iPhone 13 — What Apple didn't tell you!

Iphone 13 Pro Apple
Iphone 13 Pro Apple (Image credit: Apple)

Pink. Blue. Midnight. Starlight. Red. 20% smaller notch. 28% brighter display. Bigger Wide Angle. Sensor Shift wide angle. Faster Ultra Wide. Smart HDR4. With Styles. 1080p/30 Cinematic video. Rack focus video. Editable in post! Up to 4K60 Dolby Vision. On all cameras. A15 Bionic. 5G! But no Wi-Fi 6E! Or USB-C! Longer battery life. On all iPhones.

But wait, there's Pro!

Graphite. Gold. Silver. Sierra Blue. 25% brighter. Up to 120Hz ProMotion Display. Done right. But no 1Hz always-on in sight! Biggest Wide Angle. 2.2x the light. 77mm Telephoto. 3x optical zoom. But no periscope or massive megapixel zoom. Macro photography. Macro video. With slo-mo! Ultra Wide Focus Pixels. ProRes 4K30. Coming soon. 5-core GPU. Up to 1TB.

The iPhone 13 is here... but is it any good?

iPhone 13 & Pro — Design

Yes, iPhone 13. Apple didn't shy away from or skip the lucky number. Even though the shell is so similar to the iPhone 12, they could've every bit as easily made this an S year and just punted that non-problem down the calendar another year.

The biggest design difference is the camera module, which on the non-Pros is now diagonal in order to fit the bigger cameras. And the colors. Black, blue, and red remain. Though the black is more indigo midnight, blue is a little teal, and red, a lot deeper. White has been replaced with a slightly yellow starlight, and mint green with a pale pink. Also gone is Purple, which was a spring addition to the 12, so we'll have to wait and see if Apple drops orange or something else early next year.

On the Pros, the cameras are also bigger, just totally, shamelessly, unabashedly, bumped. But the colors are the same silver, graphite, gold, and blue. Only this year, the blue is less pacific and more… Sierra. So, I guess that means next year we'll be getting iPhone 14 High Sierra? Kidding! I swear!

The notch is also 20% smaller by surface area on the iPhone 13. Narrower if ever so slightly deeper. It's no less needle-like to my eye, but progress!

And while the screen sizes and physical height and width all stayed the same, the depth and weight did go up a bit — 135 to 141 grams for the mini, 228 to 240 grams for the Max. So, RIP existing cases?

It's probably for those bigger batteries, which I'll get to in a minute.

iPhone 13 & Pro — Display

Apple made it a point to call their OLED custom this year. Which is good because we've already suffered through almost half a decade of lazy reporting and repeating, attributing their displays to Samsung, when it's much closer akin to chipsets. Apple Silicon designs the A-series, TSMC fabricates them on their bleeding-edge process. Apple Display designs the screens, Samsung fabricates them on their equally bleeding-edge process. But in both cases, it's absolutely to Apple's spec. With their materials, their mitigations, their calibration, and management, just all the things.

This year, for the iPhone 13, that OLED display is going from 625 to 800 nits brightness. This means you'll be able to see it more easily outdoors in the sun, for example. Same 1200 its peak brightness for HDR as last year, though.

For iPhone 13 Pro, they've gone from 800 to 1000 nits brightness but also stayed at the same 1200 nits peak brightness. Which, interestingly, is less than the 1600 nits peak brightness of the mini-LED display on the current iPad Pro.

The bigger news for the Pros, though, is ProMotion. Similar to what the iPad Pro's had since 2017, it'll let the iPhone 13 Pro ramp up to 120Hz for Gee smooth scrolling or intense gaming, but ramp even further down to 10Hz to conserve power for more static content like a photo or ebook. Not down to 1Hz, though, which is what the Apple Watch does for always-on display. So, no always-on Lock Screen. At least not this year.

So, rather than high refresh, ProMotion is adaptive refresh, which is something that just wasn't possible with OLED at iPhone volumes until now. Like, Samsung literally couldn't fab enough panels for an LTPO OLED iPhone Pro order until now.

Which is why, I think, Apple also pointed out that, in addition to dynamically shifting refresh rate from 10 to 120 to balance efficiency and performance, they're also not destroying brightness or color management, or vice versa, which hasn't been true of previous 120Hz or higher refresh rate implementations.

