Dedoimedo reviews iPhone 13 Mini - 'Tis a lovely device

Updated: October 26, 2023

As you well know, I've never been an iPhone user. For various reasons, I never got sold onto the strict and rigid ideas of Apple's closed ecosystem. I found Android, for all its Wild West tendencies, more palatable to my taste as a tinkering techie. But I still kept a close look on iPhones, and even reviewed several of the devices over the years. Most notably, I tested iPhone 6s back in 2017 and iPhone 11 in 2021. The results were predictable. Not for me. However, my appreciation for the product has increased in the last decade, specifically hardware quality, very long support, and reasonable security.

Just a few days ago, I had a chance to take an iPhone 13 Mini for a long spin. And I thought, hm, this could be interesting. The selling points are many. Top-notch hardware, seven years of software updates and support AFTER the last day of sale (at least, based on historic trends), and an excellent form factor. The Mini, the last of the Minis as it turns out (for now), measures just 4.7 inches diagonally, just like the iPhone 6s from some eight years ago. Since, the devices have become ridiculously big and cumbersome, and it's very nice to see a phone that can still be classified as an actual phone rather than a brick or a tablet or an assault weapon. Anyway, enough talking, let's see what this thing does.

Teaser

Specifications, look & feel

The iPhone 13 Mini is a special phone. Because it's small. And by that, I mean normal-sized as opposed to the gargantuan tabletian monstrosities that pose as smartphones nowadays. It's quite light, you can use it like the deities of hardware intended, and it actually fits inside pockets. I really wish more vendors made smaller phones, and that Apple continues the tradition of making the Mini models.

The device I had available for testing was a single-SIM 128GB 4GB RAM Mini, in Apple white, with a Super Retina OLED display, 1080x2340px resolution, 476ppi density. You get the Apple A15 chipset, hexa-core CPU and four-core GPU.

What I really like is the camera spec. It's simple and to the point. No excess MP numbers that don't really mean anything practical. You have a 12MP f/1.6 wide lens and 12MP f/2.4 ultra-wide lens. The selfie camera also clocks a neat 12MP sensor. What really matters is the actual quality of the optics. When it comes to video, the rear camera can record 4K up to 60 FPS (including the valuable 24FPS option), or 1080p up to 240 FPS. Very neat.

Connectivity and sensors include dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/6, Bluetooth 5.0, all manner of GPS methods, accelerometer, proximity, compass, and even barometer. You also have Face ID biometrics. There is no audio jack, alas, alas, and the charging port is still Lightning (only iPhone 15 gets USB-C). Finally, the battery is relative small, 2438mAh, which is about 1/2 of what most modern phones pack. It will be interesting to see how this affects actual usage in between charges.

Originally, the Mini shipped with iOS 15, but you can already upgrade to iOS 17, and will probably be able to do that up to version 20 or something. Given how the older iPhones still get all the latest features, to say nothing of the security updates, there's an extremely high chance of that happening.

The most interesting aspect, for me, is the physical size. Comfy. Just right. I also like the thickness. The older iPhones used to be too thin, thus much harder to hold, and all too slippery. More recently, they got bulkier, and the 13 Mini has nice, square (yet rounded) corners, the case has solid friction, and it sits very confidently in your hand. In fact, it's extremely pleasing to tote. If holding-yer-phone has a rating, then it's top score.

Looks 1

Looks 2

What about the price?

I wanted to bring this up separately. Just days ago, I published my Nokia X10 long-term review. I got it as a secondary slash testing device after my equally cheap Motorola Moto G6 died. While the X10 still works, its battery is now draining rapidly below the 40% mark, the action button and the volume button have fallen out of their sockets only about a year in (after I removed and then put back on the original plastic case shipped with the phone several times), and for a while, the QR code didn't work after a major Android update (has been fixed since). Technically speaking, both phones needed/need a replacement only two years after the purchase. With the G6 cost of 250 dollars and the X10 cost of almost 300 dollars, that comes down to roughly 550 dollars for four years of usage. Not cheap at all.

