For gamers and Netflix bingers, a plus-size smartphone is likely to be a necessity, but not everyone wants – or needs – a sprawling display.

Apple knows this, and its recent line-up of handsets caters to pretty much everyone, from the vast 6.7” iPhone 12 Pro Max to the slightly smaller 6.1” iPhone 12 Pro to the 5.4” iPhone 12 mini, which packs a bevvy of flagship features into a tiny frame.

But there’s another compelling option if you are hunting for a compact iOS experience, the 4.7” second-generation iPhone SE (2020).

If you are open to compromising on some specs – including 5G connectivity and a speedy A14 Bionic chip – the SE remains a viable option. It’s small, has a similar feature set to the most recent iPhone 12 mini, but it is close to half the price.

Still mulling over whether to pick up an SE or 12 mini? This article will help you to choose by comparing specs, features, pricing and more.

For an in-depth analysis of the full iPhone 12 line-up, read our iPhone 12 vs mini vs Pro vs Pro Max guide. If you are considering an older model, check out our review of the iPhone 11 Pro and our iPhone 11 vs iPhone 12 comparison.

In our best iPhone guide, we put six recent Apple handsets to the test and found the iPhone SE (2nd gen) to be the best budget model in the line-up, while the iPhone 12 mini was ultimately crowned as the best small iPhone available today.

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iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE: key differences at a glance

iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE in detail

There’s clearly an argument to be made for both devices, and your choice is likely to depend on how much you really care about the more premium specs.

Do you want 5G? Then the best option is clearly the new iPhone 12 mini. Are you shopping on a budget? The SE will give you a fantastic Apple device at a more affordable price point. This is what you need to know about each device.

Specs and features

The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone SE (second generation) serve the same audience: those who want a smaller and more affordable iOS handset without having to sacrifice too many of the features that make Apple’s phones great.

It’s no surprise, given it’s a more recent device, but the iPhone 12 mini is a better phone on paper. Its ability to connect to 5G means that it’s future-proofed. It also has a better display, second camera, improved water resistance, thinner bezels, face-scanning technology, and can connect to MagSafe accessories.

But if you don’t care about 5G – which is yet to have a widespread UK rollout – and simply want a no-nonsense iOS device, the SE’s £399 tag is very attractive.

The iPhone 12 mini has a 5.4-inch Super Retina display – also known as an OLED – which will have better clarity compared to the SE’s 4.7-inch LCD but is unlikely to be a dealbreaker. Quality will still be very pleasant on the older screen.

The iPhone 12 mini lives up to its name, too. Despite being a smaller device with a 5.18-inch height – compared to the SE’s 5.45-inch height – it actually offers more screen due to a lack of thick bezels and a physical home button on the SE.

The iPhone 12 mini has a dual 12MP camera system – including an ultra-wide and a wide lens – while the SE has a single 12MP wide camera. The 12 mini can shoot HDR video with Dolby Vision up to 30 fps, a feature missing on the SE.

Due to its lack of a home button, the 12 mini uses Face ID to unlock the device, while the older SE is limited to Touch ID, which scans your fingerprint.

As noted in our best iPhone guide, neither battery would win an award. We found the SE to drain pretty quickly – not too surprising for a small device. In our iPhone 12 mini review, we found its charge lasted for a full day, but little more.

Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone SE are compatible with Apple Pay, and each uses a lithium‑ion battery with fast charging, providing up to 50% charge in 30 minutes. The devices have Bluetooth 5.0 and come in 64GB, 128GB or 256GB variants.

Apple iPhone SE has an aluminium and glass design

Apple iPhone SE has an aluminium and glass design
Apple

Price

If budget is your priority, the pricing of the SE is likely to catch your attention. On Apple’s official website and Amazon, it is priced at an affordable £399, putting it roughly in line with at least one close competitor, Google’s Pixel 4a.

The iPhone SE can also be taken out under contract at Carphone Warehouse for £22 a month with no upfront cost, or at £23 per month via Three UK.

The iPhone 12 mini is significantly more expensive, priced on the Apple website from £699 (or £29.12 per month). The newer handset is slightly better priced on Amazon, where it’s currently listed at £599.00 for the base 64 GB model.

The 12 mini can be taken out on contract at Carphone Warehouse for £33.99 a month with £9.99 upfront cost, or £47 a month with £29 upfront on Vodafone. It can be bought upfront at Argos (£624) and Currys (£624).

Storage

There’s no difference in terms of storage options between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone SE. There are three options: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB.

However, pricing does reflect the amount of internal storage, with the 12 mini costing £749 for 128GB and £849 for 256GB. The iPhone SE costs £449 for 128GB and £549 for 256GB. How much you need depends on how you are using your phone. The more files and photos you have, the more space you’re likely to require.

Battery life

Put simply, neither the iPhone 12 mini nor the iPhone SE will offer enough power to last much more than a day. That’s a big disappointment for anyone used to handsets from the likes of Huawei, but par for the course for iOS users.

As explained in our iPhone SE (2nd gen) review, its 1,82mAh battery should last a day on regular use but will struggle if put under heavier use.