So, yeah, people can yell about Apple not just yoting 120Hz into the spec sheet comment section all-caps FIRST!!111. But it sounds like they waited and did it right. Of course, we're going to have to wait for the full review to SEE if they did it right.

And then we can all move on to complaining that it's not 480Hz, which is where the human eye pretty much taps out for refresh rate. Hey, an Apple Nerd can dream!

iPhone 13 & Pro — Radios

The iPhones 13 have better 5G, which just means more support and more efficiency on more carriers in more countries and regions. Which, given how power-hungry and disparate 5G can be, is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

Apple, of course, didn't say whether they're using Qualcomm's newer X60 modem, but they also didn't mention anything about satellite-based emergency calling or disaster reporting features either, as some rumors suggested they might. No N53 band either. RIP. D-E-D.

No Wi-Fi 6E either, which adds 6GHz to the spec, and is what I've been holding out for. Add that to the maybe next year list!

iPhone 13 & Pro — A15 Bionic

Apple, uncharacteristically, didn't say much about the silicon this year. Maybe they're saving more for the presumed Mac event later this fall?

Either way, we did get the A15 Bionic, Apple's next-generation IP. Architecturally, it sounds a lot like the A14 Bionic, which is probably why it kept the Bionic name. 4 efficiency cores. 2 performance cores. 16 neural engine cores. With four graphics cores for the iPhone 13 and 5 graphics cores for the iPhone 13 Pro, presumably to help drive that ProMotion display, and maybe for ProRes video, which I'll get to in a hot codec minute.

It's still 5 nanometers, though rumor has it on an updated process, but Apple didn't do any year-over-year performance comparisons. Choosing to dunk on Qualcomm instead. So, we'll have to wait for early reviewers to once again forget Geekbench auto-uploads all the tests to the web to find out for sure. Ditto RAM quantities.

Apple did say there's an all-new display engine, in part to drive adaptive refresh rate for the iPhone 13 Pro, and a new always-on touch co-processor, which is what lets it adjust the refresh rate at the speed of your finger. Also, new video encode and decode blocks, maybe for cinematic video, which I'll also get to in a max excite minute, or that ProRes.

In general, Apple seems to be focusing less on raw compute cores and more on silicon features to support the hardware and software features. Which given their compute lead really makes the kind of sense that does.

There's double the system cache, which is something Apple's been leaning into massively for a while now, and really keeps things feeling…. instantaneous.

The storage options have also been doubled, so they all start at 128GB now, but the Pro goes all the way up 1TB… for a price.

And a new Image Signal Processor, or ISP, for all the new computational photography and videography features we're getting this year. Speaking of which…

iPhone 13 & Pro — Cameras

That new diagonal camera layout on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini gave Apple some breathing room, and they used it for a new, f/1.6 wide-angle camera with a bigger sensor and bigger 1.7-micron pixels, meaning it can suck in 47% more photons for brighter, cleaner imaging. It's also sensor-shift now like the 12 Pro Max was last year, which is Apple's name for in-body image stabilization, or IBIS. So, crisper photos and steadier video.

Also, the f/2.4 ultra-wide gets a faster sensor and improved detail in dark areas and shadows.

It's even ultra-better on the Pro. It captures almost double the light and Focus Pixels — what Apple calls phase adjust focus — and a redesigned lens lets it double as a macro camera, as close as 2 cm. That's Pro only because it uses the ultra-wide, and only the Pro has autofocus on the ultra wide angle. The wide angle is f/1.5 and can capture more than twice as much light. Also, sensor shift on both the Pro Max and Pro wide angles now. They're once again identical except for the display size and battery life. More on that in a minute!

The new telephoto is 77mm equivalent, which is a big step up from the 52mm on the 12 Pro and even the 65mm on the 12 Pro Max. Much closer to 80mm, which is a staple of portrait photography. But f/2.8, which is slower than the 12 Pro's f/2.0 and even 12 Pro Max's 2.2. Everything is a trade off, alas. It does give you 3x optical zoom — well, really punch in — which is more than the 2x of the 12 Pro and 2.5x of the 12 Pro Max. So… close-ups will be closer up than ever, basically.

But it's still not a 5x, 10x, or even bigger zoom, the kind periscope cameras or massively megapixel sensors have been delivering on other phones for a couple of years now. And it's pretty much the only area of traditional photography Apple hasn't addressed. At least not this year.

