iPhone 13 Pro review: Little things make ‘pro’ things happen

The iPhone has had a bit of an odd, experimental phase going since the iPhone X. Prior to the 10th anniversary iPhone, ‘the phone that changed phones forever’ was kind of predictable. Tick-tock was the name of the game. One year you’d get something new. The next year, a better version of it. Like the iPhones themselves, their target audience was also set. Lately, you just don’t know what to expect.

The iPhone X was followed by the iPhone XS, a bigger XS Max, and the cheaper XR. Then came the redesigned iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. Those were replaced by an even bigger design refresh, aka the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max the year after. The iPhone 12 Mini was also launched alongside making small phones great again. This year’s iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max are visually the same phones, but a complete overhaul on the inside—especially the pro models.

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You can’t see those changes which is why there’s this growing chit-chatter that the iPhone 13 series is ‘incremental’ and why Apple didn’t just call it iPhone 12S. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what Apple calls it. What matters is, whether—or not—it’s a step in the right direction. In a word, yes. But even more importantly, it’s a return to form for Apple. Not only has it built a great product, it’s found focus again. Whether that’s enough to make you want to buy one, is purely subjective.

iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max | what’s good

This is the iPhone that we’re talking about, the latest and greatest no less. It’s kind of a given that it would be pricey—but not overpriced—and it is, but it’s not pricier than the iPhone 12 Pro. Apple has launched it at the same price which means, if you thought the last pro iPhone was expensive, this new one doesn’t change that premise.

The 128GB iPhone 13 Pro India price is Rs 1,19,900. A version with 256GB costs Rs 1,29,900, while 512GB costs Rs 1,49,900. You can also get it—for the first time in Apple history—with whopping 1TB storage for Rs 1,69,900. The 128GB iPhone 13 Pro Max costs Rs 1,29,900, 256GB costs Rs 1,39,900, 512GB costs Rs 1,59,900 and the 1TB model will set you back by Rs 1,79,900.

But if you’re one for silver linings, the iPhone 13 Pro is a better package deal. It’s a lot more practical too—as we will find out in the course of this review.

iPhone 13 Pro in gold. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

Not a lot has changed from a design perspective aside from the fact that you can get the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max in a new ‘Sierra Blue’ colourway that’s basically replacing the ‘Pacific Blue’ on the pro iPhone 12s. We’re looking at the same matte frosted glass back, ceramic shield front, flat stainless-steel sides and IP68 water and dust resistance. There is a small difference though. The pro iPhone 13s are slightly heavier and thicker than their predecessors.

  • iPhone 13 Pro: 203g (versus 187g), 7.65mm (versus 7.4mm)
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max: 238g (versus 226g), 7.65mm (versus 7.4mm)

This is largely because the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have slightly bigger batteries. That’s 3,095mAh in the 13 Pro and 4,352mAh in the 13 Pro Max. Those numbers may seem low when compared with many Android phones, but there’s more to battery life than just capacity. Apple’s tight-knit control over hardware and software really shines through in this generation with both iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max offering outstanding longevity scores in the real world.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleIt is powered by A15 Bionic SoC. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

The iPhone 13 Pro easily lasts a full day with power to spare. You can extend it through well over a day if you’re a moderate user. The 13 Pro Max is one for the long road lasting for up to two days without breaking much sweat. What this means is that for the first time—in a long time—you can confidently leave your charger behind and not worry about your iPhone dying on you abruptly.

The camera hardware is also getting a ‘sizeable’ upgrade this year and—in a first—comes as standard across both the models. Apple is using brand new sensors and lenses. So much so, you can tell just by looking at it. In fact, that’s the first thing to look for when you’re playing spot the difference. The pro iPhone 13s have a bigger camera bump which is also a heads-up that existing iPhone 12 Pro cases won’t work here.

The resolution remains unchanged—which is 12MP—but the primary camera uses a larger sensor with 1.9 µm pixels. And it sits behind a wider f/1.5 lens. Sensor-shift optical image stabilisation (OIS) is breaking its max exclusivity and is now available on the pro iPhone 13 also—and on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleCameras are getting a big upgrade in this generation. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

The ultra-wide-angle camera is similarly getting a wider f/1.8 lens and autofocus which brings dedicated macro—up to 2 cm—photography to the iPhone for the first time. It works quite well in our opinion although its implementation inside the app needs some work.

