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Other iPhone 12 mini vs. SE (1st gen) — detailed opinion


macrumors 6502
Original poster
Jun 8, 2017
First some background: My first iPhone was the 3GS, then I went through the 4S, 5 and 6. It turned out that I don’t like the 6/7/8/SE2 form factor. The soap-bar edges makes the 6 quite slippery, and it is just too big to comfortably use with one hand. I had to constantly adjust my grip and/or use the Reachability feature. Regarding pocketability it was a bit too wide and tall as well. I also didn’t like the fact that the power button moved from the top to the side (more on that below). I finally ditched the 6 for the SE1 when it came out, and later upgraded to the 128 GB version of the SE. That’s still what I use today, and I’m really glad that Apple is returning to a smaller form factor with flat edges.

So here are my thoughts about the 12 mini in comparison to the SE (1st gen). This is all highly subjective of course, but I’d like to give my perspective and see what other people have to say.

Outer dimensions: In terms of size the 12 mini sits right between the SE1 and the SE2, both in width and in height, leaning slightly to the SE2 size (cf. here). My hope is that it’s still fine, given the flat edges, but the width does worry me a little bit. It seems that the width will be like the 6/7/8/SE2 minus the rounded edges.

Screen dimensions: Here is a visual comparison. Even moreso than with the 6/7/8/SE2, reaching to the top/bottom of the display will require adjusting the grip with one-handed use. This is pretty much inevitable with any screen larger than the 4-inch SE1. The Reachability option still exists, but now requires swiping down over the bottom of the screen, which I imagine requires a bit more dexterity than double-tapping the home button. The control center unfortunately now requires swiping down from the top right, which is less reachable than swiping up from the bottom on the SE. Alternatively one can either use the Reachability feature (requiring two swipes instead of one) or use the double back-tap feature to access the control center. It seems to me that the double back-tap still requires adjusting the grip a little, but I’ll have to try it with the actual device. Overall, the 12 mini is definitely still a downgrade regarding one-handed use, due to the screen size. But maybe the smaller chassis (compared to the 6/7/8/SE2) will make it more manageable.

Screen aspect ratio: Starting with the iPhone X, the aspect ratio of the display has become taller, even when just considering the so-called safe area without the top and bottom insets. (It’s roughly 19:9 vs. 16:9.) That’s great in portrait mode, but when using landscape mode, for example to read a website that doesn’t allow adjusting the font size relative to the line width (something I do rather often), this means that one will effectively get a viewport with reduced height compared to the SE.

The notch: Not a fan. Not much more to say. From the pictures it seems that it may be slightly less conspicuous on the mini, because it takes up more of the relative width and hence the “ears” beside it are smaller.

Touch ID: That’s a big one for me, as I’m not fond of Face ID for all the usual reasons. The iPad Air 4 announcement had me hoping that iPhone 12 would get Touch ID on the power button as well. I really hope that Apple will be adding it in an upcoming iteration.

Power button placement: I find the power button at the top more convenient for one-handed use. That’s because one can securely grip the phone on both of the long edges and then use the index finger to press the power button. With the power button on the side, the grip is less stable when pressing the power button with the thumb. Another reason is consistency with the iPads. When I had the iPhone 6, I wasn’t able to correct my muscle memory for the power button due to also using an iPad mini, and often unconsciously tried to press the wrong location. Yet another reason is that the power button on the side is located opposite the volume buttons. When adjusting volume, or in particular when using the volume buttons to take a picture, one has to take care to not press the power button at the same time (happened to me quite often with the 6). I wish that Apple would have relocated the power button back to the top for the 12 mini.

Volume button design: I like the circular volume buttons of the SE. Due to that shape you know right away that you are on a volume button when you feel them, in contrast to the newer models where the volume and power buttons have basically the same shape. The gap between the SE volume buttons is also more obvious to the touch than with the stripe-shaped buttons on newer models. Even in terms of looks I prefer the circular buttons, they have a kind of utilitarian/industrial vibe.

