Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12 Mini: Which small phone is for you?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been testing Samsung’s brand new Galaxy S21 series against Apple’s iPhone 12 series, beginning with the middle one and then the biggest one. Now it’s time for the smallest ones to shine. If you dislike the trend of phones getting bigger and bigger, then the iPhone 12 Mini and the Galaxy S21 are both small phones (to varying degrees) that most people should be able to one-hand use with ease.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Apple iPhone 12 Mini: Specifications and Comparison
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy S21||Apple iPhone 12 Mini|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Ram & Storage Options|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||Ultrasonic In-Display Fingerprint Scanner||Face ID (TrueDepth camera for facial recognition)|
|Front Camera(s)||10MP, f/2.2, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF||12MP, f/2.2|
|Port(s)||USB 3.2 Type-C||Proprietary Lightning port|
|Software||Samsung One UI 3.1 based on Android 11||iOS 14|
|Pricing||Starts at $799||Starts at $699|
Design: One is small; the other’s tiny
If you’re considering either of these phones rather than their bigger siblings, chances are you’re either looking for a small phone, or you just want to pay less money. Either way, the iPhone 12 Mini “wins” if those are the sole reasons. The Galaxy S21 is small, but the iPhone 12 Mini is downright petite. My average adult-sized hand can completely wrap around the Mini, and my thumb can reach all four corners without readjusting my grip. The Galaxy S21 still requires a slight thumb stretch if I really need to reach the top of the 6.2-inch screen.
But the thing is, the Galaxy S21’s harder-to-reach upper corners don’t actually matter much in real-world usage because Android, unlike iOS, is well optimized for one-hand use. I’ve written about this before, but with Android, I can place apps only at the bottom of the screen; I can pull down the notification panel by swiping anywhere on the screen — unlike the iPhone, which forces you to swipe from the very top of the screen.
So in terms of purely using the phone one-handed, the iPhone 12 Mini doesn’t necessarily have an advantage just because it’s smaller. However, that smaller size and lighter weight still bring benefits — it fits into small pockets or onto gimbals/phone mounts easier.
In-hand feel is great for both, but the iPhone 12 Mini uses more premium materials due to its glass-and-aluminum sandwich design, while the Galaxy S21 cheaps out with a plastic back. Yes, Samsung indeed did a great job of coating the plastic to make it not feel like plastic, and some will even argue plastic is preferable over glass because it won’t shatter when dropped. But if plastic is so great, Samsung would have used it across the entire S21 series — the reality is the use of a plastic back is a cost-cutting move by Samsung. The haptics of the Galaxy S21 is also a clear tier below the excellent haptics of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The iPhone 12 Mini, for what it is worth, keeps the flagship tier haptics.
5nm SoCs power both phones, and each phone zips through daily tasks with ease. Moving around to the front of the devices, it’s the same story as my other two previous Galaxy S21 series versus iPhone 12 series comparison: The Samsung Galaxy S21’s screen beats the iPhone 12 Mini screen by being higher res, faster-refreshing, and has less of an interruption.
Cameras: Capable setups, but clearly a tier below the bigger siblings
Let’s start with the good: both the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 have rock solid 12MP wide and ultra-wide cameras. They focus fast, produce lively shots, find the right dynamic range without needing manual tweaks, and generally produce great shots in most lighting conditions. The iPhone 12 Mini’s shot tends to be warmer, while the Galaxy S21’s camera is cooler, with punchier colors. If we examine the photos below, we can see the Galaxy S21’s sensor pulls in more light, but as a result, the iPhone 12 Mini shots have better contrast.
It’s the zoom system where we see that clearly, both Apple and Samsung decided to hold back here for the sake of keeping costs down. The Galaxy S21 uses a 64MP telephoto zoom lens that can do 3x optical zoom and digital zoom up to 30x, but really anything beyond 10x looks a bit too blotchy to be used.
Still, the lesser zooming system of the Galaxy S21 is still much better than the iPhone 12 Mini, which straight up doesn’t have a zoom lens at all, and its digital zoom maxes out at a measly 5x.
If I blow up the 5x shots to 100% view on a monitor, it’s not even close.
I did not do a specific video test between the iPhone 12 Mini and the Galaxy S21, but I did do an iPhone 12 versus Galaxy S21 Plus video comparison just last week. Considering the camera systems are identical between the iPhone 12 and iPhone Mini, and between the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus, that means results from that video pretty much applies here.
The iPhone 12 Mini is a slightly more capable video camera, particularly at night.
Battery life: Not enough Apple juice
Even though the Galaxy S21 refreshes at twice the rate, its larger battery cell allows it to offer slightly better battery life than the iPhone 12 Mini. Neither phone can quite last an entire 12 to 14-hour day for me — keep in mind I’m a heavy user — but the iPhone 12 Mini consistently runs out of juice for me well before my night is over, whereas the Galaxy S21 can at least hang on until near the end.
Final Thoughts: The iPhone 12 Mini is a better flagship
In my earlier comparison pitting the Galaxy S21 Ultra against the iPhone 12 Pro Max, I gave the overall win to Samsung, because I felt the Galaxy S21 Ultra offered more value. Here, it’s the reverse: the iPhone 12 Mini still feels very much like a top Apple phone, just smaller. But the Galaxy S21, with its plastic back and clearly weaker haptics? It feels far away from the Galaxy S21 Ultra as a premium offering. Throw in the fact that the iPhone 12 Mini is $100 cheaper, and I’d personally say the iPhone 12 Mini is a better buy if you want a small phone and are open to both eco-system.