Not all phones show the same kind of wear and tear of course. My ancient G4 still works reasonably well, and the battery can be easily replaced. The One Zoom also seems to be okay, but then, it was a much more expensive device to begin with, in the mid-high range, which can explain its durability. And this indeed brings me to the point of cost versus value, the long-term usability and survivability equation.

With desktop and laptops, I've always argued that more expensive kit usually last longer, i.e., it's better to buy one 1,000-dollar laptop every six years than two 500-dollar laptops every three years. The same applies to smartphones, except I'm not a big smartphone user. I sure do utilize them, for communication, some photos, perhaps some browsing and whatnot. But I do not qualify as the typical user, and for me, they sure aren't the primary computing device. Not even the secondary. Which means that if I need to dish out a lot of money on a phone, it would be a costly overkill.

Or would it?

Practically, it turns out buying cheaper phones doesn't bring value. Interestingly, performance wise, there is no issue. Like the desktop computing market, there's no huge advancement in mobile technology that warrants replacements every few months. This was the case in the early 2000s, but not anymore. The same way any PC built after 2010 can still do modern things, any less-than-absolute-trash phone can do whatever the modern usage dictates. OK, you might not stream 4K at 60FPS, but you can still do everything you need to do. It ain't the performance, then.

But it's everything else. Hardware quality. Software updates. By and large, smartphones have awfully short support cycles. This is slowly changing, and vendors are starting to boast about their long-term commitment, including multiple Android major upgrades and X many years of security patching. But still, you can easily find yourself with a costly phone that only gets one version bump, and the patches dry out two years down the line, whereas your phone still has years worth of hardware life in its bones.

From what I've been able to gather, the iPhones seem to handle this incredibly well. Even old devices work great after many years of usage, they get the latest operating system version or near as, they get patches, and the hardware lasts. Thus, the original price does not look so scary. True, 700-800 Euros for a small phone sounds like a lot, but if the iPhone Mini can live 7-8 years, this beats any el-cheapo mobile.

Setup

I don't have much experience with iOS. So, for me, every setup is a fresh affair. But despite my noobness, I was able to get the phone configured very quickly. And in comparison to the Android ecosystem, the setup was much less annoying. Not pain-free, but an order of magnitude simpler and cleaner.

Sure, I did need to do some basic sanitization, turning this and that off, and such. However, everything is governed in a rather linear fashion. One Settings menu, and you go from there, easily. One might say that Apple uses an "outdated" look, almost like a classic desktop, but I find this more intuitive than the labyrinth typically found in Android. Then, when it comes to Android, vendor-specific games notwithstanding, you often have multiple ways of finding the same option or tweak, and often, you need to go into seemingly innocent sub-sub-menu to discover an afterthought wealth of configurations. Usually, it takes a good day or two to settle down with Android. Here, I needed only an hour or so.

That said, iOS has its own share of silly options. For example, here's what I had to do:

Disable Siri Disable analytics

Disable notifications

But technically, that's about it. Not much more. Feels like a breeze. I was able to tweak the wallpaper and ringtone. For some reason, I remembered these being incredibly difficult to change in the past. And then, I was done. I had a simple, sleek phone ready to use. W00t w00t.

Home screen

Cloud stuff

If you have an iCloud account, then you get 5GB free storage. And this storage will be used for your cloud sync unless you disable it. Note, this ain't system backup. At first, I thought the two are the one and the same, but they are not. So I decided to disable iCloud syncing, left the backup on, but then activated the Advanced Data Protection, which basically means encrypted backups, with a private key that only you have. Sounds nice.

Cloud sync options Advanced data protection

System updates

I had the phone for about two weeks before I had to give up, but in that time, there were three or four minor updates, plus the iOS 17 upgrade. The system applet showed two different sizes after I ran a 16.x update, which means you get all of the stuff in one go, you don't need to run the updates incrementally. The updates went smoothly, without any problems. All of the settings were left just as they were, except one. The phone always turns the Bluetooth on after one of these, so annoying. I hate Bluetooth, and I don't want it.

iOS 17 update iOS 17 updated

I am annoyed by the 3-4px truncation of text just above Learn More...

