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What’s the Difference Between Apple’s Two Smallest iPhones?

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The iPhone SE and the iPhone 13 mini are the two of the smallest iPhones you can still buy (although Apple only sells the SE). So, what’s the difference?

iphone se vs iphone 13 miniTucker Bowe

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Apple no longer makes a miniature — or “mini” — iPhone. After two iterations, the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini, Apple officially canned the miniature iPhone due to lackluster sales. The most recent iPhone lineups have replaced it with a more affordable big screen model in the iPhone 14 Plus and iPhone 15 Plus.

If you’re looking for a small iPhone, all hope is not lost, however. Apple still sells the iPhone SE (3rd-generation). And you can still find the iPhone 13 mini — which is a newer and better (and more expensive iPhone) than the current SE — on third-party sites. The phones are similar in size and considerably smaller than the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro. And both still viable choices as they are capable of running the latest iOS.

At first blush, the iPhone 13 mini seems hands-down like the better option; it has a bigger screen, higher-end camera systems front and rear, and packs more advanced features … but it’s also more difficult to buy (because Apple no longer sells it).The current iPhone SE (3rd-generation) starts at $429, while the iPhone 13 mini was originally priced at $699 (although you can find it for much less now).

So, what are the tradeoffs?

These two iPhones are actually a lot more alike than they are different. They have the same exact A15 Bionic processor, run the same operating system and pack features like support for 5G, meaning they’re essentially future-proof for at least the next five years. They also are similar in size (at least their bodies are, not their displays), so they feel pretty alike in your hand and pocket.

As someone who has used both phones extensively, I can tell you it comes down to whether you’re willing to pay a premium for the best features and how much you like the familiar form factor and features of an older iPhone. There are some definite advantages to the iPhone 13 mini. And, arguably, some reasons to even want the cheaper iPhone SE more.

Here are the biggest things that iPhone SE (3rd-generation) sacrifices compared to the iPhone 13 mini.

Do you want Face ID or a Home button with Touch ID?

iphone se vs iphone 13 mini
The iPhone 13 mini feels like a newer iPhone because it has a bigger screen and Face ID. The SE still has an old-school Home button.
Tucker Bowe

The new iPhone SE is more or less the same size as the iPhone 13 mini, but it has a much smaller screen. While the iPhone 13 mini has a 5.4-inch display that takes up the entire front of the phone — it’s an edge-to-edge screen — the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display with some pretty large bezels at its top and bottom.

The bigger issue than screen size, for me, is the fact that the smaller iPhone SE needs its bezels to provide space for a dedicated Home button with Touch ID, while the iPhone 13 mini packs an advanced TrueDepth camera system in its notch for facial recognition. And this has a big impact on how you interact with each smartphone every time you use it as, in my experience, Face ID is way faster and easier (and according to Apple, more secure) than Touch ID.

The iPhone SE lacks MagSafe compatibility.

iphone se vs iphone 13 mini
The iPhone SE lacks support for MagSafe charging.
Tucker Bowe

I think maybe the biggest difference between the two is that the iPhone SE doesn’t support MagSafe, which is something that I’ve grown to really love. All the latest iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models have a special circular magnet built into the back of them that gives them two big benefits: it lets them wirelessly charge twice as fast (up to 15 watts when using a MagSafe charger) and it allows them to magnetically connect to an ecosystem of MagSafe accessories (like wallets, portable chargers and cases).

It should be noted that the new iPhone SE does support wireless charging, but since it doesn’t support MagSafe, it can’t charge as fast and — when connected to a MagSafe wireless charger, it doesn’t display the green circle (seen in the above photo) and make the chime to let you know it’s charging, which are both oddly satisfying.

The iPhone SE’s camera is good, not great.

iphone se vs iphone 13 mini
The iPhone 13 mini has a significantly better rear camera system than the SE.
Tucker Bowe

The current iPhone SE doesn’t have a bad camera — at all. And its A15 Bionic processor enables it to have some of the machine learning and camera capabilities of the iPhone 13 line, such as support for Smart HDR 4 and Deep Fusion, which helps it string multiple exposure shots together to deliver the best possible looking photo. But it’s just not as good as the camera on the iPhone 13 mini.

The iPhone SE has a single-lens rear camera system consisting of a single 12-megapixel wide lens, while the iPhone 13 mini has a dual-lens rear camera system consisting of a slightly better 12-megapixel wide lens and 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens. While both smartphones can shoot Portrait Mode photos and capture beautiful 4K video at up to 60 fps, the extra ultra-wide lens on the iPhone 13 mini just gives you more options on photos that you’ll actually use. And it supports Cinematic mode on videos — which is awesome — while the iPhone SE can’t capture those types of videos.

