What makes an iPhone an iPhone? Is it the iconic Apple logo on the back? Or the much-talked-about photography prowess? Or the smoothness and fluidity of the iOS platform? The flaunt value perhaps? Of course, the shorter, simpler answer is: all of the above. But there’s more to it. Let me try and address that as I take you through my two cents’ worth on the iPhone 13 Pro, the Cupertino giant’s latest and greatest.
The iPhone 13 Pro offers a ton of improvements as compared to its predecessor, and most of them involve core aspects like performance, cameras and battery life. More importantly, it delivers on those promises, and comes across as a solid all-rounder that just can’t be ignored if you’re looking to buy a premium flagship.
First things first. If you’re looking for an iPhone that you can flash around and flaunt, the iPhone 13 Pro might not be very apt. That’s because it looks almost exactly like its predecessor, and you can hardly tell it apart when the 12 Pro (review) is kept next to it. That said, the design looks as premium and iconic as always, with the signature logo on the back, the triple camera setup placed in a square module on top left, and the flat, blocky design we saw on the 12 series lineup last year.
The buttons and port placement are the same too, and you can see familiar elements placed at their usual spots, including the Lightning port at the bottom, stereo speakers, mute slider switch, etc. Make no mistake about it though, the look and feel is super-premium, and hardly anything comes close in terms of the fit and finish. The phone is IP68 rated too, so water and dust can do it no harm.
At front is the same 6.1-inch, Super Retina XDR OLED display that supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, albeit featuring better brightness this time. The wide notch that accommodates the FaceID hardware is still around, though the size has been reduced slightly. It’s a subtle difference that’s not going to make a massive difference in day-to-day usage. The good part is that one does get used to it with time, and if you’ve been using any of the older iPhones that have Face ID, you’d know exactly what I mean. The big news on the screen is the addition of high refresh rate. Yes, finally. The Android side of the fence has had this for ages now, and the feature is pretty much ubiquitous on most phones priced upwards of Rs 10-12k. Apple has finally brought it to its iPhones now, reserving it only for the Pro models. Dubbed ProMotion in Apple speak, the LTPO display on the iPhone 13 Pro (and on its Max sibling) can refresh as low as 10 times a second, going up as high as 120 times a second. This basically results in smoother screen interaction, blur-free scrolling and jerk-free animations. iOS has generally been an extremely fluid interface, so the difference might not be night and day… but look closely, and it’s there. And once you do get used it, going back to an older iPhone could be tough. Apple being Apple, hasn’t included any option in display settings for users to manually set refresh rate though. However, if you do want to do so for whatever reason, you can dive into Accessibility settings, find Motion, and locate a toggle that gives you an option to limit the max refresh rate to 60Hz.
The other key update is in the camera department. Apple isn’t big on megapixel count, so the cameras on the iPhone 13 Pro still have 12MP sensors like last year. However, the aperture sizes have been increased, the pixel sizes have been bumped up and the telephoto sensor can zoom up to 3x (as compared to 2x in the predecessor). The primary camera has even gained sensor-shift stabilisation. Worth mentioning that in last year’s lineup, only the iPhone 12 Pro Max had this feature, while the other 12 series iPhones has regular OIS. This time, the entire 13 series range boasts this. Also, the ultra-wide sensor can even do macro this time. It’s a comprehensive overhaul as far as the camera setup is concerned, and in short, it does deliver.
Let’s talk about daylight photos first. That’s a scenario most smartphones can handle well, and you might not find that much of a difference when you compare daylight shots from the 13 Pro with the iPhone 13, or last year’s 12 Pro Max. Shots from the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Mi 11 Ultra, and Vivo X70 Pro+ compare well too, and these are the best camera phones on the Android side of the fence right now.
That’s not to say that the iPhone 13 Pro doesn’t have any more tricks up its sleeve. There’s the new Photographic Styles feature Apple has added to the 13 Pro that gives you more flexibility in terms of how you want your shots to look. The available options include standard, rich contrast, vibrant, warm, and cool, which basically act as presets for the tone and the warmth of the images being shot. And each of these presets can be further customised as well. The caveat is that you need to set the photographic style before you shoot, and these can’t be edited later after shooting. Bear in mind that these styles are more than regular colour filters, and can help match your specific preferences on how the photos should look. As an example, choosing the vibrant style can give you shots that could potentially match the slightly oversaturated look Samsung’s phones are known for.
As usual, the iPhone 13 Pro shines in the portrait department, giving you natural-looking bokeh and accurate skin tones. And shots from the ultra-wide sensor look sharp throughout, without showing any signs of softening around the sides or any distortion. The 3x optical zoom can be handy to have, and I especially enjoyed clicking macro shots. The ultrawide sensor that doubles up for macro shooting kicks into action when you bring the phone up close to the subject, you can make out the viewfinder switching to the other sensor when you do so. Other than that, it’s all quite seamless, and you won’t even find a dedicated macro option in the shooting modes…. everything happens on its own. And the macro shots do end up looking great too, in most cases. It would be good to have more control over the macro mode though, since sometimes, shot composition can be a hit or miss.
The improved sensors, added features and the power of the new A15 Bionic chipset (more on this in a bit) benefit the 13 Pro’s low-light photography prowess significantly as well, and the phone can take amazingly detailed photos even after the sun has set. Moreover, the dedicated night mode can work wonders in bringing out the details and colours, as long as you hold the device steady.