New stuff in iOS 17

When the new features are stickers and posters ... my oh my.

Regional locks, ads, music

Not all was golden. Far from it. First, loading local music files onto the iPhone is a pain. This has been an outstanding problem for me, one I've not been able to solve for almost a decade, without resorting to using iTunes. Well, I finally did, but that's a story for another time. In this article, I will ignore my glorious success.

So yes, you either buy music using Apple Music or iTunes or ... no local music for you, unless you're really nerdy and persistent. For me, as a Linux user (not exclusively, but still), the added challenge is the lack of official support for the operating system. I tried iTunes via WINE, but that doesn't really work. Various other methods all have dubious sources and even more dubious results. Except one. I must keep you hooked, so apologies for this cheesy cliffhanger.

If you're not a nerd, you may face a much bigger hurdle. Apple's legal agreements across the globe. In some regions, iTunes Store is not "allowed". I went to a couple of countries, changed my region accordingly, and iTunes would either open or tell me to use the iTunes U App, which does nothing.

iTunes Store not available iTunes Store cannot connect

Similarly, Apple Store is not available in all regions. You can try other countries, but ... you need to have a payment associated to that country's financial system, and the user interface will change to the local language. Well, I can understand the first part, but why language? If my phone UI is set to English, then I sure don't need to have apps surprise me with something else. In Apple Store, in one of them less "privileged" countries, I selected the German shop instead, and the interface went German on me. Luckily, from my time as a teenager studying the Internet cultural archives in said language, I was able to revert back to English.

Store not available Apple Store in German

People in California will never experience this, of course, but believe it or not, there are lots of countries out there, and yonder, anyone who WANTS to use Apple's products will feel slighted by this legalese exclusion. Whatever, man.

Then, the App Store, then one where you get your apps, also decided to pull a dirty trick on me. Personalized ads, yeah or nay. What. I thought App Store had no ads. Oh, naive me. Well, it would seem Apple has joined the pack, and now every ecosystem is polluted. The obnoxiousness level of ads shown is only a bit lesser than what I typically see on Android. That said, I was able to navigate the App Store with ease, and even find some useful stuff.

Personalized ads App Store ads

Media playback, the more old fashioned way

VLC exists in the App Store, and it's fantastic. If you install an adblocker for Safari, you can also watch online streaming, otherwise, the Internet experience is unbearable. Again, compared to what I knew and did with the iPhone 11 about two years ago, I think the ecosystem is now much easier to use.

Lock screen, streaming VLC

Adblock Plus

I know some people don't like Adblock Plus (ABP), but untick the Acceptable Ads option, and it works fine.

The Apple Music app never detected any songs available through VLC. So the iTunes mysticism remains. Why is it so utterly complex to add some local mp3 tunes sans iTunes? Then, there's the whole Store availability problem in some regions, media availability, and we go back to square one. Meh.

No local songs No VLC songs found

General usability

Some things with the iPhone are really annoying. And unlike Android, there's no hope of fixing them. You must accept them for what they are. Like Music, iTunes and such. But then, I don't like the gestures navigation, I prefer a simple three-button nav bar like in Android. I don't want to diagonally swipe left up down right whatever, miss, get confused, try again. I want cold, clean efficiency.

I mentioned Bluetooth. There are a few more. In Settings, there's the Apple Arcade Free for 3 Months ad, which is absolutely silly. And if you don't create any biometrics, like Face ID and such, you will have that one outstanding item, forever. Really pointless.

Annoyances

Arcade ad

And this complete nonsense popped up at some point in the App Store. More later.

You can also decide how much iPhone meddles in your day to day life, like say nude photos and video detection, what we in professional circles call the Internet. This detectoring thingie does not sound good, for many reasons. One, it can analyze photos and videos. Two, it can analyze nude photos and videos. Three, yes. I know the analysis is always done on-device, but why to begin with? What's the point? I would rather algorithms detect stupidity, fake products and malwaretizing rather than some good ole European bush 'n' stick.

