Apple's launch of the iPhone 13 mini could prompt some iPhone SE owners to make the upgrade to the current-generation model. Here's our comparison of the smallest iPhones Apple sells.
When Apple introduced the iPhone 12 mini in October 2020, the model gave an option to iPhone owners who wanted a small device an alternative to the iPhone SE. While very compact, the iPhone SE lagged behind in some areas, while other differences made it seem to be a decent purchase for the budget-conscious user.
For 2021, the discussion returns, and with the second-generation iPhone SE a year older than last time, it should, in theory, make any comparison between it and a new iPhone launch a little easier. However, like last time, it depends entirely on your priorities.
Add the iPhone 12 mini's continued existence in the product catalog, and the choice becomes a little tougher.
Here's how the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 12 mini, and iPhone SE compare on paper.
|iPhone SE (Second Generation)
|iPhone 12 mini
|iPhone 13 mini
|5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29
|5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29
|5.18 x 2.53 x 0.30
|64GB, 128GB, 256GB
|128GB, 256GB, 512GB
|4.7-inch Retina HD
|5.4-inch Super Retina XDR
|5.4-inch Super Retina XDR
|1,334 x 750 at 326ppi
|2,340 x 1,080 at 476ppi
|2,340 x 1,080 at 476ppi
|5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave)
|5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave)
|Single-lens 12MP Wide camera
|12MP Ultra Wide
|12MP Ultra Wide
4K 30fps HDR with Dolby Vision,
1080p 240fps Slo-Mo
4K 60fps HDR with Dolby Vision,
1080p 240fps Slo-Mo
Sensor-shift optical image stabilization
|7MP FaceTime HD
|Battery Size (Video playback time)
|Up to 13 hours
|Up to 15 hours
|Up to 17 hours
|Black, White, (Product)Red
|Black, White, Blue, Green, Purple, (Product)Red
|Midnight, Starlight, Pink, Blue, (Product)Red
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Physical dimensions
The iPhone SE was originally considered the smallest model in Apple's lineup, with it being extremely compact at the time of its release. Months later, Apple showed it could go smaller with the iPhone 12 mini.
Things haven't changed with the iPhone 13 mini, as it is almost identical in many respects to the iPhone 12 mini.
The iPhone SE measures 5.45 inches long and 2.65 inches wide, while a svelte 0.29 inches thick. Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini are shorter and narrower at 5.18 inches by 2.53 inches.
Though the iPhone 12 mini is as thin as the iPhone SE at 0.29 inches, the iPhone 13 mini is ever so marginally thicker at 0.30 inches. This difference is barely enough to be noticed except under intense scrutiny.
On the weight side, the iPhone SE is the heaviest of the trio at 5.22 ounces, versus 4.76 on the iPhone 12 mini and 4.97 ounces for the iPhone 13 mini.
Again, this is a half-ounce spread between lightest and heaviest, which probably won't be felt that much.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Displays
One of the biggest differences the last time we compared the iPhone SE to a "mini," there was a massive disparity in terms of display quality. A year later, and there's no change here.
The iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch Retina HD display, using an LCD panel. Meanwhile, both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini use a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display with an OLED panel.
OLED buys the iPhone minis a higher contrast ratio of 2 million:1 against 1,400:1 for the SE. Though both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone SE have the same 625 nits of maximum brightness, the OLED panel gives the edge on HDR imagery at 1,200 nits, content that isn't supported on the SE's display.
The iPhone 13 mini takes this brightness a little further, to 800 nits of typical maximum brightness.
The resolution is also considerably higher on the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini, at 2,340 x 1,080 versus the iPhone SE's 1,334 by 750. This also gives the mini models a far higher pixel density, at 476ppi versus 326ppi.
All offer Wide color (P3) support, True Tone, and Haptic Touch, though these are practically a given at this point.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Cameras
Around the back of the iPhone SE, you have a single 12-megapixel Wide camera with an aperture of f/1.8. It has optical image stabilization, a digital 5x zoom, True Tone flash with Slow Sync, and support for Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, and Smart HDR.
