which use the same A14 chip, clocked in super-high test scores and were the most powerful phones we’ve ever tested.

The iPhone SE meanwhile, features last year’s A13 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Compared to the A14 chip, you likely won’t notice a difference when using your iPhone day-to-day, and it will still deliver on a fluid user experience, smooth scrolling and crisp graphics. 

As for battery life, Apple doesn’t reveal battery capacity figures, but we did run battery tests for both phones. The iPhone SE lasted 15 hours, 45 minutes for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, while the iPhone 12 Mini lasted 14 hours, 48 minutes. To some, that extra hour may not be much of a deal-breaker. Keep in mind that the iPhone 12 Mini also has 5G connectivity, which can seriously impact battery life. For that, Apple’s antidote is a software feature called Smart Data mode, which intelligently switches between 5G and 4G depending on data needs, speed and power. 

Read more: iPhone SE 2020 is proof that Apple won’t actually bring back the tiny phone

The iPhone SE 2020 has a single rear camera vs. the iPhone 12’s two

The iPhone 12 Mini has three 12-megapixel lenses, which are the same as the camera hardware found on the regular iPhone 12. The two on the back are wide and ultrawide lenses. The iPhone SE 2020, meanwhile, has a single 12-megapixel wide lens on the back and a 4-megapixel front-facing camera.

Despite relying on a single rear lens, the iPhone SE captures impressive, detailed-filled photos given its price. The photos were so good, they were often tricky to tell apart from pictures taken with the iPhone 11, according to CNET Senior Associate Editor Patrick Holland, who reviewed the iPhone SE earlier this year.  

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Mini captured “excellent photos and video and consistently delivered terrific images,” according to Patrick, who also reviewed the device. According to Holland, the iPhone 12 Mini expertly captured texture and detail in various lighting conditions. Interestingly, he also found himself shooting more pictures and video simply because the iPhone Mini was a breeze to use one-handed.

Paying that extra money for the iPhone Mini also gets you some additional features like Night Mode, Slofies, and Deep Fusion processing. Read more on how Deep Fusion works in our explainer.  All these special features aren’t available on the iPhone SE.

If you compare the wide-angle lens on both iPhones, the iPhone SE has a smaller aperture than the iPhone 12 Mini (f/1.8 vs. f/1.6.), so it doesn’t let in as much light. 

Design and other differences between iPhone SE and 12 Mini

Overall, the iPhone 12 Mini has a modern aesthetic, even though it takes after the iPhone 5. You get an expansive screen and narrow bezels outfitted on a sleek chassis with flattened edges. By comparison, the iPhone SE features a classically old-school design that defined the iPhone for the first decade. I’m talking chunky bezels, an interrupted display and a physical home button.

Both phones also offer water resistance, although to slightly different degrees: the iPhone SE is rated IP67, which means it can reach a maximum depth of 1 meter (3 feet) for up to 30 minutes, while the iPhone 12 Mini is IP68, or 4 meters (13 feet) for the same time.

Some other key differences include:

  • iPhone 12 Mini’s Face ID vs. iPhone 8’s Home Button
  • iPhone 12 Mini doesn’t have a wall charger and earpods inside its box.
  • iPhone 12 Mini is MagSafe-enabled

Apple’s reasoning to leave behind the wall adapter is likely tied to its introduction of MagSafe. It’s a proprietary wireless charging system on the iPhone 12 that uses magnets to connect. In addition to charging pads though, other nifty accessories can snap onto the back of the device, too, and are sold separately. 

To compare all the specs side by side, take a look at this chart below.

iPhone 12 Mini vs. iPhone SE (2020)

Apple iPhone 12 Mini Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Display size, resolution 5.4-inch OLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels 4.7-inch LCD; 1,334×750 pixels
Pixel density 476ppi 326ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.18 by 2.53 by 0.29 in. 5.45 by 2.65 by 0.29 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 131.5 by 64.2 by 7.4 mm 138.4 by 67.3 by 7.3 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 4.76 oz.; 135g 5.22 oz.; 148g
Mobile software iOS 14 iOS 13
Camera 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 12-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor Apple A14 Bionic Apple A13 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM Undisclosed Undisclosed
Expandable storage No No
Battery Undisclosed; Apple lists 15 hours of video playback Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8
Fingerprint sensor No (FaceID) Home button
Connector Lightning Lightning
Headphone jack No No
Special features 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $729 (64GB), $779 (128GB), $879 (256GB) $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £699 (64GB), £749 (128GB), £849 (256GB) £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,279 (128GB), AU$1,449 (256GB) AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)

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