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Indian Ink

When Apple goes low, I go small

Apple unexpectedly lowered prices on its iPhone 12 series in India so I got a Mini, and rediscovered the joy of using a small phone

iPhone 12 Mini : Great tech, iconic design, handy size and now pocket friendly.

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When I got my iPhone 6S+ in 2016, I never imagined that I would be still using it five years later. I have been hanging on to it for so long because iPhone prices in India are probably the highest in the world, courtesy of the Indian government’s high import taxes. So I have been waiting and waiting for Apple to reduce iPhone prices but it had begun to look like I was waiting in vain.

Two weeks ago, the decision was suddenly taken out of my hands. WhatsApp, India’s default messaging app, put out a list of older phones it would stop supporting from November 2021. My iPhone 6S+ was on the list.* Everyone in India uses WhatsApp, and not being able to use it would cripple me.

*Update: Thank you, Terry Thomas for pointing out that WhatsApp will continue to work on the iPhone 6S+ as long it is running iOS 10 or newer. My apologies for misleading my readers.

Push had come to shove. I had to replace my iPhone 6S+. So I set myself a budget of ₹30,000 ($400). Anything above that felt too much to me for a phone. My options were to go for older iPhones or switch to an Android. But the only iPhones available in my budget were the older Touch ID ones.

I couldn’t digest spending good money on outdated tech. So I decided to push up my budget to $500 (₹37,500), but only if I could get a phone with state-of-the-art tech, or at most, one generation old.

However, Apple wasn’t budging on prices, and even the iPhone SE with a two-generation old A13 chip cost ₹40,000 ($531).

Good things happen to those who wait.

Out of the blue, Apple launched a bombshell at Flipkart’s Big Billion Sale. It drastically slashed prices on its one-generation-old iPhone 12 series. The iPhone 12 Mini’s price was reduced from ₹60,000 to ₹37,500 ($500), an unheard-of 38% discount.

A minute after the Sale went online, the Mini was on its way to me.

Here’s why I went mini, and how it feels like after a week of use.

Testing the Android waters

In the week before ordering the Mini, I had given up on Apple reducing its prices, and begun using my Android as my primary phone. The Mi 10T has a flagship-level Snapdragon 865 processor, and among other things, a screen with a 144Hz refresh rate. Not even Apple’s latest iPhone has that. That Mi 10T cost ₹27,000 ($360). But I also traded in my 2-year old Poco F1 for ₹10,000 so I ended up only paying ₹17,000 ($226) for the Mi 10T.

However, with my iPhone 6S+ having an uncertain future, I let my Android take over duties as my primary phone. It’s a dual SIM phone and theoretically should have been able to handle the workload. But it was a struggle. The Android began to heat up as I went into power-user mode, doing stuff like dual apps and switching between two profiles. The struggles may be due to my compromise on RAM: 6GB instead of 8GB. Also transferring WhatsApp data from Apple to Android just wasn’t happening without a third-party app. It was at this juncture that Apple announced its discount.

Back to Apple

With the teething troubles I was having with my Android, it was hard to resist the temptation of staying within the Apple universe for a few more years. Here is why I decided on the Mini.

Touch ID is out of touch with the climate

The iPhone SE was my first choice as it came well within my budget at ₹25,000 ($333) during the Flipkart Sale. But I have three issues with it. Firstly, its screen is smaller than my iPhone 6S+, and that would literally be a pain on my eyes.

Secondly, I would be stuck with Touch ID. That thing drives me nuts by stubbornly refusing to accept my sweaty thumb on hot and humid days. This would be most days in Kerala, India, where I live. The repeated shake of its head, while refusing to recognize my thumb, as well as the delay in presenting the passcode screen option, is maddening, especially when I’m in a hurry. What was galling was the Touch ID embedded in the On/Off button of my inexpensive Android works flawlessly whether my finger is wet or not.

That settled it. If an iPhone has Touch ID, it isn’t for me.