The telephoto camera is also getting a refresh with a new 7mm lens—with a smaller f/2.8 aperture—that allows for up to 3x optical zoom (15x digital) on the pro iPhone 13s.

Like clockwork, Apple is introducing some neat new photography chops in the pro iPhone 13s for ‘pros’ who want more out of that powerful camera hardware. Some of them are shared with the regular iPhone 13.

This includes Cinematic mode which is basically portrait mode for videos. Not only can the pro iPhone 13s record these—1080p @30 fps—videos in Dolby Vision HDR, Apple also allows you to edit the depth-of-field effect in post on the phone for now and soon, you’ll be able to do this on desktop in iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleCamera bump on iPhone 13 Pro is substantial. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

Being first-generation and all, it’s a hit or miss and needs lots of light but as and when it does work, the results are magical for something that’s coming from a smartphone.

Additionally, the pro iPhone 13s will be able to record videos in ProRes at up to 4K 30fps—there is a 1080p 30fps cap in case of 128GB storage option though—through a future software update.

Still photography is getting smarter and more flexible in this generation with Photographic Styles. They may seem like filters on first look, but they are not.

You know how iPhone photos have a certain look, one that’s starkly different—warm, subdued if you will—from a high-end Samsung Galaxy or a Google Pixel both of which generally tend to boost contrast. With Photographic Styles, Apple gives you an option—between rich contrast, vibrant, warm and cool styling—to pre-set the output on the fly so you can theoretically pull photos like that.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleBattery life is phenomenal. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

Each style is markedly distinct and adds a whole new level of creative freedom no other phone gives you today. Unlike Cinematic mode, Apple’s ‘stylised’ photos are more consistent and therefore, a far bigger draw for this generation of the iPhone—including iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. Be sure you can’t change a style in post though—which is why you can’t shoot simultaneously in RAW with it.

The pro iPhone 13s take all that hardware and put it to good use. Chances are, you won’t be able to tell an iPhone 13 Pro photo from an iPhone 12 Pro photo—or for that matter, take any other top-tier flagship from Samsung/Xiaomi/Vivo etc—shot in good lighting but flip the script and lower the intensity and suddenly things change. The difference—literally—becomes like night and day.

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There are two big takeaways. The larger sensor cum wider aperture combination—on the primary camera—can pull a lot of light which means, night mode does not kick in unless absolutely necessary. And when it does, focusing and shutter speed are faster. As for image quality, we’re looking at more realism—and far less overexposure—with little to no noise. These are some of the best night mode photos we’ve seen from a smartphone, much less an iPhone. The ultra-wide-angle camera—obviously—lags behind in comparison but it’s step up over the last generation pro iPhone.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleNotch is 20% smaller. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

The telephoto camera is definitely an improvement—and works well up to 3x—but it pales in low light and next to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s not all bad though and it’s kind of impressive that Apple added night mode to it, but there is room for improvement. Where it really shines, is in portraits. Alternatively, you can do this using the main camera as well owing to its larger sensor size.

Video recording is—unsurprisingly—class leading with the iPhone 13 Pro delivering rich, crisp and detailed footage across varying scenarios regardless of the camera you choose to use.

All the battery and camera improvements we just spoke about are ultimately linked to the 5nm A15 Bionic. It has a 6-core CPU, 5-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine capable of 15.8 trillion operations per second. Apple claims up to 50 percent faster performance than the ‘leading’ competition but honestly, all such comparisons are moot at this point in time.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleProMotion display on iPhone 13 Pro. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

If there’s one thing that’s remained constant, it’s that ‘Apple silicon’ wipes the floor with any new flagship chip. So does the A15 Bionic. Both iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max come with 6GB RAM. They are the first batch of iPhones to ship with iOS 15 right out of the box.