When it comes to video, the headlining feature this time is the new Cinematic mode, found alongside the other shooting modes. It basically acts as portrait mode for video, and can dynamically adjust focus on the foreground and background to shoot movie-like video. You can manually adjust focus yourself by tapping. What’s more, the depth information is retained, so you can go into edit mode and change focus for portions of captured videos later too. I’m no videographer, but seeing how easy the Cinematic mode is to use and what it can do, I want to be one. Clearly, Apple has moviemakers in its sights with this new feature, and while it doesn’t work well all the time and needs ample lighting too, it just shows the power the device packs in. iPhones have been generally very strong when it comes to video shooting, and I think the new Cinematic mode adds to that… with the 13 Pro being a great video shooter overall. This, despite the fact that it maxes out at 4k and many of its rivals being able to shoot at 8k.
Coming to selfies, the front camera on the iPhone 13 Pro seems largely unchanged, though you can still expect lovely shots, complete with accurate skin tones and lots of detail.
The question is, is the iPhone 13 Pro the best camera phone money can buy? The answer to this is slightly convoluted, and the fact is, rivals like the Mi 11 Ultra (review) and Vivo X70 Pro+ (review) can give the new iPhone a run for its money. Each phone has its strong point. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (review) is great for zoom, for example, while the Mi 11 Ultra’s ultrawide shots seem unmatched. In low light, the Vivo X70 Pro+ is a solid contender. However, when you consider everything the iPhone 13 Pro can do in terms of both stills and video, I’d say it would be a very strong contender for the best camera phone of the year.
Related read: Apple iPhone 13 Pro vs Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera comparison
Software-wise, there’s iOS 15. And staying true to the general scheme of things, is more an internal spruce-up than an entirely new paint job. Visually, it’s not too different from iOS 14, but carries a ton of upgrades in terms of features. There’s a lot to talk about here and I won’t go into details, but the key new features include new Focus modes that allow you to set different ‘profiles’ for different locations or timings, giving you temporary (and free) access to extra iCloud storage access for migrating your data to a new iPhone, mail privacy protection, notifications summary, and lots more. If I were to pick out my favourite new feature, and one that I think should be extremely useful to everyone, it would be the Live Text feature. This allows you to point your iPhone camera on text (on a document, signboard, screen etc), and copy the words straight off it. It even works on existing pictures you have in your gallery.
Moving on to performance, the new A15 Bionic brings in the muscle. The latest silicone features a six-core CPU and a five-core GPU, and is blazing fast in terms of pure performance, as you might expect. There’s a new Neural engine as well. Combined with the 120Hz display and the power of the A15 Bionic, day-to-day usage on the iPhone 13 Pro is smooth as butter, and the same feeling continues when the phone is stressed too. Intensive games play smoothly at the highest settings, and the phone just gets a bit warm after extended sessions. Running benchmarks does heat it up more, though in most real-life scenarios, you won’t be stressing the phone that much. Speaking of benchmarks, results show how powerful the new chipset is, matching, and in some cases, beating the Snapdragon 888 in terms of scores, and indicating the bump over last year’s A14 Bionic as well. More importantly, I think the main point to keep in mind is that real-life usage is great, and the iPhone 13 Pro’s performance won’t leave you thirsty for more.
That’s not all. The battery life has received a boost too. The iPhone 13 Pro is able to offer solid battery life, possibly due to the efficiencies brought in by the new chipset and iOS 15. You can expect the device to last you a full day with ease, even with heavy use, and if your usage isn’t that intensive, you can expect to see about 20-30% juice in the tank as you wrap up the day. Charging speed, however, is an area where the iPhone can’t really match its Android counterparts, supporting just 20W max when connected to a compatible charger.
Speaking of, there’s none in the box, so I turned to Stuffcool’s new Neutron 20 dual-port charger to juice up the iPhone 13 Pro. This charger is amazingly compact, but despite that, offers a Type-C port that outputs 20W PD, and a Type-A port that churns out 18W QC 3.0. Using the Type-C to Lightning cable included with the phone and the Stuffcool Neutron 20 (which is priced at Rs 1,899 by the way, and well worth a buy), the iPhone 13 Pro charges to 50 percent levels in about 30 minutes, 80 percent in about 55 minutes, and 100 percent in a couple of hours. The smartphone has support for wireless charging and MagSafe wireless charging as well, with the latter maxing out at 15W.
Addressing some other hygiene points — the iPhone 13 Pro does boast 5G of course, but since I had no way to try it out, I used my Airtel 4G SIM instead. The call quality was extremely good, and I didn’t face any network issues. The stereo speakers churn out loud and rich audio, and Face ID is superfast and extremely accurate for authentication as usual. I do miss Touch ID, especially during current times that necessitate my face to be covered when out and about. Since Face ID doesn’t work with a masked face, I need to take the good ‘ol PIN route to unlock the phone each time. Having a fingerprint scanner would have helped speed up things quite a bit.
Coming back to what makes an iPhone an iPhone, I’d say it’s the sum of its parts that works out to be greater than the whole. But at the end of the day, the answer boils down to just one thing. And that is… a usage experience that hardly anything else can match.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Gorgeous, 120Hz display
- Brilliant & versatile cameras
- Great performance & battery life
- Premium, smooth usage experience
- Pricey, but you already knew that
- That notch is still wide
- Charging speed limited to 20W