There are also smart photographic Styles, which let you set a custom, personalized tone, and warmth — or coolness — for your photos. Apple has defaults like Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm, or Cool, but you can tune them to your liking and set them for all your shots. And unlike dumb filters, they let you add drama or change cast without messing up skies or skin tones. All things I wish Insta had been doing for years now, like an iPad app…

Then there's Smart HDR4, or Apple's 4th generation computational photograph algorithm, which means better, more intelligent exposure, white balance, texture, and all the rest across the different types of elements in any given scene. This year it can also segment individual faces separately, so contrast, lighting, and skin tones for each person. There's also deep fusion for indoor lighting and night mode, which is faster for extreme low light. And it looks like they're all across all cameras now.

iPhone 13 & Pro — Video

Video is getting one of the biggest updates this year. ProRes will be coming to the iPhone 13 Pros at some point. That's Apple's pro video codec for high-fidelity recording and editing. It's ProRes 422, so decidedly not raw, but the file sizes will still be big enough the 128GB model will be restricted to 1080p/30, and only the 256GB and up models will get 4K30. Because it'll fill up fast. That's not coming until later this year, though.

Coming this year is a lot more of the Smart HDR4-style features for video for the first time, including better dynamic range, better highlights, better spatial details, and semantic rendering, which is that separation of individual scene elements for specific processing.

Then there's Cinematic Video, which is basically Portrait Mode or Depth Effect for video with rack focus thrown in for maximum cinematography flex. It uses stereo disparity, which I think is the difference between the camera perspectives, along with the new neural engine. Even then, it can only crunch up to 1080p/30 right now because calculating consistent depth effect across adjacent frames is… crushing.

You can control it manually by tapping if you want to, or you can let the iPhone neural engine be your auto-pilot. That tracks the closest set of eyes and pulls focus if those look away and again if they look back or enter or exit the frame.

Even better, in addition to being able to pull focus and adjust the depth of field in the camera app, Apple stores the information along with the video, so you can edit and change both in post later, either in the Photos app, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro, though the Mac versions will require updates coming later this year.

It looks terrific in the demo, but so does Portrait Mode photography. So I'm eager to see how it holds up or falls apart in testing.

The Pro also gets Macro video, including slo-mo and time-lapse. We're going to be seeing so many flower tics and bug toks. So many.

iPhone 13 & Pro — Battery

Battery life is big this year. Figuratively and literally. All the iPhones have bigger batteries, and the Pros look like they have even bigger l-shaped batteries now as well. On top of that, Apple's once again using more efficient chipsets, displays, and software optimizations to eek every amp out of every millimeter.

Apple says they'll get about 1.5 hours more from the 13 mini and 13 Pro and 2.5 hours more from the 13 and 13 Pro Max than last year's models. That's for average daily use across a wide range of tasks. For highly optimized tasks, Apple lists 2, 3, and 5 hours more for the mini on local video, streaming video, and audio playback, all the way up to a whopping 8, 13, and 15 hours more for the Pro Max model.

Apple is usually pretty good with battery claims, but as always, I'll be testing them to see how they cope with, you know, everything on Pokemon Go.

iPhone 13 & Pro — Pricing & Availability

There was some weird speculation that pricing was going up for the iPhone 13, which never made any sense to me because Apple buys in such huge volumes, and locks in pricing so early, including and especially for things like chipset fabrication, that it's just managed. Especially this late in the cycle. New nodes will new node, but for this year at least, the iPhone 13 costs exactly what the iPhone 12 cost.

Starting at $729 for the mini, $829 for the regular, $999 for the Pro, and $1099 for the Pro Max. Carriers are doing a ton more incentives this year, though, so it's worth checking for trade-ins and other offers. Orders start Friday, September 17, and all four models ship Friday, September 24.

iPhone 13 & Pro — Should you upgrade?

The typical iPhone upgrade cycle these days is between 3 to 5 years. So, for anyone still on an iPhone 8 or 10, or earlier, even an XS, the sum total of new and improved features on the iPhone 13 will be compelling.

If you're on an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, you have to really, really want 120Hz ProMotion or need that new cinematic video and camera system to consider upgrading.

That is, if you're not on an annual iPhone upgrade program or a 2-year carrier plan, then that pretty much makes your decision for you. Otherwise, my always advice is to wait as long as you can to upgrade, upgrade when you need to, get the best you can afford, and then enjoy the hell out of it with zero regrets because they'll always be something new and something next.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.