Apple today lifted the embargo on iPhone 13 and 13 Pro reviews. Major outlets such as The Verge, Engadget and Wired have all published their first impressions of the new devices. In addition to that Apple has provided review units to several YouTubers. You can find a summary of the first impressions below with links to some of the video reviews across YouTube.
Apple refreshed the design of the iPhone last year with the iPhone 12 series and has stuck to that same winning formula this year. I’m against changing the design of the phone annually just to placate people with a short attention span. A design change has to mean something. It needs to change the experience of using a product, not just the way it looks. Progress for the sake of progress is little more than a vanity metric. It seems for the most part reviewers agree.
That being said there are a few design tweaks and changes as pointed out by the Verge:
Last year was a big design update for the iPhone, with flat sides, 5G, and MagSafe charging. This year’s models inherit all of that, changing the design in only minor ways. The most obvious one is the notch on the screen. It’s slightly smaller, but only horizontally — it still pushes down into what you’re looking at to the same degree. Apple also didn’t do anything with that extra space at the top, meaning you still can’t see your battery percentage without pulling down the control center.Dieter Bohn, The Verge
Reviewers also pointed out that these new phones are slightly heavier and thicker than last year to accommodate the new, larger camera systems and to add bigger batteries. My view is that this is a worthy tradeoff that adds value to features that people genuinely care about. If you don’t like big phones already you’ll like the Pro Max even less. But if you love little phones the mini is still mini.
Reviewers have lauded the display of both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro. Particular praise was for the brighter panel across all models but the new high refresh rate display on the 13 Pro is the real star of the show.
The screen is notably better than last year’s. It’s the first iPhone with Apple’s ProMotion display, a very high refresh-rate screen technology that was introduced on the iPad Pro in 2017. The screen can adjust to the content on the page to help save battery life and make things feel smoother. If you’re just reading a website, for example, it might refresh less frequently and save battery life. But then if you’re gaming or scrolling through a long webpage, it’ll refresh really fast to make everything much smoother. It’s one of those things you need to see for yourself to appreciate.Todd Haslton, CNBC
I’ve been a big fan of ProMotion on the iPad Pro since its inception in 2017. And I’m really happy to see Apple bring it to the iPhone and do it right. It’s a nice to have and not a need to have but once you’ve used it, you won’t want to go back to a 60hz screen ever again. The experience feels transformative when scrolling in particular on iPad. And it sounds like Apple has done it again for the iPhone.
Battery life was a major plus across all major review outlets. All models have seen meaningful improvements however the iPhone 13 mini is still underwhelming albeit improved.
While the 13 mini did beat the 12 mini by sticking around almost a whole day on light use, the 13 hours and 19 minutes score on our video rundown test is still shorter than the average smartphone. It’s a pity; I love the size of the iPhone 13 mini — it’s just so much easier to use with one hand. But the greatest drawback of any modern phone this small is a lack of endurance.Cherlynn Low, Engadget
The story was much sunnier for the 13, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The Verge went as far as to describe the battery life of the larger phone as ‘Incredible’. Apple achieved major gains in battery life through a combination of software optimisation, more energy-efficient displays, the A15 chip and of course larger batteries.
The reviews confirm what Apple told us at their event last week. This is easily the best battery life ever in an iPhone and will offer a meaningful upgrade for just about anyone other than a 12 Pro Max user. The 12 Pro Max already offered excellent battery life.
The new camera system is a two-tier affair. Apple is using different systems in the iPhone 13 to the iPhone 13 Pro.
iPhone 13 and 13 Mini
The iPhone 13 and 13 mini, both share the same camera system with upgraded sensors and sensor-shift stabilisation. Reviewers have noted big improvements to low light performance and overall image quality compared to previous models.
The most tangible representation of the A15 Bionic’s performance jump is in photo and video capture on the iPhone 13. I’ve spent the past week carrying around a few phones—iPhone 11, iPhone 12, and iPhone 13—capturing media in various settings and lighting environments. The short version is that I saw a significant jump in quality when I compared photos and videos captured on iPhone 11 versus those on the iPhone 13.Lauren Goode, Wired
iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max
The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max offer an even bigger camera upgrade than the 13 and 13 Mini. Reviewers praised Apple for including the same system in both sizes of the Pro models. Last year the best camera system was reserved for the 12 Pro Max.
The camera systems on the iPhone 13 Pro and the 13 Pro Max are identical this year, which means you don’t have to buy the bigger and more expensive phone to get the best photos. And I do mean best photos, because there isn’t another phone on the market that can match the iPhone 13 Pro. I also can’t remember the last time I’ve said “whoa, look at this photo” as many times as I have during this review.Dieter Bohn, The Verge
All of the lenses have seen major upgrades. Low light performance has been dialled up to 10 thanks to large f/1.5 apertures on the primary wide camera. The telephoto lens now offers 3x optical zoom with natural bokeh for portraits without the need to invoke portrait mode and low light performance sees a huge upgrade thanks to night mode. The ultra-wide also offers better low light capability and a new macro mode thanks to the addition of focus pixels.
On the downside, the selfie camera hasn’t sene any hardware upgrades this year. Although the reviews do point out that various new photo features such as ‘photographic styles’ and ‘cinematic video’ are compatible with the front camera.
- Reviewers praised the iPhone 13 series for its video quality. The iPhone has long held the crown for best video quality in a smartphone and this year Apple has extended that lead. This is thanks to the aforementioned camera upgrades, in addition, to support for new features such as ProRes video.
- The lightning connector remains a pain point for many reviewers who would have liked to see Apple adopt USB C. This would be beneficial on the Pro models in particular but could inadvertently create a mountain of e-waste.
- The A15 chip is a powerhouse as expected and will serve users exceptionally well and far into the future for several years
- The notch while smaller, doesn’t offer much in the way of benefit for screen real estate. Apple hasn’t taken advantage of it to show more detailed battery data for example.
- Cinematic video is great in ideal lighting conditions but it has limitations and doesn’t enable third-party developers to access depth data. But the ability to change focus in post-editing is impressive.
The reviews of the iPhone 13 series have defied expectations. While first impressions might have considered this year to be an ‘S year’, the upgrades Apple has brought to the table offer truly meaningful upgrades. Bigger batteries so you can keep using your phone longer. Better cameras to capture special moments, up your Instagram game and create better-looking content. Improved displays that are brighter with smaller notches and in the case of the Pro models, with high refresh rates. And of course the best performance in a smartphone that should last for many years. We didn’t get a design change, but just about everything you actually use your phone for will benefit from the upgrades Apple announced this year.
Notable Video Reviews
Featured image: AppleTLDR