Thirdly, the iPhone SE’s A13 is a great processor, but it’s two generations old. That means it will get outdated faster. Put together, these three issues ruled out the iPhone SE for me, purely from a functional point of view.

Making a Mini decision

The question now was should I get the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 12 Mini. Battery life and screen size were the only differences between the two models, apart from the ₹10,000 extra for the iPhone 12.

iPhone 12 VS iPhone 12 Mini: A pocket rocket that effortlessly keeps up with its big brother

I decided in favour of the Mini mostly because I didn’t think it was worth spending more than $500 (₹37,500) on a one-generation-old iPhone. I’m not sure if I made the right decision but it’s a done deal.

Mini-Me

I have been using my Mini for a week now. My initial impression is it’s a steal for an iPhone with near state-of-the-art tech. Its tech really shines especially since I’m coming from a now five-generation-old iPhone 6S+.

Screentastic Starting with the bad, I’m not a fan of that big notch (my Android has an almost invisible punch hole) and am surprised the screen is still at 60Hz. Size wise, the Mini’s screen is around a centimetre narrower than my 6S+.

But in every other way, the Mini is ahead. The screen is a bit taller than the 6S+, and fine for watching videos.

OLED is fabulous, and with a black background, you can’t even tell where the notch is. At 476 ppi, this is the highest resolution screen in the iPhone 12 series (you get more pixels per inch as the screen gets smaller).

The A14 chip is impressive. My eye can’t spot any difference (in say, scrolling) on the Mini’s 60Hz screen and the 144Hz screen of my Android (Mi 10T).

iPhone Mini VS iPhone 6S+: The Mini’s screen is a bit taller than the screen on the larger and bulkier 6S+

Easy Reading Viewing fine text isn’t easy but I had the same issue with my 6S+ too. Anyway, my eyes seem to have adapted. Not to mention my wrist, which appreciates having to carry less weight. Apple has also provided a few options to make reading easier within the iPhone’s Setting app, like increasing text size systemwide, or just for a particular app, or by changing zoom level on all screens. Though the zoomed version is easier to read, it’s at the cost of aesthetics, as iOS is obviously designed for the standard view. See below.

Make things bigger

Typing Worries This could have been an issue for me as the Mini’s screen is around one centimetre narrower than my 6S+. The keyboard is a bit squashed, and there’s a higher probability of hitting the wrong key. But in actual use, I didn’t notice a difference, probably because I swipe and type. I do occasionally hit a ‘2’ when I meant ‘1,’ but that used to happen on my 6S too.

If you are a swipe-and-type kind, I would recommend Google’s Gboard keyboard as it allows you to train your keyboard to avoid suggesting words incorrectly. For instance, whenever I typed Amazon, Gboard used to autocorrect it to Anson. Amazon would usually show up on the suggestion toolbar, and I had to choose it to change it back to Amazon. To stop this auto-correction, all I had to do was locate Anson, which would now be seen on the suggestion toolbar (it’s just about visible behind the blue pop up above the word ‘Stop’), and press and hold it till a blue pop up appears asking if I wish Gboard to ‘Stop suggesting Anson.’ I click Ok and it’s done. RIP, Anson.

Gboard can help you correct ‘autocorrect’

Missing Chargers and Mismatched accessories The Mini doesn’t come with a charger. Also, the enclosed cable has a USB C connector which doesn’t fit my existing iPhone charger’s plain USB port. Okay, I understand that USB A can’t handle fast charging while USB C can. But it does seem like Apple is trying to make money with these changes as they push us to buy more high-priced accessories from Apple like that MagSafe wireless charger.

Fortunately, my existing lightning cable, iPhone charger (5W) and iPad charger (10W) do connect and charge the Mini via the lightning port. Charging speed is about 1% per minute on my iPad charger when the battery is around 50%. That’s not too slow, so it’s fine.

I will concede that Apple did achieve its objective of ‘saving the environment’ with me, as I’m recycling my old chargers. I’m probably an exception as I’m not too fascinated by that MagSafe charger, unlike most iPhone users. I did experiment with an early Qi wireless charger for my Android. It turned out to be an inefficient device that heated up the phone. Had to write off the gadget, which is the price one pays for being an early adopter of new tech.

