Hold the phone. Apple Inc.’s iPhone 13 mini is an undeniably attractive proposition. It includes the flagship power of the latest iPhone 13 packed into a smaller form factor. Yet, for all of its power, the latest small phone offers only minor updates from the iPhone 12 mini and retains a biometric authentication technology that blunts its functionality.
In less than one year’s time, Apple has managed to re-architect the iPhone 13 mini with new cameras and a larger battery, both of which are its most impressive features. The Ultra Wide and Wide camera have larger sensors for more detail and light capture, in addition to sensor-shift stabilization for steady shots.
Battery life is excellent at around 6.5 hours screen on time even with 5G. Apple claims an additional 1.5 hour battery life compared to the iPhone 12 mini, which solves a big problem typical of small smartphones. In addition, 5G speeds are fantastic, reaching 500Mbps download speeds and 90Mbps upload speeds in Los Angeles.
The iPhone 13 mini chassis, a smidge thicker and heavier than the iPhone 12 mini, is easy to hold, sufficiently solid, and extremely portable. However, the larger camera module does protrude and can cause the device to have trouble establishing a wireless charge.
The 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display is brighter than the iPhone 12 mini at between 800 to 1200 nits. But the tone leans toward warm side for a yellowish tint even with TrueTone turned off. The display excels at watching content with deep blacks and bright color saturation. It retains the 60Hz refresh rate from the iPhone 12 mini.
There’s no doubt that the iPhone 13 mini is one of the most powerful small smartphones on the market. With an A15 processor that claims 50 percent faster CPU power and 30 percent faster graphics than the competition. But when compared to the iPhone 12 mini A14 Bionic or the iPhone SE A13 Bionic, most will hardly notice the difference in daily usage.
The touted Cinematic mode is an impressive demonstration of the A15, using software entirely to process a rack focus between two subjects. Though the mode tops out at 1080p and still needs more time in the oven to work in 4K or render edges properly. Another trick called Photographic Styles adjusts portions of a photo while preserving skin tones.
Rather than CPU prowess, the technology that could use a reformat is the TrueDepth camera system. Despite a smaller footprint, it still intrudes on the iPhone design in both appearance and functionality. In addition, the top information bar hasn’t changed and can’t allow for carrier information, battery percentage, or alarm settings to be viewed outside the Control Center. Visually, the notch still takes out a chunk of screen when viewing content in landscape mode.
But more importantly, Face ID falls flat as a biometric authentication when used with a face mask. In retail stores, restaurants, airports, and public transit, users will be required to enter their six digit pin or enter full credentials when logging into banking, finance, airline applications, or to use Apple Pay. Having an alternate biometric authenticator for the iPhone 13, like Touch ID integration on the power button, would have been a game changer for small phone enthusiasts who have been clutching their older Touch ID-based iPhones and resisting an upgrade. Whether for a lack of time or components, Touch ID power buttons have been introduced on two iPad models (the iPad Air and iPad mini) and should have been part of the flagship iPhone lineup.
An alternate way to unlock an iPhone with Face ID requires the use of an Apple Watch Series 3 or above, but doesn’t help users to log into applications that require authentication.
With the iPhone 12 mini at $599 and the potent iPhone SE at $399, it’s hard for small phone owners to justify an upgrade to the iPhone 13 mini. This leaves the device in a peculiar position – it’s powerful enough on paper, but not functional enough to use in all situations. While nicer cameras and extra battery life are a plus, the sacrifice in usability in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t small enough to ignore.