By contrast, the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini offer a far better photographic experience, starting with the use of two cameras. This consists of dual 12-megapixel Wide and Ultra Wide cameras with respective apertures of f/2.4 and f/1.6.
You also have a 2x optical zoom to complement the 5x digital zoom. Then you have Night Mode and Deep Fusion support, which the SE simply doesn't have.
The iPhone 13 mini adds to the iPhone 12 mini by using Sensor Shift OIS, an improvement that moves the sensor rather than just the lens. While the SE has Smart HDR, you get Smart HDR3 in the iPhone 12 mini, and Smart HDR 4 in the iPhone 13 mini.
Then there's the iPhone 13 mini's new Photographic Styles feature, which uses computational photography techniques to apply live filters to a shot, such as adjusting the contrast or vibrance, all of which is also adjustable by the user.
For video, the iPhone Se is capable of 4K at 60fps and 240fps 1080p slo-mo, complete with OIS and a 3x digital zoom. The iPhone 12 mini adds in HDR video recording with Dolby Vision at 4K 30fps, a 2x optical zoom out, Audio Zoom, and a Night Mode Time-lapse feature.
Over on the iPhone 13 mini, it goes one stage further in adding Cinematic Mode, a feature for creating shallow depth of field videos that automatically racks focus between subjects in a shot.
Around the front, the story isn't much better for the iPhone SE.
In the iPhone SE, Apple used a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, equipping it with an f/2.2 aperture, Retina Flash, Auto HDR for photos, Portrait Mode, and Portrait Lighting. Video extends to 1080p at 30fps, with cinematic video stabilization available.
The iPhone 12 mini uses the 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera array with an identical aperture, Smart HDR3, and similar Portrait features. The bigger changes are the inclusion of 4K 60fps video support, including 4K 30fps HDR video with Dolby Vision, 1080p 120fps Slo-mo, Night Mode, Deep Fusion, and support for Animoji and Memoji.
Again, the iPhone 13 mini introduces Smart HDR 4, Photographic Styles, and Cinematic Mode for video. Probably more importantly, tweaks to the layout of the TrueDepth camera make the notch 20% smaller, giving users a tiny bit more viewable screen than in the iPhone 12 mini.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Processing performance
As usual, Apple upgraded the chip powering the latest iPhones. It moves from the A14 Bionic used the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini to the A15 Bionic in the iPhone 13 mini. Meanwhile, the iPhone SE uses the A13 Bionic.
At face value, they're all using the same 6-core CPU concept of two performance cores and four efficiency cores, along with a four-core GPU. Obviously, with generational changes, there are going to be performance variations across the board.
As a clue to this, Apple moved from an 8-core Neural Engine in the A13 to a 16-core in the A14. The A15 also uses a 16-core Neural Engine, but one that has seen considerable improvements.
While the A14's Neural Engine could perform 11 trillion operations per second, the A15's version can manage 15.8 trillion operations per second.
GeekBench benchmarks for the iPhone SE has its single-core score at 1,309, multi-core at 2,729, and Metal at 7,251. The same benchmark put the iPhone 12 mini at 1,568 for single-core performance, 3,827 for multi-core, and 9,100 for Metal, signifying a hefty jump in performance.
Apple hasn't compared the A15 Bionic against other models, but it claims to be the fastest mobile chip on the market, 50% faster than the leading competition for the CPU and 30% for the GPU. Given Apple's chip history, we don't doubt that at all.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - 5G and connectivity
Apple introduced 5G connectivity with the iPhone 12 mini, with it connecting using both low-band spectrum and high-speed mmWave. This hasn't changed at all with the iPhone 13 mini, with it having the same cellular feature set.
The iPhone SE simply doesn't have 5G, and instead remains on LTE in its current form. This may sound like a disappointment, but bear in mind that 5G deployment around the world is still patchy and ongoing, so you're probably not going to miss out on much unless you happen to live in an mmWave hotspot.