Learning to live with less Battery Battery life is one of the biggest shortcomings of the Mini so I’m going to split this discussion into a few sections, and spend a bit of time on it.

The A14 is far more efficient than the A9. So it doesn’t discharge as fast while doing power-intensive tasks like shooting or editing videos. Still, the Mini’s 2,227 mAH battery can only do so much, even with iOS being a power-efficient OS.

I have taken some simple steps to improve battery life on my Mini. The OLED screen decreases power usage, as black areas on the screen don’t consume power at all. So I turned on the Dark Mode and use wallpapers with a black background for my home screen and lockscreen. I also killed other battery hogs like turning off ‘fetch mails,’ switching off ‘raise to wake’ (double tap on my lockscreen is fine), and turning off 5G as it’s yet to hit India. I have also turned off ‘vibrate’ mode as the phone is connected to my Mi band which takes on vibration duties (vibrating 5 seconds after the phone starts ringing).

I have also set up the Mini to warn me to unplug the charger when it reaches 80% charge. Lithium batteries get overheated during charging that last 20%, which reduces battery life. Ideally, a lithium battery’s charge should not drop below 20% or rise above 80%.

Proof that heat kills your batteries The cable that comes with the Mini is meant for a 20W fast charger. Though fast charging is convenient, the disadvantage is it overheats the battery. Thing is, heat is poison for lithium batteries. It reduces battery life, and this translates into less screen time per charge. Eventually, a full charge will barely last till midday, and you will need to replace the battery which is an expensive proposition with Apple.

Charging will always heat up a battery. It’s just that fast-charging heats it up much more. But the worse culprit is the MagSafe charger. My guess is this is because MagSafe charging is an inefficient technology. This results in the charger itself becoming very hot. As the Mini is in contact with MagSafe charger, it gets heated up twice over: once from inside as its battery charges, and secondly, from outside by being in contact with the charger. This compounds the heating issue, and the Mini’s battery will degrade in no time.

Oddly enough, I can verify this via a real-life test. One advantage of buying a one-generation-old phone is we can learn from the experience of people who have used the phone for a year. There’s this kid on YouTube (I think, based in Taiwan, as he talks about a typhoon) who is a big fan of the Mini. In Nov 2020, he did a full-day performance review of his Mini while using his phone for a variety of activities, from waking up to its alarm to listening to music while at the gym, gaming, shooting photos and videos, social media, etc. By 8 pm, he had clocked 5 hours, 11 minutes of screentime, and the battery was at 15%.

Where it gets interesting is his second video, another full-day performance review of his Mini in Sep 2021, which is ten months later. During those 300 days, he charged his Mini overnight, every day. He mostly used the MagSafe charger or else the fast charger. Overnight charging and MagSafe are a deadly combination for a lithium battery.

300 days later, his battery was at 91%. That is severe battery degradation. It translates into just a little over two hours of screen time. Even with normal phone usage phone, his battery will be dead by lunchtime. Despite this, the kid loves his Mini. He notes that even intensive gaming doesn’t heat the Mini but MagSafe charging does. The kid also points out that the Mini’s battery constraints help him avoid overusing his phone, which has made him more productive.

My own experience is the phone does get a bit hot if I do processor-intensive tasks for long. Like when I was experimenting with the Mini’s portrait mode with a butterfly. Sometimes, I restart the phone. This break seems to help it shut down unnecessary running processes and so cool off.

Though the Mini doesn’t really run that hot, I have heard of people putting it in a ziplock plastic bag and popping it in the freezer for a minute to zap the heat. I wouldn’t advise you to do this as condensation might brick the phone. But I admit I have tried it. The trick is using the Ziplock, strictly keeping the freezer time to one minute, and keeping that Ziplock on for a few minutes after that. Metal and glass are good conductors of heat, and that may explain why the phone cools so fast.

