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iPhone 13 review roundup: What critics love (and hate)

iPhone 13
(Image credit: Apple)

The early iPhone 13 reviews are in and all four phones are drawing largely positive responses. In particular, the new camera system and improved battery life are proving to be a hit . Meanwhile, the Pro models' 120Hz displays put them on an even playing field with the top Android smartphones.

It's not all perfect of course, some critics complained about Apple's stubborn refusal to move on from the Lightning port, the smaller (but still irritating) notch, the larger camera lenses and the slight increase in overall weight. 

Here's a look at what some of the top reviewers are saying about the iPhone 13 lineup:

Tom's Guide

In our sister site Tom's Guide's reviews of the iPhone 13 models, Mark Spoonauer gave a perfect five-star rating to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, while the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro drew a still excellent 4.5 stars. Not surprisingly, this resulted in Editor's Choice awards for all three, with almost universal praise for the updated phones and just a few minor complaints.

"The iPhone 13 Pro Max is what happens when you get everything you could possibly want in a phone." — Mark Spoonauer, Tom's Guide

The Good

"The A15 Bionic doesn’t offer dramatic performance gains over the A14 Bionic powering the iPhone 12, but it didn’t need to just to remain the fastest chip in any phone."

"...the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s notch is a bit smaller on the display, as Apple shrunk it 20% while retaining the same key Face ID tech. It’s not a full-screen look, but it’s an improvement over recent iPhones."

"The overall video quality from the iPhone 13 is stellar, with improved noise reduction, better dynamic range and enhanced semantic rendering that can identify skin, faces, the sky and more."

"The larger battery in the iPhone 13 Pro certainly pays off, increasing the phone’s longevity by nearly 3 hours over its predecessor and more than 2 hours longer than the Galaxy S21 Plus for a total time of 11 hours and 42 minutes."

iPhone 13 Pro interior design on a screen at Apple Park

(Image credit: Apple)

The Bad

"My only real complaint with the iPhone 13’s design is that it doesn’t offer Touch ID, either in the power button or underneath the display. At a time many people are still wearing masks in public places, it would be nice to have an alternative way to easily unlock our iPhones."

"The smaller notch is certainly a step in the right direction, though I still find it unsightly. Since Apple remains all-in on Face ID, the notch is here to stay for now — under-display TrueDepth tech is probably still a ways off."

"Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t figured out how to include faster charging on this phone. The iPhone 13 Pro maxes out at 20W wired and 15W via MagSafe."

iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple)

The Verge

The Verge was similarly effusive in its praise of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, with Dieter Bohn awarding both models a nine out of ten. He also highlighted the cameras and battery life, with a few more quibbles on the iPhone 13.

"The iPhone 13’s battery and camera updates aren’t so flashy, but they’re more important." — Dieter Bohn, The Verge

The Good

"One difference that does matter this year: the base storage on the least expensive iPhone 13 and 13 Mini has been increased to 128GB."

"My takeaway for the regular iPhone 13 doesn’t require relative comparisons, though: battery life is excellent."

"I admit that high refresh rates are the epitome of “nice to have,” but part of the point of Apple’s extravagant Pro phones is to provide the nicest experience. Now, finally, they do."

"I’ll state it plainly because it bears repeating: the iPhone 13 Pro has the best camera system on any smartphone available as of this writing."

iPhone 13 Pro user taking a photo

(Image credit: Apple)

The Bad

"The newer iPhones are just a tiny bit thicker overall with substantially bigger camera bumps. That means that cases designed for the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are unlikely to fit the newer phones."

"My main wish is that the selfie camera sensor had been updated. It has some software improvements just like the other cameras and it’s inside a smaller notch now, but the selfie camera is too important for Apple to just leave the same this many years in a row."

"Finally, although I know it’s a lost cause and that I sound like a broken record, I still believe that Apple should switch the iPhone from the Lightning connector to USB-C."

iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple)

CNET

CNET's reviews of the iPhone 13 models don't stray far from the rest with an overall score of 9.0 for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, while the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max claim a slight lead with an overall score of 9.2. CNET doesn't lavish as much attention on the improved battery life, but reviewer Patrick Holland was thoroughly impressed by the new cameras and iOS 15.

"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." — Patrick Holland, CNET

The Good

"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."

"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."

"Using the Pro iPhones did result in brighter photos, but the improvement wasn't always obvious. I also noticed that photos had fast shutter speeds, which resulted in freezing action better, like when I took a shot of people riding bikes."

"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."

iPhone 13

(Image credit: Apple)

The Bad

"Both phones are thicker and weigh more. The 13 Pro gains 15 grams and the 13 Pro Max packs on an additional 12 grams. I noticed the extra weight more when I used the 13 Pro."

"...in low lighting, the iPhone still switches to the ultrawide camera to take a macro photo. The best camera on the phone is the wide-angle camera, which can also handle low-light situations well. And because the phone has to be so close to its subject, it actually blocks some of the light, resulting in mediocre close-ups."

"The notch is 20% smaller. It's not as wide, but there's still a notch. It's fair to say that it annoys me 20% less."

iPhone 13 camera feature breakdown page at September 14 event

(Image credit: Apple)

Engadget

Engadget reviewed the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini and Cherlynn Low awarded them a 91 overall rating. She was particularly impressed with the new cameras, performance and the splash of new colors. The biggest downside she cites is the 60Hz refresh rate of these non-Pro models.

"This is a story we’ve told over and over again, each time with the same conclusion: While this year’s iPhones aren’t major improvements over their predecessors, they offer just enough changes that might tempt you to upgrade, particularly if you’re still on an iPhone 11 or older." — Cherlynn Low, Engadget

The Good

"The bulk of the iPhone 13 and 13 mini’s upgrades are around photography and video. Apple improved both the rear sensors here and the ultrawide lens is supposed to let in more light than before."

"The ultrawide photos I shot with the new phone were actually darker than the iPhone 12’s, but they were better exposed overall. Buildings against the night sky had cleaner lines, less noise and a more neutral tone than those from the iPhone 12."

"Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that Apple doubled the storage of the base iPhone 13, so you now get 128GB at the entry-level. Finally."

"Apple says one of the iPhone 13’s key updates is an internal redesign that allows for a bigger battery, among other things. Also new in the A15 are the GPU, ISP and video encoder and decoder, which made using the camera super snappy."

iPhone 13 Pro ProMotion demo displaying 120Hz refresh rate when scrolling through Apple Photos app

(Image credit: Apple)

The Bad

"Unlike the iPhone 13 Pros which have faster 120Hz screens, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini have similar displays to their predecessors."

"The (camera) bump is also a little bigger and thicker and the extra wobbling this causes is mildly annoying. Also, this does mean your old iPhone 12 cases won’t fit."

"In low light, the iPhone 13 took selfies that were slightly blurry compared to the Pixel 5 and Galaxy S21, but when I was well lit, Apple’s camera delivered images that were just as sharp as the competition."

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.