By now we’re used to iPhones getting major updates on a biannual basis. One year the smartphone gets a major design overhaul, while the following year is a refinement with a new processor, better cameras, and generally small changes. This year’s iPhone 13 Pro has completely broken that mold with both technical improvements and design refinements, including a 120Hz display with a smaller notch, completely revamped cameras, bigger batteries, and so much more.
For something that’s updated annually, the iPhone 13 Pro feels like an almost completely new device. This is easily the most exciting iPhone in a long time, even compared to last year’s splashy redesign.
iPhone 13 Pro Review
iPhone 13 Pro – Design and Features
The iPhone 13 Pro might use the same overall chassis as the iPhone 12 Pro, but this new handset is noticeably heavier as soon as you pick it up. On paper, Apple’s flagship has gone from weighing 189g to 204g, largely due to bigger batteries and camera lenses.
Speaking of those larger camera lenses, they’re almost the size of dimes now, which by extension calls for a larger camera bump. The sensor array is 2mm thick, which prevents the iPhone 13 from lying flat on a table. This massively bumped-up camera bump also makes it incompatible with some phone controllers including the Backbone One. So you might be out of luck if you were hoping to use an older case or other iPhone peripherals here.
The display brings the most welcome iPhone 13 Pro changes. First up, the screen notch is 20% smaller than the previous iPhone, which has until now been unchanged since the iPhone X originally introduced the notch. The new notch is narrower on the sides but dips down a skosh more. The extra bit of screen real estate is fantastic for watching full screen videos and playing games. You also get a larger clock and notification icons to boot.
The other most significant improvement to the iPhone 13 Pro is its 6.1-inch screen finally refreshes at 120Hz with ProMotion. Plenty of Android phones – and a few iPads – have featured 120Hz screens for the last few years already, and finally getting smoother scrolling on Apple’s handset is fantastic. 120Hz makes scrolling feel extra silky, and swiping between your widgets, apps, and app library so much more responsive.
Unfortunately, beyond swiping around on your screen, there aren’t many ways to take advantage of that 120Hz right now. As of this writing, there’s a bug (Apple is working on a fix) that prevents the phone’s Core Animation technology from utilizing the maximum refresh rate. There also aren’t any apps that support the 120Hz refresh rate, but I’m hoping developers begin rolling it out soon. Fast-paced games like The Pathless and Asphalt 8+ already run like butter on the iPhone 13 Pro thanks to its A15 Bionic processor, and extremely smooth frame rate would only make that experience even better.
iPhone 13 Pro – Gaming and Performance
The iPhone 13 Pro’s new A15 Bionic processor has an additional GPU core compared to last year’s A14 Bionic chip, a significant upgrade. This spec bump mostly plays into powering the handset’s new 120Hz ProMotion display, but it also makes the phone more graphically capable for editing complex cinematic mode video and the serious slate of Apple Arcade games releasing now.
The iPhone 13 Pro masterfully runs graphically challenging games like Monster Hunter Stories+ and Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls without the slightest bit of stutter. It’s a step away from the purely original mobile titles that Apple Arcade was originally known for, but it’s amazing to see console and handheld games run extremely smoothly on the iPhone now.
Apple has increased the maximum storage capacity up to 1TB, which might seem absolutely obscene, but makes sense considering how good this phone is for shooting video. Another thing to note about the storage capacity is the base 128GB iPhone 13 Pro can only shoot 1080p ProRes video. To shoot in 4K, you need at least the 256GB model.
One other spec upgrade is expanded support for Mid-Band 5G, which means you can take advantage of more 5G networks around the world. It’s a small improvement, but after swapping over to the new iPhone, I found myself connecting to T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G UC network in places where previously I would typically only get 4G or the carrier’s low-band 5G connection.
iPhone 13 Pro Image Samples
iPhone 13 Pro – Camera
The cameras have easily seen the biggest overhaul on the iPhone 13 Pro. The main wide-angle camera’s new 12MP sensor is physically bigger, and features larger 1.9 µm pixels, plus sensor-shift technology. This improved main camera first debuted on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and this year it has trickled down to the smaller iPhone Pro.
Meanwhile, the 12MP ultrawide camera features a larger aperture and a new macro shooting, and then the 12MP telephoto camera has been upgraded with 3x optical zoom giving it the equivalent focal length of a 77mm camera lens.