All said and done, I think I will compromise and make do without fast charging. In fact, after hearing about this kid’s experience, I dug out my original iPhone 5W charger and charged my phone from 57% to 80%. It charged slowly but there was almost no heat generation in the battery.

If you wish to minimize battery degradation, I recommend using the original iPhone charger to charge the Mini. Of course, if you are in a hurry, then charge it fast with whatever is at hand. But as a rule, avoid the fast chargers.

Think of MagSafe as a frying pan for your battery Using MagSafe is like frying your Mini on a frying pan. I like my Mini too much to subject it to such torture. This tech is inefficient as the MagSafe charger heats up quite a bit while charging so energy gets wasted as heat. What’s worse, it fries your Mini’s battery and reduces its life drastically.

No phones were hurt in taking the above photo

In short, MagSafe has a long way to go before it’s ready for the market. I’m sure Apple knows it but they are flogging it as it pads up their bottom line. Customers get carried away by that cool ‘wireless’ factor and gloss over the fact that it’s messing up their battery. Besides, the wireless MagSafe has to be wired to a plug at all times for it to work so it’s not really wireless like say, the Airpods. Just saying.

Why carry a brick in your pocket every day? A couple of times after I got my Mini, I panicked thinking I’d lost it. But then I find it’s actually in my pocket but so light that I couldn’t feel it. In contrast, my Android is so heavy in my pocket that it will drag my jogging tracks down around my ankles if I rely just on the elastic waistband; I need to tie the backup waistcord to keep the tracks up.

The Mini’s biggest drawback is its battery. But that’s not an issue for me unless I’m away from a plug point for more than 4 hours and using the camera excessively. For me, that only happens a couple of times a month. The way I see it, it’s easier to carry the extra weight of a power bank on those few occasions, rather than carry a brick in your pocket every day. And at ₹800 ($11), my power bank costs a fraction of the extra ₹33,000 ($440) I would have had to pay for the iPhone 13 Mini, just for its larger battery. The power bank is efficient too, and charges my phone almost as fast as my iPad charger.

A power bank may be the Mini’s best friend

It’s a dongle life Not having an audio jack is a hassle. You can’t just plug in any old headset. I ran into this issue with my Android. Like while trying to take a call on a noisy train, I realized I had forgotten to plug in the danged dongle into my headset. At least, my Android came with a free USB C dongle.

Apple’s motives in getting rid of the audio jack are highly suspect. Samsung has proven waterproof phones are possible with the jack. So that wasn’t the issue. Was it to save space? Maybe, but the dongle isn’t too bulky. Most likely, Apple saw an opportunity to mint money by opening up a new category of wireless accessories like its Airpods, Beats headsets… Planet Earth is suffering from Apple’s avarice as these things have a short life and contribute massively to the world’s electronic waste issue.

Apple’s lightning dongle is an absolute rip-off at ₹900 ($12). It’s tiny and easy to misplace. To avoid this, I keep it plugged into my old Apple headset and it helps that the white colour matches. It’s isn’t waterproof though, so I’ll have to switch it to a water-resistant headset if I go out on a run.

Oddly enough, the dongle isn’t Apple’s biggest ripoff. That would be this Apple-branded ₹1900 ($19) polishing cloth. Why Apple? Why?

Form Factor I just love the clean-cut looks, flat shape, compact size, and the metal and flat glass feel of the Mini. It harks back to the industrial look of my old iPhone 5. In my book, the Mini is the best-looking phone, ever!

Fall-safe Unlike big phones which are hard to grip, the Mini fits snugly in my hand, and will not fall, slip, or be knocked out as easily. I even got a case with open sides so I could feel metal sides instead of a plastic case. Open case sides also keep the phone cooler while charging. Hope I don’t regret that decision.

Light, compact, handy, easy to use and hard to knock out of my hand

Moving from an iPhone that’s five generations older means there are a lot of goodies to discover in my Mini. And the biggest one is the camera.

