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iPhone 13 review: Apple’s new iPhone isn’t radically different, but that’s part of its charm – CNET

The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini received a number of significant upgrades including new cameras, a bigger battery, more storage and a brighter screen. The iPhone 13 is a delightful upgrade to last year’s already wonderful iPhone 12 family. Some will be disappointed because it’s not radically different from previous models, but that’s actually part of the charm. Familiarity has been one of the keys to Apple’s success with the iPhone, and the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are those same reliable friends that seemingly never change.

The iPhone 13 starts at $829 (£779, AU$1,349) and the 13 Mini at $729 (£679, AU$1,199). That’s for the base model, which comes with 128GB of storage. If you buy and activate your phone on a carrier plan, that price drops by $30, and that’s before adding on the impressive deals from carriers.

Read more: iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max review: Damn, these cameras

For all intents and purposes Apple launched two phones in 2021: The iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Pro. If you want a small version of the iPhone 13, get an iPhone 13 Mini. If you need an iPhone 13 Pro with a bigger screen and battery, get the 13 Pro Max. I spent five days testing all four phones and decided to share my results in two reviews. This one covers the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini; I wrote a separate one on the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. You can also compare all four iPhone 13 models here.

Like

  • New cameras
  • Cinematic mode
  • iOS 15

Don’t Like

  • Still wish the notch was smaller

Last year’s iPhone 12 is still around at a lower price. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 11 or older, remember the iPhone 12 with 128GB of storage is only $50 less than the iPhone 13. That means it’s easy to climb that upgrade ladder from an iPhone 12 up to a 13. Apple’s clever pricing aside, you definitely get more than $50 of improvements with the 13.

I’m happy the iPhone Mini lived to see another year. If the iPhone 13 is understated, the 13 Mini just wants to be the shy kid in the corner of the sandbox. As a proud iPhone 12 Mini owner, I’m tempted to upgrade just to get the extra battery life. But whether you’re due for your two-year (or more) upgrade or have been sitting on a much older phone, the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are both solid choices.

The iPhone 13 keeps the flat-sided design, comes in 5 colors

The new phones have the same squared-edged design as the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini. They come in five colors: blue, starlight, Product red, midnight and pink. In certain lighting, the soft pink color can almost look white.

On the front of the iPhone 13 is a 6.1-inch display, and there’s a 5.4-inch screen on the 13 Mini. Both are OLED panels just like the 12 and 12 Mini. The Pro models got an upgrade and added high refresh rates to their displays, but the 13 and 13 Mini got a noticeable increase in brightness.

Aside from the colors, there are two conspicuous design changes. A new camera bump houses the dual-rear cameras diagonally. It’s funny how one change can clue people in. When I tested it, several people stopped to ask if this was the “new iPhone.”

iPhone 13 and 13 Mini

The iPhone 13 embraces the familiar design of the iPhone 12.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The other difference is that the notch is slimmer. It’s still a notch and I still have a love-hate relationship with it aesthetically. But I’ll take it being 20% smaller.

Other than that, the phones have a Ceramic Shield covering over the display, an IP68 rating for dust- and water-resistance means they can survive being submerged 6 meters (about 20 feet) for up to 30 minutes. The models I tested had no trouble surviving an unexpected drench from an afternoon summer rainstorm.

Technically both phones are heavier, but I didn’t realize that until I read the specs sheet. If the extra 7 to 10 grams come from the bigger battery, I welcome the extra weight. I only had five days with the phones, but both the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini had no trouble making it through a day on a single charge. I own a 12 Mini and know the reality of the 3 p.m. recharge, but so far I haven’t experienced that with the 13 Mini. I’m putting both phones through CNET’s battery tests and will update this review with the final results.

The iPhone 13 gets several big camera upgrades

The wide-angle camera has a larger sensor with sensor-based stabilization. Apple says the cameras were arranged diagonally to make room for the bigger camera module. To give you some perspective, the main camera sensor on the iPhone 13 has the same sized pixels as the main camera on last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, which at the time had the largest sensor on an iPhone. The ultrawide camera gets a new sensor that helps it gather more light.

In use, these upgrades don’t make drastic differences, but I definitely noticed the improvements. There’s less image noise in photos I take in medium lighting. And the ultrawide is better at taking photos in dim lighting. Take a look at some of my favorite photos I took with the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini below.

Cinematic mode on the iPhone 13 is a blast

One of the most-hyped new camera features is Cinematic mode. It’s kind of like Portrait mode for video, but while Portrait mode only gives the background an artistic out-of-focus blur, Cinematic mode can focus from one subject to another. This leaves either the background or foreground out-of-focus. The effect is dramatic and nearly everyone I showed a Cinematic video to was awestruck.

Cinematic mode uses the two cameras on the back stereoscopically to capture 1080p video at 30 frames per second. The iPhone can choose who to focus on and when to change focus to someone else, but you can also change the focus during the recording. Best of all, after you record a video, you can go back and change who’s in focus, when to shift focus from one person to another and adjust the aperture to increase or decrease the depth of field.

The results are nice, and I imagine after using it enough you’ll have your own sense of what’s possible. But there are a few limits to be aware of. First, you can’t use Cinematic mode when it’s dark. You’ll be greeted with a message prompting you to turn on your flash.

Next, editing a Cinematic video is straightforward enough, but the controls for the keyframes where you change focus are small. You can long-press to expand the timeline, but it shrinks back as soon as you let go, making it impossible to keep a zoomed-in view of those tiny focus keyframes.

