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New iPhone season is officially in full effect as all four models are finally available to buy.
That means millions of people are now thinking about upgrading their crusty old phones that have been accumulating cracks over the last few years. You may be one of them.
And as you consider your options, you may be inclined to overlook the iPhone 12 Mini, as it’s the cheapest and smallest option available. You might even think it’s less capable, thanks to the last decade of smartphone trends. But that would be a huge mistake.
The iPhone 12 Mini is the smallest phone we’ve had in years that still offers the performance and features you’d expect in a premium phone.
Why would you want a small phone to begin with? Time has a tendency to make us all forget, but it comes down to one major reason: it’s easier to interact with the screen using just one thumb (which is how an estimated 75% of people use their phone).
Pick up any notable phone that’s available right now and try to reach the top of the screen with your thumb (and without straining your hand or contorting it to adjust the position of the phone).
And considering how much we have to swipe down from the top to check notifications or interact with elements at the top of the screen (such as a URL or search bar), that can either lead to discomfort (bad) or an increased chance of dropping the phone (very bad).
It wasn’t always this way.
Life Before Big Phones
Before 2013, every iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen and Android phones with screens bigger than 4.5 inches were considered big. You could easily hold those phones in one hand and interact with the vast majority of the screen without having to think about it. This is why iPhone 5 is, to this day, still the most perfectly sized phone ever made, finding a fair compromise between added screen real estate, usability and comfort.
— Luke Wroblewski (@LukeW) March 17, 2015
But then Samsung started making ginormous 5.5-inch phones and everyone followed. In the years since we’ve had to resort to claw grips and two-handed use when interacting with our phones.
But the biggest problem isn’t even having big phones as an option, it’s the fact that phone makers have stopped selling premium versions of the smaller phones altogether.
For the last eight years, we have been sold on the notion that bigger screens are better, but that’s mostly only because that’s the only way you can get the latest and greatest features.
If you want anything smaller than a 5-inch phone you’re pretty much resigned to buying a mid-range or entry-level model that is borderline doomed to obsolescence after a year.
A Big Screen Doesn’t Mean a Big Phone These Days
It’s here that you probably want to point out that the iPhone 12 Mini has a 5.4-inch screen, and you are absolutely correct. But it’s worth pointing out that the 5.4-inch phone of today is not the same as it used to be.
Conversely, the smaller physical size of this iPhone 12 Mini does not mean the screen is significantly less usable than the ones found on its bigger siblings.
Thanks to slimmer bezels and a lack of a chin (that dead space that used to exist under the screen), you can cram a bigger screen into a smaller phone. The iPhone 12 Mini, for example, is smaller than the iPhone SE which has a 4.8-inch screen.
So while the screen may be bigger, these streamlined designs mean your thumb can still reach more of it while maintaining a grip that is natural. And while the phone is smaller, you’re not sacrificing as much as you think when it comes to available screen real estate.
Bigger Is Still Better in Some Cases
That said, the iPhone 12 Mini isn’t without a few tradeoffs.
The biggest one is that a smaller phone means a smaller battery, and by all accounts, the difference in battery life between the Mini and the other iPhone 12 models is noticeable.
The camera isn’t quite as good as the one you’ll get in the iPhone 12 Max, but short of being an advanced photographer, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference anyway since smartphones heavily rely on computational tricks to yield great photos.
And having less real estate for consuming photos and videos may also matter for some, though this is not a universal concern.
What does matter most for many people is being able to open their phone and quickly get the information they need without having to struggle to do so. And even if it doesn’t seem like a major factor in theory, being able to easily use your phone one-handed is a big part of making that happen in practice.
So hopefully this is the beginning of a trend; one where the average phone doesn’t overwhelm our hands, can comfortably fit into our pockets and doesn’t make something like a PopSocket feel mandatory.