Camera Tricks Night shots don’t happen on my 6S+. Yes, my 6S is that old! It can’t do portrait shots or wide angles either.

I was able to use my 6S for so many years only because my inexpensive Androids took up the slack. The shot above was taken on my Mi 10T, using the Night Sight mode on the sideloaded Google Camera app. That’s Androidspeak for installing apps from outside the Google PlayStore.

I have just started playing around with the Mini’s camera. A friend, who also has a Mini, and is currently an architect, was commenting about how useful the wide-angle and indoor (low light) shooting features are for his profession.

See the big picture This room below has large windows and is relatively well lit. The picture on the left is the normal lens. The one on the right is a wide-angle, and you can see how it captures almost the entire room. These shots were taken indoors, but the camera made the interiors look well lit.

It’s interesting to see how Apple is adjusting lighting to make the shot usable. The wide-angle lens has a smaller aperture of F2.5 as compared to the normal lens which is F1.6. This means the wide-angle shot should be less well-lit. But the camera compensates by pushing the ISO to 200, as against the normal lens which retains the ISO at 80. The other variables like shutter speed and exposure seem to be staying constant.

Night Mode Here’s a shot taken of the same room on a darker day with the sky overcast, and thunder rumbling. Unlike my Android, which has a Night Mode which you need to manually select, the Mini’s camera automatically switches to ‘low light’ mode. What it actually did in this case was push ISO up to 500 for the normal lens and 1250 for the wide lens. The images are noticeably darker, but you can still see the stuff inside the room.

Improving computational photography Usually, when you push ISO so high, the picture becomes too noisy and unusable. However, that level of noise seems to now only happen at much higher ISOs, which is a tribute to Apple’s capabilities on the computational side of image processing.

Using the ‘Stage Light’ setting in Portrait Mode

Turning laymen into professionals I clicked this flower in the morning light using the Stage Light feature in Portrait Mode. Now if you know how to use Photoshop, you can easily create this effect. But a layman like me has no clue how to get that effect. So Apple put in these new camera features that allow ordinary folks to create professional-looking images.

Is that a butterfly or a night-flying moth?

No more Touch ID No more worrying about wet hands and sweaty fingers. It’s relief to see the last of that exasperating technology. Face ID doesn’t work with masks, but momentarily pulling down the mask for Face ID is acceptable in India. Probably because Covid isn’t killing too many people.

Waterproofing: This is a big deal as my iPhone 6S+ recently took a dive into our overhead water tank. It now has light gashes under the screen where water leaked in via the earphone. The old warhorse survived but I’m not sure if there will be any long-term effects.

Damage on my old iPhone 6S+ screen where water leaked in via the earpiece

No such worries with the Mini. It can dive up to 6M underwater and stay there for thirty minutes, or something like that.

Big phone power in a small package The powerful yet efficient A14 chip in the Mini is the same one that’s in all the iPhone 12 series phones. What this means for me is that I can do stuff like shoot and edit photos/videos in full HD without worrying about killing the battery. Ditto for watching videos. I’m not a gamer but I’ve been told it does a good job with the most demanding of games. And even at 60Hz, that OLED screen is gorgeous. Yes, I would have preferred the iPhone 13 Mini with its larger battery except that it costs almost twice as much at ₹70,000 ($933). Yes, the iPhone 13 Mini also does have an advanced camera unit that lets in more light (larger lens, a larger sensor, and OIS on the sensor), but that still doesn’t justify the huge price difference.

Soft Touches The software improvements are just as exciting. Playing with the focus after shooting is like God-mode for the camera. Copying a number from an image instead of laboriously transcribing it is a luxury.

Using the control panel to scan a QR code from the lockscreen, and then choosing your payment app reduces the friction of switching to direct phone payments.

I also appreciate the little touches. Like when I get an OTP, it usually disappears into the depth of the messaging app as I have disabled viewing OTPs on the lockscreen. Now Face ID securely unlocks my phone without my even thinking about it, and a swipe from mid-screen reveals the OTP. Like so.