Sensitive content

And when it comes to its physical properties ...

On the ergonomics side of things, the phone is FANTASTIC. The iPhone 13 Mini has the perfect body size to weight to height to everything ratio. It's small yet chunky, thick but easy to hold, it does not slip out of your hand due to somewhat "sharp" corners (i.e., not completely rounded as of old). It's lovely, lovely.

I told you how I don't like big phones, and anything above five inches, erm, phone wise, is too much. The iPhone Mini ticks all the boxes. The display is clear. The phone feels posh, expensive, the tactile response is excellent, and while I disagree with many of the UI choices, you cannot fault the overall composition, or the fact the product is extremely refined and well put together. There's coherence, consistency, and flair.

Holding in hand

Camera

No complaints. Works great, shoots great photos. Now, if you've read my iPhone 11 review, then there won't be any big surprises here. By and large, the iPhone 13 Mini will shoot high-quality, realistic-color photos in a similar fashion. I did some basic comparison to the Motorola One Zoom, and the results were jolly. The only thing I didn't like is the Live Photo feature, set to ON by default, which creates 3-second videos in addition to your still photos. Why? I am shooting stills, if I wanted videos, I could do that. No reason to pollute the storage with tons of unnecessary micro-videos.

Camera 1

Camera 2

The colors are clear, vibrant, and true. Fine detail resolution. Solid, quite solid. Good food, too. Don't be jelly.

Battery life

I am also quite pleased with the battery life. If you don't do too many silly things, turn a few extras off, like background data, location, Bluetooth, add an adblocker to your Safari so you minimize further network and CPU wastage, then with lightweight everyday usage, you can do about a week. That's lovely for a battery pack that's half (yup, half) the capacity of most typical modern-day phones.

Battery 1 Battery 2

Lockdown mode?

Yes! But that goes into a separate article. Another cliffhanger. More to follow.

Lockdown mode teaser

Conclusion

Two weeks in, I removed my account, reset the phone, and gave it to their owner with many thanks, hugs and kisses. I have to say I'm quite pleased with the outcome of my testing. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe less jaded, maybe soft or deluded or something, but I'm warming up to the idea of Apple's gilded cage and cult consumerism. Not fully no, of course not. But there's some level of solace in the knowledge you get a tightly integrated product, with lots of refinement and testing. It shows, and it's good.

I was also surprised by the advanced AKA simplification of the app ecosystem. Previously, years back, I was not able to load any locally sourced music on the iPhone and/or use adblocking. This time around, I accomplished both successfully, which makes iPhone usage FINALLY potentially viable (to me). I also tested the Lockdown Mode, and that turned out to be another nice surprise, but shhh, next time.

The ergonomics are excellent, the camera is great, the audio is great, the battery holds its charge extremely well. The phone build quality is great, everything about its look & feel is tiptop. The system performance and stability are great. I am using the word great too much. There were problems, of course, so don't mistake me for a fanboy yet ha ha! I don't like ads in the App Store, I don't like the West Coast or nowhere approach to so-called regional locks and such, I don't like that some simple things can be surprisingly, unnecessarily extremely difficult.

Will I ever buy myself an iPhone? The answer is: the chances of that happening are manyfold higher than they were in the past. I used to be totally disdainful of the iPhone, then mildly engaged, then modestly respectful, and now, there's grudging appreciation for what it does and how it does it. Sure, I'm still a peasant and a tinkerer, and I like my chaos that is Linux and everything associated. But I also like class and style, and there's plenty of both in the iPhone 13 Mini. This is definitely a solid product, and even a common serf like me can see that. I'd say 9/10, and maybe I'll sell a kidney one day (not necessarily mine, relax), and get myself an iPhone. And on that day, you shall address me as His Lordship Dedoimedo. But me happy, this was good. Surprisingly and unexpectedly good. Bye bye.

Cheers.