The price difference isn’t what it used to be.

The starting price of the third-generation iPhone SE is $429. Before Apple stopped selling the iPhone 13 mini, it dropped the starting price from $699 to $599. While most iPhone 13 minis you will find from third-party sellers are refurbished, “Amazon Renewed Premium” ones (which Amazon says are essentially “like new”) go for $529.

You can also find standard “Renewed” 13 minis (which may have scratches and scuffs) for $391. In fairness, you can get a “Renewed Premium” SE for $279, and a standard “Renewed” one for $230.

All that said, the price difference between a brand-new SE and a “like new” 13 mini is only $100 — perhaps even more of an incentive to go with the iPhone 13 mini.

Should you wait for a newer iPhone mini or iPhone SE?

Both the iPhone 13 mini (released: September 2021) and the most recent iPhone SE (released: March 2022) are technically older iPhones — at least compared to the current crop of iPhone 15s — so you might be thinking about waiting to upgrade to their next-gen models. But if you’re waiting for a new mini, you probably shouldn’t; Apple isn’t likely to announce another “mini” iPhone anytime soon (or ever again).

As for the upcoming fourth-generation iPhone SE, Apple could announce that sometime in spring 2024 — so you might not need to wait long for that one. But there’s a catch.

The upcoming SE is expected to take the body of the 2018-released iPhone XR, meaning it’s actually going to be a bit bigger than the current iPhone SE. It also will have Face ID. This isn’t great news for small phone enthusiasts or those who still want a Home button.

Should you buy an older iPhone in general?

iphone 13
The iPhone 13 lineup was the last one to include a “mini.”
Tucker Bowe

There is always a risk-reward assessment to make when buying an older iPhone. You’re going to get a better deal, but an older iPhone is likely going to be slower with worse battery life and it’s not going to have the latest display and camera technologies. The biggest concern, however, is if you buy too old an iPhone it’s going to become obsolete quicker.

Apple typically supports older iPhones with the latest software updates until they are approximately seven years old. For example, the 2017-released iPhone 7 and 7 Plus don’t support iOS 17 — all the newer iPhones support it. You can still use an older iPhone that doesn’t support the latest iOS, but it won’t have the latest security patches and some apps might not be supported.

iPhone SE vs. iPhone 13 mini: the Verdict

The iPhone 13 mini is superior to the iPhone SE (3rd-generation) in pretty much every way, including ways other than the “big” ones that I’ve highlighted above. For example, it has a brighter and better display, it comes with more base storage, and comes with Apple’s U1 chip (which allows it to do things like more seamlessly hand-off music to a HomePod mini speaker).

Even though they’re roughly the same size — which is important in this age of huge smartphones — the iPhone SE (3rd-generation) isn’t really meant to compete with the iPhone 13 mini. It’s an iPhone designed for people who haven’t upgraded to a new iPhone in years —and for those people, it’s going to seem like a huge leap forward — or for people buying their first iPhone. And if you’re somebody who fits one of those descriptions, then you probably don’t need to spend the nearly $150 extra on an iPhone 13 mini.

Apple

iPhone SE (3rd-generation)

The iPhone SE (3rd-generation) was released in March 2022. It has the same body as the iPhone 8 and the same internals as the iPhone 13 line. It’s the smallest and most affordable iPhone that Apple still sells.

Specs

Display 4.7″ Retina HD
Processor A15 Bionic
Capacity 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Pros

  • Small size is very pocket friendly
  • Has a Home button
  • You can still buy from Apple

Cons

  • Doesn’t support MagSafe
  • No Face ID
  • Smaller, worse display
iphone 13 miniApple

iPhone 13 mini (Renewed)

The iPhone 13 mini is essentially a smaller version of the iPhone 13 — it has a similar but smaller design, the same camera system, and modern features like Face ID and MagSafe charger. Apple no longer sells the iPhone 13 mini (or any “mini” iPhone).

Specs

Display 5.4″ Super Retina XDR
Processor A15 Bionic
Capacity 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

Pros

  • Small size is very pocket friendly
  • Supports MagSafe and Face ID
  • Bigger, brighter display than the iPhone SE
  • Higher-end camera system

Cons

  • No Home button
  • More difficult to buy because Apple no longer sells it
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