The iPhone 12 mini has a 2,227 mAh battery. While that is not significantly better on paper, the new A14 chip should theoretically boost longevity by managing how the phone consumes power. In our review, we found it lasted for a day, and the latest low battery mode did a solid job of conserving energy.

While the iPhone 12 mini comes with a USB-C-to-lighting cable in the box, it lacks the power adapter itself – meaning that it has to be bought separately.

The SE also doesn’t come with a power adapter or EarPods. Inside the box, there is a USB-C-to-lighting cable compatible with USB‑C adapters sold separately. This is related to Apple’s environmental goals, which aim to cut down on waste.

Camera

While the iPhone SE’s single-camera lens is more than enough for sharing snaps on Instagram or uploading video content to TikTok, the iPhone 12 mini does have more flexibility thanks to the inclusion of a second 12MP ultra-wide lens.

The iPhone 12 mini has an f/1.6 aperture wide-angle and an f/2.4 ultra-wide sensor, while the iPhone SE has one f/1.8 aperture wide. Both devices have optical image stabilisation; however, only the iPhone 12 mini has a dedicated night mode.

Enjoy a selfie? Both handsets have a front-facing camera, with the iPhone 12 mini rocking a 12MP lens and the iPhone SE housing a 7MP lens.

Our expert reviewer found the iPhone 12 mini to be impressive at shooting in low light and video capture was outstanding due to an ability to record HDR video with Dolby Vision at 30 fps. For comparison, the iPhone SE can shoot 1080p HD videos at 25 fps and 30 fps – which will still be more than enough for most folk.

Display

The iPhone 12 mini has a 5.4-inch OLED – Super Retina XDR – display, compared to the iPhone SE’s 4.7-inch LCD display, dubbed a Retina HD by Apple.

The 12 mini has a better screen resolution (2340×1080) than the SE (1334×750) and a higher maximum brightness (1,200 nits over 625). This means the 12 mini display will be sharper – but that’s to be expected in a newer model.

If you are only using your phone for browsing the internet, checking emails or casual gaming, the screen resolution is unlikely to be a major issue. Both are great.

Aside from the technical details, the displays on both phones look pretty different due to the screen layout. On the iPhone SE, large thick bezels mean the display does not stretch to the sides of the handset. The iPhone 12 mini has an edge-to-edge display that looks much more modern – with a notch at the top end.

That shape difference means that despite the iPhone SE’s slightly bigger frame (5.45 inches tall, 2.65 inches wide) compared to the iPhone 12 mini (5.18 inches tall, 2.53 inches wide), the iPhone 12 mini’s screen is bigger in size overall.

5G capability and connectivity

It’s one of the big differences between the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone SE: only the most recent phone has the ability to connect to 5G networks.

In the future, this will result in super-fast downloads and streaming, but for now, it’s honestly not too much of a selling point due to the limited rollout of actual 5G networks across the UK. It’s happening, but it’s happening slowly.

Ultimately, the iPhone 12 mini has 5G, and the iPhone SE does not. Instead, the SE uses the standard 4G LTE connectivity that remains widespread. If you must have 5G, your decision is made. However, by the time full 5G networks are active across the country, the iPhone 12 mini is also likely to be outdated.

Both of the Apple smartphones have Bluetooth 5.0, which will give you a strong connection when pairing with speakers or headphones. But only the iPhone 12 mini is compatible with Apple MagSafe accessories and wireless chargers.

Design

They are two of Apple’s smallest phones, but aesthetically the handsets are very different. The new 12 mini, like the rest of the iPhone 12 range, looks similar to the iPhone 4 and 5 era of the devices – more square with defined edges.

The second-gen iPhone SE looks much more like the old iPhone 8 design, with a curved frame and sleek edges. The iPhone SE has large bezels on both ends and is made of glass and aluminium. Only the iPhone 12 mini has what Apple calls a “ceramic shield” front, providing extra protection if the phone is dropped.

In terms of colours, the iPhone 12 mini comes in a wider selection of hues: blue, green, black, white, red and purple. The SE comes in black, red and white.

iPhone SE (2020) comes in black, white and red.
Apple

iPhone 12 mini vs iPhone SE: which should you buy?

The decision to purchase an iPhone 12 mini vs the iPhone SE (2nd gen) is likely to come down to two factors: features and price.

While the iPhone 12 mini is more powerful, has a better screen and chipset, and comes equipped with access to 5G, the iPhone SE is still only a year old and will let you enjoy Apple’s ecosystem without emptying your wallet.

If you want a small iOS phone that can take full advantage of current access to a 5G network, the 12 mini is the clear winner – and picking it up on contract will keep initial costs low. If budget is a concern, the iPhone SE remains a true gem.

How to buy the Apple iPhone 12 mini

How to buy the Apple iPhone SE (2020)

Still not sure which iPhone to pick up? Check out our in-depth Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review and iPhone 12 review. To see rival mid-range Android phones, check out our Google Pixel 4a review and Google Pixel 5 review.


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