Apple iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro review: fantastic cameras, great battery life

·Technology Editor
·7-min read

Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 13 line hits the market Friday, and it’s bringing impressive changes to the smartphones’ cameras, batteries, and performance. The lineup includes the pint-size iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro, and the hand-stretching iPhone 13 Pro Max.

As with the iPhone 12 lineup, pricing for the iPhone 13 family runs from $699 for the entry-level mini to $1,099 for the entry-level iPhone 13 Pro Max. But this time around you’ll get more storage out of the mini and base iPhone 13. That’s because instead of just 64GB, each iPhone now comes with a minimum of 128GB of space.

After using the latest iPhones for a few days, I think it’s clear they’re worthwhile upgrades for anyone who’s rolling with anything other than an iPhone 12. If you do have a 12, then upgrading to the iPhone 13 isn’t a must — but you’ll still find welcome changes that may be worth your hard-earned cash. These changes include:

  • Slick new camera features

  • Faster processors

  • Dramatically longer battery life

A slight facelift, and new screens for the iPhone Pros

You’d be forgiven if you had trouble telling the difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13. They’re all essentially the same size, and they all still have the same notch cutout at the top of their displays. Camera placement for the 13 mini and 13 is also slightly different.

The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 are identifiable by their new diagonally arranged cameras. (Image: Howley)
The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 are identifiable by their new diagonally arranged cameras. (Image: Howley)

Both the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 also have the same screens as their immediate predecessors, with the mini getting a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display, and the iPhone 13 getting a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display.

The 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and the 6.7-inch Pro Max, however, get very welcome upgrades in the form of Apple’s ProMotion display technology. The feature allows the Pro and Pro Max’s Super Retina XDR displays to automatically adjust their refresh rates from as low as 10Hz, or 10 frames per second, to as high as 120Hz depending on what you’re viewing.

The result is an iPhone that feels far smoother while navigating between apps, scrolling through websites, and playing games. It’s quite a noticeable difference from the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max.

There's a massive size difference between the iPhone 13 mini ad iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Image: Howley)
There's a massive size difference between the iPhone 13 mini ad iPhone 13 Pro Max. (Image: Howley)

Apple doesn’t let the screens run at 120Hz at all times because that would devour battery life. Instead, the refresh rate will drop all the way down to 10Hz when you’re reading on-screen text, helping to preserve your phone’s battery.

Better cameras and Cinematic video mode

The big to-do about Apple’s latest iPhones is their camera upgrades. All four phones have improved larger image sensors that provide more accurate shots in both normal and low-light settings. The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 also get sensor-shift technology, which stabilizes your shot to ensure better clarity. The technology was previously only available on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

I took photos of Manhattan’s East River waterfront from Queens on an overcast day and noticed the iPhone 12 Pro made the clouds look far darker than they actually were. The iPhone 13 lineup, however, captured the clouds as they actually appeared.

Like the iPhone 12 family, the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 have wide and ultra-wide angle cameras, while the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max get wide-angle, ultra-wide angle and telephoto cameras. This time around, however, the telephoto camera gets a 3x optical zoom, which means you’ll capture subjects at a distance without seeing blurring or artifacts.

A photo of the New York skyline taken with the iPhone 13 Pro Max's wide-angle lens. (Image: Howley)
A photo of the New York skyline taken with the iPhone 13 Pro Max's wide-angle lens. (Image: Howley)
A photo taken from the same spot using the iPhone 13 Pro Max's 3x telephoto lens. (Image: Howley)
A photo taken from the same spot using the iPhone 13 Pro Max's 3x telephoto lens. (Image: Howley)

My favorite feature of the new cameras is the macrophotography capabilities of the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. The option uses the new ultra-wide camera to enable users to focus on subjects as close as two centimeters away. With that, you can capture fine details on things like flowers, fruits, trees, pets, or anything else you want. I DO NOT recommend using the feature on your keyboard, unless you love being grossed out.

The feature doesn’t require any special mode. Rather, as you bring your phone closer to your subject, the camera changes to the ultra-wide lens and reverts as you pull back.

Apple’s new Cinematic view, meanwhile, automatically focuses on a subject while blurring the background. If another person enters the frame and your original subject looks away, the focus will change to the new person.

A macro photo of a flower taken using the iPhone 13 Pro. (Image: Howley)
A macro photo of a flower taken using the iPhone 13 Pro. (Image: Howley)

Apple sees this as a means to make the iPhone camera even more of a replacement for traditional cameras, and it’s stunning. You can also change the focal point for your Cinematic video after recording it by editing it directly on your iPhone.

I’m not sure how often the average person will use Cinematic mode, but if you’re the kind of user who likes to shoot artistic videos, the feature will certainly help.

As for low-light photography, the iPhone 13 lineup is better at capturing images in dim settings than even the already exceptional iPhone 12. Shots look brighter, have more detail, and the phones were better at capturing my relatively pale skin tone.

A15 Bionic and iPhone battery life

Apple’s A15 Bionic chip is the fastest the company has put into its smartphone yet.

In perhaps a look into how Apple hopes to frame the Pro line into the future, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max both get 5-core faster graphics processing units (GPUs), while the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 get 4-core GPUs. But I’m not exactly certain how that will impact general user performance. Games will run great on both, and if you’re into heavy video editing, you’re likely going to do that on your laptop, rather than your smartphone.

It could have to do with Apple’s augmented reality ambitions — the technology generally needs hardware with powerful graphics capabilities. But if that’s the case, it may be some time before we get a look at the tech, since Apple made little mention of it during the iPhone 13 reveal event.

The full iPhone 13 lineup. (Image: Howley)
The full iPhone 13 lineup. (Image: Howley)

As for battery life, Apple says the iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 get more than an hour of additional battery life, while the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max get more than two hours of additional usage time. And in my experience, the improvements have paid off. I used the iPhone 13 Pro Max for more than six hours throughout the day, according to the Screen Time app, and despite browsing Instagram and Twitter, getting notifications from Slack, reading emails, and watching videos, the battery still had 30% of its juice left at the end of the day.

Should you get them?

Apple’s latest iPhones are once again some of the best smartphones you can get. For iPhone fans with older models, this feels like a great time to upgrade to Apple’s latest and greatest offerings.

If you’re rolling with an iPhone 12, though, the need to upgrade is less apparent. Yes, the cameras are better, and the battery life is greatly improved, but overall, both generations of phones are wonderful.

For everyone just looking for affordability and power, go with the iPhone 13 mini or iPhone 13. But if you want a phone that has it all and more, go for the iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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