The iPhone 13 lets you personalize how it captures photos for you

Another nice addition is Photographic Styles, which changes the way your camera develops photos to suit your preference. There are four Photographic Styles: Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm and Cool. These styles aren’t filters added after the fact. You choose which one you like, and your iPhone incorporates that style into its workflow for developing a photo.

For example, if you usually edit your photos to add more contrast after you take them, you can set the Camera app to Rich Contrast. Your phone won’t just amp up the contrast across the entire photo, it analyzes your subject and applies the style selectively. If you use the Warm Photographic Style, it won’t make your subject’s skin orange. But it will add warm tones to other parts of the photo as soon as you press the shutter button.

What’s fascinating is you can dial in the amount of tone and warmth for each style to suit your preference. Also, if you don’t want to use any of these styles, you can leave your camera set to standard.

iPhone 13 has an A15 Bionic chip

Computing all this camera magic and everything else you do on the iPhone 13 is the A15 Bionic chip. In my time it handled everything from gaming, video and photo edits, FaceTime calls and AR apps well. One particular detail is that the A15 chip on the 13 and 13 Mini has a four-core GPU while the A15 on the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max has a five-core GPU. In use, I couldn’t discern the difference. But in benchmark tests you can. The four phones had an identical GeekBench 5 score, but the Pro models had a higher score in the gaming performance test 3D Mark.

Geekbench v5.0 single-core

iPhone 13 Mini

iPhone 13 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

iPhone 13 Mini

iPhone 13 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

iPhone 13 Mini

iPhone 13 Pro

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

The new iPhones run iOS 15, which in my time worked well. iOS 15 isn’t a drastic overhaul and feels like a continuation of iOS 14. It’s not defined by a couple of giant flashy features. Instead, iOS 15 is made up of hundreds of small and medium additions that add up to something more significant. From more ways to personalize your Memoji to the larger visual improvements in Maps, iOS 15 is a significant improvement for your phone.

If you want a deeper dive into iOS 15 and my experience with features like Focus mode, watch out my run-down of iOS 15’s best features.

I do want to mention that I used review phones that Apple lent me. During my five days, the iPhone 13 Pro Max powered off unexpectedly twice and the iPhone 13 Pro Max shut down once. I don’t think this is a major issue or anything to be alarmed about, but I wanted to share my experience.

In terms of the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, it’s been a good start but we have more in-depth testing to do with the batteries, durability and comparing its cameras against other phones. But right now, the iPhone 13 will be the reliable phone that most people will be more than happy to use for the next few years.

iPhone 13 specs vs. 13 Mini, 13 Pro, 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Mini iPhone 13 iPhone 13 Pro iPhone 13 Pro Max
Display size, resolution 5.4-inch OLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels 6.1-inch OLED; 2,532×1,170 pixels 6.1-inch OLED; 2,532×1,170 pixels 6.7-inch OLED; 2,778×1,284 pixels
Dimensions (Inches) 5.18×2.53×0.3 in 5.78×2.82×0.3 in 5.78×2.82×0.3 in 6.33×3.07×0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 132x64x7.65 mm 147x72x7.65 mm 147x72x7.65 mm 161x78x7.65 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 4.97 oz; 141g 6.14 oz; 174g 7.19 oz; 204g 8.48 oz; 240g
Mobile software iOS 15 iOS 15 iOS 15 iOS 15
Camera 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 12-megapixel
Video capture HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 60 fps HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 60 fps ProRes video recording up to 4K at 30 fps (1080p at 30 fps for 128GB storage)* ProRes video recording up to 4K at 30 fps (1080p at 30 fps for 128GB storage)*
Processor Apple A15 Bionic Apple A15 Bionic Apple A15 Bionic Apple A15 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Expandable storage No No No No
Battery Undisclosed; Apple lists 17 hours of video playback Undisclosed; Apple lists 19 hours of video playback Undisclosed; Apple lists 22 hours of video playback Undisclosed; Apple lists 28 hours of video playback
Fingerprint sensor No (Face ID) No (Face ID) No (Face ID) No (Face ID)
Connector Lightning Lightning Lightning Lightning
Headphone jack No No No No
Special features 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) ProMotion technology with adaptive refresh rates up to 120Hz; lidar scanner; 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) ProMotion technology with adaptive refresh rates up to 120Hz; lidar scanner; 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)
Price off-contract (USD) $699 (128GB), $799 (256GB), $999 (512GB) $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB), $1,099 (512GB) $999 (128GB), $1,099 (256GB), $1,299 (512GB), $1,499 (1TB) $1,099 (128GB), $1,199 (256GB), $1,399 (512GB), $1,599 (1TB)
Price (GBP) £679 (128GB), £779 (256GB), £979 (512GB) £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB), £1,079 (512GB) £949 (128GB), £1,049 (256GB), £1,249 (512GB), £1,449 (1TB) £1,049 (128GB), £1,149 (256GB), £1,349 (512GB), £1,549 (1TB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,199 (128GB), AU$1,369 (256GB), AU$1,719 (512GB) AU$1,349 (128GB), AU$1,519 (256GB), AU$1,869 (512GB) AU$1,699 (128GB), AU$1,869 (256GB), AU$2,219 (512GB), AU$2,569 (1TB) AU$1,849 (128GB), AU$2,019 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB), AU$2,719 (1TB)