Not only is the main camera’s sensor larger in both size and imaging pixels, but it also has a wider open f1.5 aperture lens that makes it excel at nighttime shooting. The iPhone 13 Pro’s new main sensor captures a wider dynamic range and blacks that are actually black rather than a hazy gray.
iPhone 13 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Image Comparisons
The Ultrawide camera also features a larger f1.8 aperture that helps in low-light situations, though not to the same extent as the main camera. It can also now focus super close, up to 2cm away, to take macro photography shots. Thankfully Apple chose to add this feature to one of the phone’s preexisting three cameras rather than add a disappointingly low-resolution macro camera like so many Android phones have. Interestingly, you don’t even need to manually switch to the ultrawide camera to take macro images, instead, the handset automatically switches to it as soon as you try to focus on a subject within 10cm.
Lastly, the new 3x telephoto camera adds some very welcome added reach to the iPhone 13 Pro’s photographic arsenal. The extra magnification helps you shoot tighter portrait photos, and of course, shoot farther away objects. Unfortunately, the added zoom also closes the aperture of this lens from f2.2 to f2.8, so less light passes through its optics. However, to make up for it Apple has added night mode shooting on the telephoto camera, and the lens features optical image stabilization to help steady those long exposures.
iPhone 13 Pro – Cinematic Mode
Cinematic mode is the only new video feature on the iPhone 13. It essentially lets you take the blurred portrait effect we’ve enjoyed on stills and apply it to your videos. This mode artificially creates a narrow depth of field to blur the background around whatever you’re shooting. When applied to video, this also allows you to shift or rack focus between subjects as well.
In practice, Cinematic Mode is pretty neat for giving your movies more depth and isolating your subject. However, to make it work you need to set up the right shots and be prepared to edit your videos after the fact.
First off, to create an effective Cinematic Mode video, your subjects need to be spaced pretty far from each other and ideally not all standing next to each other in a line. The second finicky thing about Cinematic Mode is it works a little too hard to find things to focus on and switches between them automatically. So in a crowded space with multiple people and faces, the phone will sometimes lock focus onto another subject without asking you. Additionally, the way the iPhone finds focus isn’t perfect, so you’ll sometimes see it struggling to find focus around your subject, which causes the blur effect to wobble in a very unnatural way.
Because of all this, you’ll almost always need to edit your video afterward to ensure the focus is locked onto only the subjects you wanted. But even that process is painstaking as the iPhone easily loses focus lock on people – especially if they’re moving around a lot or other objects are moving around them – meaning you might need to relock focus on them multiple times.
Even after you put all that effort into making Cinematic Mode work as you wanted, the blur effect is very apparently fake. A traditional camera lens creates a natural-looking blur effect from shallow depth of field in which only objects at a certain distance are in clear focus while anything closer or past that point is obscured.
Apple’s blurring effect, on the other hand, basically adds an uneven blur around the subjects you lock focus to in a very inconsistent manner. This artificial blur looks rough with jagged, aliased edges if you examine your Cinematic Modes video closely.
Another limitation of Cinematic Mode is it lowers the shooting resolution of your videos to 1080p.
As frustrating as Cinematic Mode is to work with, there’s still something impressive (or dystopian) about watching the iPhone’s neural engine at work finding faces like it’s your own personal facial recognition surveillance camera. Still, I can’t imagine shooting many movies in cinematic mode with how much you need to wrestle with the focusing system while you’re shooting and editing afterward.
iPhone 13 Pro – Battery Life
Last year’s iPhones cut battery sizes, and thankfully they’ve been increased this time around. Whereas the iPhone 12 Pro was only 2,815mAh in capacity, the iPhone 13 Pro has bumped up to a 3,095mAh battery. According to Apple, this new flagship should last 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12 Pro.
For me, this translated into a phone that would still have slightly more than 60% of its battery life – rather than below 50% – at the end of a normal day consisting of checking email, browsing the web, scrolling through social media, listening to podcasts and music, watching YouTube videos, and taking photos. With heavier usage – consisting of playing Apple Arcade games on top of a lot more of the usage I mentioned above – I ended days with closer to 25% battery life.
Basically, you can expect this phone to last you through a full day even if you’re using it almost constantly.
The iPhone 12 Pro brought back the convenience of MagSafe with magnetized wireless charging and the iPhone 13 Pro boosts its performance. While iPhone 12 Pro could only juice up to 22% after 30 minutes of Magsafe charging, the new iPhone soaks up a 31% charge – and then a 57% charge after a full hour. That’s almost a single percentage of charge per minute.
Of course, wired charging is still the most efficient way to recharge the iPhone 13 Pro. In my testing, the battery charged to 56% after 30 minutes and 86% after an hour.
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