On the non-cellular side, you have Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC support across the board, though the iPhone SE misses out on the spatial awareness trickery of Ultra Wideband.
The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini also benefit from improved geo-positioning options, including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou. The SE supports GPS/GNSS, but given the prevalence of GPS, it's not in any way a dealbreaker.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Power and battery
All models have Lightning connectivity as well as wireless charging, though the iPhone SE is the only one without MagSafe support.
In terms of battery life, the newest devices benefit from lasting longer by multiple hours.
The iPhone SE clocks in at 13 hours for video playback, rising to 15 hours for the iPhone 12 mini, then up to 17 hours for the iPhone 13 mini. The figures drop to 8 hours, 10 hours, and 13 hours for streamed video playback.
When it's audio playback, the iPhone SE manages a respectable 40 hours, but the iPhone 12 mini gets to 50 hours, then it's 55 hours for the iPhone 13 mini.
All models offer a fast-charge facility, with each able to reach 50% capacity in 30 minutes when connected to a 20W adapter or higher.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Other features
Both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini use Face ID as biometric security. The iPhone SE continues to rely on Touch ID on the Home button for the same job.
While the iPhone SE uses a glass front and back, both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini have Ceramic Shield, a much tougher version less prone to cracks and breakage.
The iPhone SE is the only one of the trio to be rated to IP67, not IP68. In effect, while the iPhone SE is water-resistant to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes, the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini can do the same thing to a depth of 6 meters.
Though all models support Dual SIM, consisting of a nano-SIM and an eSIM, the iPhone 13 mini is the only one to have Dual eSIM support.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Capacity, color, and pricing
The iPhone SE is available in three colors: Black, White, and (Product)Red. The cheapest model is $399 for a capacity of 64GB, while a 128GB version is available for $449.
Seeing a price drop from what it cost at launch, the iPhone 12 mini is offered in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB capacities, priced at $599, $649, and $729. There are six color options available: Black, White, (Product)Red, Green, Blue, and Purple.
The iPhone 13 mini starts from $699 for a 128GB model, with the 256GB costing $799, and 512GB for $999. Due to the shifting up in capacity, it works out to be $50 more to get the 128GB iPhone 13 mini over the iPhone 12 mini, and $70 more for the 256GB model.
Apple has gone for five colors for the iPhone 13 mini, including Midnight, Starlight, (Product)Red, Pink, and Blue. Since Purple was released after launch for the iPhone 12 mini, it's possible other options could be made available for the 2021 version.
iPhone 13 mini vs iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE - Should you upgrade?
The last time AppleInsider looked at the value end of the iPhone spectrum, the decision to upgrade from the iPhone SE to an iPhone 12 mini was more one of justifying the difference in price.
One year later, and it's basically the same question again. We know that the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini are smaller and better in various ways than the iPhone SE, but it's whether those improvements are enough to counter a $200 price difference between the SE and iPhone 12 mini, $300 for the iPhone 13 mini.
Starting with the fight between the iPhone SE and the iPhone 12 mini, you're getting more cameras, considerably better performance, tons of features, and crucially that edge-to-edge display by paying more. While a $300 difference last year was tricky to justify, cutting the disparity to $200 makes it so much easier to recommend the iPhone 12 mini over the SE.
That leaves the gap between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 13 mini. For that gap, you're looking at more battery life, more performance, camera enhancements including the Cinematic video mode, and a 20% smaller notch.
If we're comparing the base model versions alone, that $100 price difference also has to take into account the capacity bumping up from 64GB to 128GB, which is probably a very valuable change. On like-for-like capacities, you're looking at the above improvements for $50 more at minimum, not $100.
Put that way, the iPhone 13 mini certainly wins out against the iPhone 12 mini. It may seem like a bit of a stretch for the $300 jump, but when given more scrutiny, it's pretty justifiable.