Back-cover material: The matte aluminum back on the SE is absolutely delightful both to the touch (it has just the right amount of friction) and to the eye (the silver version in particular). I dread the glossiness and the increased friction of the newer models’ glass back. Maybe the matte Pro version would be fine (didn’t have it in hands yet), but it’s not available in the mini form factor unfortunately. I’m fully aware that the glass material is necessary for wireless charging in particular, but it also adds more weight, and considering all aspects it’s the wrong trade-off in my mind.

Front side color: I’m a fan of the white front in the older models. It makes for a lighter look and makes the device look less massive as a physical object. I was disappointed when Apple ditched the white fronts on the newer iPad models. The current iPhone models have still a significant bezel, and I would prefer those to be a light color instead of having a black mourning edge around my screen. On the other hand I fully undestand those who like the black; a long time ago I did prefer black devices and seamless displays myself.

Front bezels: Looking at the images, the iPhone 12 bezels are almost as thick as the bezels on the long edges of the SE. It would have been nice to get an actual edge-to-edge screen, and in return a slightly narrower chassis.

Color choices: It’s great that there are more color choices with recent iPhone generations (not counting the 5C), however I’m likely to stick with silver/white. I would have liked the blue version if it didn’t have that slight green tint on the back (the edges are fine), and I would consider the red version if it didn’t have the “(PRODUCT)RED” imprint on the back. There's always something. ;)

Camera bump: The flush camera design of the SE is clearly preferable. If not for the added weight, I’d rather have a thicker phone than a camera bump, but given the technological constraints I guess having the camera bump is an acceptable trade-off.

Battery life: Judging from the tech specs, the 12 mini battery life should be comparable to the SE one (or perhaps better on current iOS), even though the mini’s is slightly worse than for the regular 12. (The only directly comparable spec between mini and SE is for “audio playback”, which is “up to 50 hours” for both.)

Weight: With 113 g for the SE and 135 g (or 133 g for the non-US version) for the mini, the increase is only very slightly more than the ~16% increase in surface area (although the mini is 1.2 mm thinner, not counting the camera bump). It will be interesting to directly compare them side-by-side.

Display: The mini’s OLED display is clearly superior to the SE’s LED display (unless you are PWM-sensitive I guess) in terms of contrast, brightness, black levels, viewing angles, color space, HDR and True Tone. I’m not sure how much the increased PPI (476 vs. 326) actually translates to a better resolution in reality, given the OLED’s pentile matrix. That's a major motivation for an upgrade.

CPU/GPU: The SE holds up really well in my experience (not a gamer), but a significant spec bump is always welcome. I like the emoji they use in the A14 section on the product page. :)

Camera and video recording: Significantly better on the mini for sure, just not a particular focus for me (pun intended). Night mode is probably nice.

5G: Personally, I don’t care at this time. Maybe in a year or two (or three) it will become more relevant.

MagSafe: If the magnets are strong enough that the mini doesn’t easily fall off from a MagSafe charger vertivally attached to the wall, that could actually be quite convenient. MagSafe is up to 15W by the way, while Qi is only up to 7.5W.

Fast charging: The mini is fast-charging-capable which the SE is not. That can certainly be a useful feature in some situations. And since one has to buy a new charger anyway… :rolleyes:

Ceramic Shield: Apparently that’s only on the front cover. The only phone whose screen I broke was the iPhone 6 due to its slipperiness, so not sure how relevant that is.

iBeacon: I don’t really see the use case yet.

Water and dust resistance: The mini being IP68 is certainly nice.

Headphone jack: It would have been nice for Apple to not ditch the headphone jack, and the adapter solution has the drawback (besides having to buy and use an adapter) that the location of the lightning port is less convenient than the headphone jack location at the corner. But, to be honest, since I switched to AirPods I haven’t really used the headphone jack anymore.

Pricing: The 12 mini is rather expensive. The 64 GB SE was $499 upon release in 2016, whereas the mini is at $729 unlocked for the same memory capacity, and doesn’t include a charger (and also no USB-A charging cable).

Despite everything I would like to be different, I will certainly give the 12 mini some sort of hands-on, and I’m even tempted to preorder one in November because I’m curious how it will fare in actual comparison. Luckily there’s still a month to go to mull this over. ;)
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