Last year’s iPhone 12 offered many new features, including a striking new design, a much better screen, 5G connectivity (at last) and the MagSafe chargers party trick. However, we were disappointed that the camera didn’t receive a major upgrade.
It turns out Apple saved that upgrade for this year’s iPhone 13. We’re also treated to cinematic video capture and long-awaited improvements to battery life. Can it really be true?
As before, the iPhone is available with three different storage tiers, from 128GB to 512GB, which will cost you from £779/$799 to £1,079/$1,099. It feels more expensive than last year – which it is, as the 64GB model has been scrapped and the top model now has 512GB of storage. Depending on how you look at it, either the entry level has become more expensive, or the 128GB has dropped in price.
In our iPhone 13 review, we help you decide if this is the right phone for you. More general advice can be found in our iPhone buying guide, and bargains can be located with the help of our roundup of the best iPhone deals.
Specifically, if you’re looking for something cheaper, there’s the iPhone 13 mini from £679/$699 or the second-generation iPhone SE which starts at £399/$399. And if you’ve got more to spend and want a more powerful phone, look at the iPhone 13 Pro from £949/$999 or the 13 Pro Max from £1,049/$1,099.
Design and construction
Apple fans may have been disappointed by the lack of a cool angular design on the Apple Watch Series 7, but we were ready for the iPhone 13 retaining the shape of last year’s model: the big redesign will happen in 2022. The size is exactly the same except that it’s a fraction of a millimetre thicker. Maybe enough for us to have to buy new cases? The weight has increased by 11g, but is still 21g lighter than the old clunky iPhone 11.
The main external clue to this being the latest coolest iPhone is that the twin rear cameras are now configured on a diagonal rather than vertical alignment – something that has naturally given rise to numerous memes online. You can also see the difference in the colours, which have become more muted. Black has become Midnight, White has become Starlight, the blue is lighter, purple has been replaced by pink and the green has been dropped. Only (Product) Red remains as before.
Of course, we have to address what a surprising number of people see as an absolutely fantastic upgrade – namely, that the camera module has become smaller. When Apple put the selfie camera and sensors in a notch at the top of the iPhone X’s screen, it led to an outcry. The notch being shrunk for this generation is nice, but we’re not completely enraptured by all the newfound space: there’s really not much difference. And it’s still not possible to have battery percentages on the screen.
As before, the front glass has been protected by Ceramic Shield, and it still has very good protection against the elements with IP68 (liquid protection up to 30 minutes at 6m depth).
Image and sound
The screen, as we’ve come to expect from Apple, is incredible. Admittedly, the big upgrade came last year when it was upgraded to an LED panel, giving us almost infinite contrast – plus, of course, P3 colour gamut, Apple’s True Tone automatic white balance, HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
This year’s upgrade is minor, but certainly welcome. Brightness has increased by 28% to 800 cd/m². For HDR viewing, it can still max out at 1200 cd/m². What we still don’t get this year is ProMotion, the ability to dynamically adjust refresh rate and reach a maximum of 120Hz instead of 60Hz. If that’s important to you, you’ll have to shell out for the iPhone 13 Pro model.
Nothing revolutionary has happened with the sound either – but then, we’re again starting from a pretty high starting point.
The speaker at the top of the screen looks like it’s only made for phone calls, and it’s easy to think it would get garish as the volume increases. But it’s surprisingly rich and, together with the speaker elements at the bottom, produces a balanced sound. It’s really enjoyable, unlike what we’ve heard from many phones on public transport that made our ears weep.
But the big upgrade to the music isn’t on the phone, it’s done wirelessly with iOS 15 and Apple Music along with AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. Because then we can listen to Spatial Audio with music in the Dolby Atmos format.
The big improvement in the iPhone 13 is something you notice after a while: photographic image quality has improved and this is especially true in trickier lighting conditions. This is because it has a larger sensor with larger sensor dots that can therefore collect more light. More light means faster exposures, less blur and less noise.
Sharpness is also helped by the fact that the iPhone 13 has inherited image stabilisation from the 12 Pro, where it’s the sensor that moves instead of the lens, reducing shake more effectively.
In addition, the system circuitry includes a new image processing engine that provides niceties like improved HDR. That is, being able to expose different parts of the image differently, so that you get the detail in the bright sky as well as in the deep shadows. We also get a new feature called Photographic Styles, which, unlike filters, can apply different image processing to different parts of the image.
Apple is very enthusiastic about the improvements and refinements to the video mode. For example, you can now shoot in Dolby Vision HDR in 4K resolution at a whopping 60fps. That you can do that with a mobile phone is impressive indeed.
But Apple mostly highlights the new Cinematic Mode. It’s supposed to give you a Hollywood feel by using a short depth of field so that the eye is drawn to what’s in focus. Clever automation analyses the scene and switches between faces. Sure, it looks impressive, but isn’t something we can see ourselves using on a daily basis.
With this year’s new processor, the A15 Bionic, performance takes a leap forward as usual. Curiously, Apple hasn’t compared it much to the chips in previous iPhone models, instead making sweeping statements that it’s so much faster than the competition – something that made us a little doubtful about whether we’d see that much of a difference.
But we needn’t have worried. In pure computing performance, although the increase for single-threaded performance was around 9%, multi-threaded performance increased by 21%.
Performance continues to increase at an almost unreal rate.
But it’s when we get to the graphics that we see that Apple has put its money where its mouth is. Performance in 3D Mark Wildlife has increased by 14%. That may not sound like much, but the norm is for it to go up by 6%, so it’s more than double!
And that’s not even mentioning the Pro models and their extra graphics core that runs circles around both previous models and anything the competition has to offer.
Graphics have become much faster, especially in Pro models.
The battery has been increased from 2,815 mAh to 3,240 mAh, which Apple promises will give 2.5 hours more battery life than you’d get with a new iPhone 12. We’ll have to come back with our experiences when we’ve had more time to use the phone.
With a charger of 20W or more, and support for USB power delivery, you should be able to charge the battery half full in just 30 minutes.
There’s a lot to like here – the noticeably improved camera, the longer battery life – and it’s hard to find anything substantial to complain about. We’re probably just spoiled after last year’s cavalcade of goodies.
Our biggest criticism is therefore really the name, and it’s not because we’re superstitious. Under the old naming scheme, this would have been a solid iPhone 12s.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Learn more.