Apple’s dedication to making things ‘just work’ shows in how it simplified the process of migrating to a new phone. You unbox your new iPhone, switch it on, place it beside your old iPhone, and then follow instructions. The data on your old phone transfers itself wirelessly to your new phone, and the phone tells you when it’s done.

Some apps showed up only as icons and needed to be downloaded whenever I next use them. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for my 64GB phone as I rarely use some of the apps on my phone. All in all, it was a seamless process compared to the old way of backing up to iTunes on a computer and then restoring from there, and midway being told that the OSes don’t match, and leaving you to figure out what to do next.

Seamless migration from old phone to new

The Gap between Android and Apple has narrowed

The last time I switched to Android was back in 2016 when my iPhone 5’s screen died on me. I had the Mi 4i as my secondary phone. But Android was then still a work in progress, and I ended up getting the iPhone 6S+ and staying with Apple for another five years.

This time around, Android is ahead of Apple in some ways. Sharing music for instance. I still haven’t figured out how to load non-Apple music in the iOS music app without going through the cumbersome process of using iTunes on a computer. Also though my iPhone has a dual SIM, I don’t think it can run dual apps, like two WhatsApps, or two Amazon accounts. Lots of other stuff is also possible on my Android. Playing YouTube with the screen off is my fav.

Dual Apps on Android allows me to use two Amazon/Audible accounts without switching

But iOS still ‘just works’ for me.

My Android, the Mi 10T, has a flagship-level 865 chip. My Mi Band 4, also from Xiaomi, allows me to view messages. Surprisingly, the Mi Band & iPhone combo worked seamlessly, unlike the Mi Band & Mi 10T combo, which was erratic. Like messages on my Android not showing up on my band despite my setting it up in the Mi Fit app, another Xiaomi product.

It’s a little thing. But user experience is everything, as they say.

I suppose I should not compare apples to oranges. The Android challenger to the Mini is Google’s Pixel 6. Well, I will leave that exercise to professional YouTubers as I’m just an ordinary user.

The thing is I want my cake, and I want to eat it too. Using two phones was my way out of this conundrum.

Best of both worlds

I have been using my Android as my secondary (work) phone for a while now.

David and Goliath

99% of Indians use Androids so using one makes it far easier to share stuff, like files (via USB drives), apps, music, chargers, cables, and so on.

In that sense, my iPhone and Android complement each other. My iPhone is my primary phone on which I take calls, store my personal stuff, access my emails and social media. If I want to go on a run without having to carry a brick in my pocket, the Mini is my guy.

But if I want to see the big picture without a notch sticking its nose in, I pick up the Android (the punch hole for the selfie camera is almost invisible). If I occasionally want to listen to a YouTube video with the screen turned off (useful while driving), my Android makes it possible, without my having to pony up for a paid YouTube account. Dual apps? Only on Android.

Once you get used to both OSes, you can even share stuff across the phones. Like I use the same accounts for photos, contacts, finance, OTT, email, music, shopping, YouTube, Chrome browser, and can pick up on one device where I left on the other device.

Carrying two phones is a pain though the Mini makes it a bit easier. I usually only take one phone when I step out, and forward calls from the other one to it. But it’s hard to share some stuff between Android and iPhone, like Notes and Reminders. There are workarounds and I believe you can now share Notes by syncing it via Gmail, but I’m yet to figure this out. As for reminders, I have set up Alexa to send pop-ups on the lockscreen of both phones.

As of now, it’s working. Just about.

Prices will rise

The ongoing drama in China is causing shortages at Apple. When supply goes down, demand will go up, and prices will rise. My gut feel is prices will either increase or hold steady over the next year. That’s one reason I bought the Mini without a second thought. And I was right. Flipkart reduced the discount a day after I ordered my Mini, making it more expensive by ₹2,000. If Twitter’s Jack Dorsey is right about hyperinflation lurking on the horizon, then this difference may skyrocket in the coming months.

Anyway, five years was a long time to wait. But the Mini was worth it.

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