Apple’s ill-numbered lineup doesn’t represent a giant leap over the iPhone 12 range. In fact, the iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, which Apple announced at a virtual event from its campus in Cupertino, California, refine every single aspect of their predecessors. The OLED displays are smoother, batteries last longer, and internal storage sizes are larger. So it’s a lot like last year’s iPhone, just nicer.
Despite concerns of price hikes due to global supply chain woes, the lineup is thankfully priced the same as last year, starting at $699 for the Mini and going up to $1,099 for the Pro Max. Planning on upgrading? Or thinking of making the switch from Android? Whatever your deal is, we break down what’s new.
The displays on these iPhones are where you’ll see many of the biggest improvements. Each of the four still has the same respective screen size: the Mini measures 5.4 inches, the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro are 6.1 inches, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max is 6.7 inches.
All of them do have slightly narrower notches, the cutout at the top-center of the screen that houses the front-facing camera and the sensors that enable Apple’s Face ID biometric authentication tech. It’s 20 percent smaller, so ideally, you’ll regain a little space for those status bar icons. The screens themselves are also brighter than ever across the board.
But the hot new display feature? 120 Hz screen refresh rates. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the Pro models.
Traditional smartphone and tablet displays have 60 Hz screens, meaning the screen refreshes 60 times per second when you interact with it. In 2017, Apple debuted ProMotion on the iPad Pro and it has been a feature on its Pro tablets since. These slates double that refresh rate to 120, so you see 120 frames per second. By doubling the number of frames, simple actions such as scrolling Twitter or playing a fast-paced video game look and feel smoother.
Refreshing the screen twice as often all the time hogs the battery, which is why the refresh rate automatically fluctuates based on what’s happening on the screen and, uniquely, your interactions. Just sitting on a static home screen? The refresh rate will stay very low to conserve power. Doomscrolling on Instagram? It’ll kick up and match the speed of your finger as it moves across the glass, up to 120 Hz for the smoothest experience.
Apple has also stuffed bigger batteries inside to help keep the lights on, though this also includes the iPhone 13 and Mini. The 12 Mini suffered from poor battery life, but Apple says it’ll now run an hour and a half longer, as will the iPhone 13 Pro. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max last 2 and a half hours more than their respective predecessors.
Hardware-wise, all of these iPhones use Apple’s Ceramic Shield to protect the display and are IP68 water- and dust-resistant. As usual, the Pro lineup uses stainless steel, which is more durable than the aluminum in the iPhone 13 and Mini.
Apple always makes one tiny visual change so that you can make sure everyone around you knows you have the latest iPhone. With the base iPhone 13 and Mini, that identifier is with the camera system, which ditches the vertically stacked lenses in favor of a diagonal design. (The other visual indicator is the new colors: They come in pink, blue midnight, a buff champagne color called “starlight,” and Product Red. The Pro models are available in graphite, gold, silver, and sierra blue.)
Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max had several extra perks over the standard Pro model. Now the Pros are mostly on the same page. The iPhone 13 Pro Max and 13 Pro share the same camera suite, which includes a main 12-megapixel camera, an ultrawide, and a 3x telephoto zoom. This parity also includes the sensor-shift stabilization technology Apple introduced last year. If you need a refresher, sensor-shift keeps the camera sensor steady instead of the lens, which purportedly helps reduce micro-movements made by your hands, thereby producing sharper low-light photos. It’s only available on the primary camera.
The main camera on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini also feature sensor-shift stabilization, and the sensor can capture 47 percent more light than last year, meaning your low-light photos should be brighter and show less visible noise. You’ll find similar light-gathering improvements all around. For example, the ultrawide camera on the iPhone 13 Pro reportedly delivers a 92 percent improvement in low light, and the main camera sees a 2.2 times improvement. All three cameras also have Night mode.
The ultrawide on the Pro models now feature autofocus, which enables you to use them for Macro photography. It’s when you can put the camera sensor right up close to an object to pick up all the minute details—a feature increasingly common on affordable Android phones.
One brand new feature is Cinematic mode, which brings portrait mode to videos, blurring the background behind a subject. We’ve seen this tech from manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Huawei, but in our experience, the effect leaves a lot to be desired. Apple’s approach is more dynamic. It understands when the subject looks away and will change focus to whatever the subject is looking at. Better yet, it creates a depth map so you can always change the focus later if the iPhone didn’t get it right.
Another video upgrade is the option to film in Apple’s ProRes format at 4K and 30 frames per second. It’s a format that allows videographers to have greater editing control over their clips.
Finally, all the iPhone 13 models have access to four new Photographic Styles. They’re different from traditional filters—instead of changing an entire photo’s settings to a specific filter post-capture, you can now choose from four styles before you take the shot. These grade the photo during the image processing phase, making the adjustments while preserving features like skin tone.
The new A15 Bionic processor powering the iPhone 13 range is, unsurprisingly, more powerful than its predecessor. Apple says the CPU is 50 percent faster than the “leading competition,” and graphics are 30 percent faster. It didn’t share exactly how much better it is over last year’s iPhone 12 range. This chip includes an improved 5G modem, which means you can expect a more stable and speedier 5G connection, though 5G has yet to make any meaningful impact in the average day-to-day smartphone experience.
Other upgrades include expanded base storage sizes—the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini now come with 128 gigabytes instead of 64. The Pro models now have the option to increase capacity to 1 terabyte. MagSafe is still present, so you can keep using all your favorite MagSafe accessories. There were rumors Apple would improve the strength of these magnets, but the company didn’t mention anything of the sort on Tuesday. In one piece of eco-friendly news, there’s no plastic wrap covering the phone when you take it out of the box.
These new iPhones come at a time when Apple is under more scrutiny than ever. It recently delayed plans to roll out child sexual abuse materials detection in iOS 15 after widespread backlash over privacy concerns. And in the Epic v. Apple trial, a judge ruled that Apple should allow developers to tell users about alternative payment methods.
You can preorder the iPhone 13 lineup this Friday on September 17, and they’ll officially be available on September 24. Just remember, like last year, there won’t be any earbuds or charger in the box, though you’ll still get a USB-C to Lightning cable. If you don’t need the latest and greatest, Apple is still selling the iPhone 11 for $499 and the iPhone 12 for $599.
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