There’s another factor that’s contributing to the pro iPhone 13s’ outstanding battery performance—the display. The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have a ‘Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion’ which is to say they have an LTPO OLED panel that can switch anywhere from 10Hz to 120Hz depending on the content. It’s true that Android phones have had this feature for a few years now and it’s nice that it’s finally available on an iPhone but, it’s not something that iOS really needed which is possibly why Apple got away without putting it for so long.

The pro iPhone 13s are hands down, the most fluid and responsive iPhones ever but that’s something you’ll realise only when you experience them in person. Once you’re aboard that high refresh rate bandwagon, anything lower just won’t do.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleStill no USB C. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

As for the rest of the display specs, the size and resolution remain unchanged from last year but Apple has cranked up the maximum brightness to 1000 nits (this was 800 nits in iPhone 12 Pro). Long story short, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Rest of the package that stands out—like it does in all iPhones—includes a pair of loud stereo speakers with spatial audio, razor-sharp haptics, and excellent call quality. There is support for 5G for when it’s available.

iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max | what could be better

Okay, this won’t take long because things that could have been better are nit-pickings rather than serious complaints. That’s how good the pro iPhone 13s are. But we can’t help point out, they would have been even better had Apple—

  1. removed the notch rather than whatever it is it tried to do on this one. The notch is up to 20% smaller this year but it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s got taller and all the extra screen real estate that Apple has seemingly achieved hasn’t been put to any use to show additional information. Moreover, it broke many apps like Instagram in the process although all this has been fixed now,
  2. upgraded the 12MP selfie camera which—aside from the fact that it supports Cinematic mode and Photographic Styles—is complete trash,
  3. added some kind of always-on display feature, and
  4. brought USB C and fast(er) charging. Apple says you can charge the iPhone 13 Pro Max to up to 50% in 35 minutes and iPhone 13 Pro in 30 minutes with a 20W adapter or higher—that you need to buy separately because there’s no charger in the box.

iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max | should you buy

There is no reason why someone who owns an iPhone 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max should switch to an iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max unless they absolutely want to have the latest and greatest iPhone. Those are the discerning loyalists who’d buy anything and everything that Apple makes year on year. Some also do it because they might have opted for one of its upgrade programs.

iphone 13 pro, iphone 13 pro review, iphone 13 pro max, iphone 13 pro max review, iphone 13, iphone, appleiPhone 13 Pro Max starts at Rs 1,29,900, (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

The bigger share is that of people who’re coming in from older iPhones, even those who are doing it for the first time—say for instance, Android users—and for them the all-important question would be, should they buy the pro iPhone 13 and if yes, which one. Also, what about the pro iPhone 12? Wouldn’t that save them some money? Those are all very valid questions, so let’s try to answer them one by one.

  • First the iPhone 13 Pro versus iPhone 13 Pro Max bit. Both these iPhones are so similar, it all narrows down to two things—screen size and battery. The pro max will give you a larger 6.7-inch display and up to 2-day battery life. That makes things easier because you know what you’re getting into.
  • Unlike last year, there are much bigger differences between the pro and non-pro iPhones which means both are targeted towards very different people so that clears out the pro iPhone 13 versus non-pro iPhone 13 bit.
  • Things are a little more complicated in the case of pro iPhone 13 versus pro iPhone 12. To be clear, Apple has discontinued the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max but you can get them via third-party stores—at lower prices—until stocks last. The 128GB iPhone 12 Pro is currently listed for Rs 1,09,900 on Flipkart. The 128GB iPhone 13 Pro Max for Rs 1,19,900. Bundle that with bank offers and you could get them even cheaper.

But here’s the thing, if you’re going to shell out close to 1 lakh on a phone, wouldn’t you want your money’s worth? It’s not about having the absolute best although, some people want that too. It’s hard to explain, but the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max—especially the iPhone 13 Pro—are such terrific value, it would be wrong to pick anything else if your budget allows it.

The iPhone 13 Pro with its luxurious design, fast and smooth display, amazing cameras and phenomenal battery life is the first ‘pro’ iPhone worthy of the title. Nothing else comes close.

Pros: Luxurious design, Fast 120Hz display, Great performance and battery life, Fantastic cameras

Cons: Bulky, No always-on display, No USB Type-C, Selfie camera could be better, Pricey

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Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz