This year I’ve had the opportunity to handle all four models in the flagship iPhone lineup: 12 mini, 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max. Each iPhone is best at something that makes the variety in the lineup logical, but four phones also makes the buying decision trickier than ever.

I usually favor the most iPhone that Apple has to offer, so I really appreciate the iPhone 12 Pro Max. This is the first year Apple has brought the iPhone X design to a smaller screen, however, and how cool I find the iPhone 12 mini has been a huge surprise for me.

Large screens are immersive

Apple has gradually increased the maximum screen size on iPhones over the years. iPhone 5 jumped from 3.5 inches to 4 inches, iPhone 6 Plus topped out at 5.5 inches, and iPhone 12 Pro Max goes all the way to 6.7 inches.

I love experiencing these larger screens and discovering how immersive the iPhone experience can be. From watching videos in full-screen or picture-in-picture mode to taking photos and editing images, the larger canvas on big screens definitely has utility.

Bigger screens can also feel more addictive. Something delightful about the iPhone 12 mini form factor is how capable the camera and other functions are without being so in your face.

iPhone 12 mini literally takes up less space in your pocket or bag, and it feels weightless in the hand thanks to the use of aluminum and not stainless steel. The device still feels premium, not because of shiny metal, but because it achieves most of what larger models achieve but in a miniaturized package.

The 5.4-inch display is still completely impressive. It’s an OLED screen that has an amazing contrast ratio, and the full-screen design makes it feel like a modern iPhone 5 without the top and bottom bezels. This combination of factors makes it the first smaller form-factor iPhone that doesn’t compromise on design or features like budget-targeted models.

Less is everything

One of the strangest compliments I’ve received came when testing the iPhone 12 Pro Max a few months ago. I was shooting footage of a recovered rocket booster returning to Port Canaveral when someone said, “Wow, that’s a really nice phone.” They were right. The silver/white model is a premium object and well worth its premium price, but you only appreciate that if you value solid design and nice materials.

In comparison, iPhone 12 mini isn’t something you notice. It’s smaller than iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, but it’s not toy-sized. The form factor is wonderful for people who love what flagship iPhones can do, but feel more neutral about the object itself.

I recommend the more expensive iPhones like 12 and 12 Pro in in the lineup shortly after launch, and for customers with specific needs only met by those models. iPhone SE and iPhone XR are easy recommendations for budget-minded buyers. For me, iPhone 12 mini is my go-to recommendation for mid-cycle customers without specific needs that pricier models fulfill – especially in the six-month period before the iPhone 13 launches.

What’s in a name?

Apple marketing names are often all over the place, and iPhone 12 mini isn’t a bad product name. iPhone 12 Pro Max is the name that stands out in the lineup as clunkier. Still, the moniker “mini” only works when compared to larger iPhones in the lineup.

iPhone 12 mini is not comically small in the way that an iPod touch or first-gen iPhone SE feels. iPhone 12 mini is just comfortable. Product names have no effect on the actual product experience, of course, but I see the lineup more like this: iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Plus, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The iPhone 12 is just a bigger iPhone 12 mini. Using the mini moniker works in the first year to market the distinction now, but “mini” reminds me of the “XR” strategy that made iPhone XR feel like the cheap model and iPhone XS feel like the real iPhone that year when both were flagships.

Despite what supply chains report and analyst predictions forecast, it would not surprise me if Apple has a sleeper hit on its hands with the “mini” version of the iPhone.

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