OS: iOS 15
Display: 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR
CPU: A15 Bionic chip
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.6); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 12 MP (f/2.2)
Size: 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.30 inches
Weight: 6 ounces
The iPhone 13 is the significant other who says, “Do you notice anything different about me?” A moment of panic hits you as you scan your partner from head to toe, but don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. “No,” you say. As it turns out, they added some highlights to their hair, got a new piercing, or some other new appearance change that isn’t immediately noticeable.
You feel guilty for being oblivious to the change, but why should you? It’s not like they made a drastic transformation — it was a minor, imperceptible tweak. So, you tell ‘em, “I love you with or without the change,” or whatever cheesy response you’re supposed to give.
This is how I feel about the iPhone 13. The new, hotly anticipated phone burst into the scene boasting about its new upgrades. “Honey, look at my new A15 Bionic chip! And I got new camera lenses, too!” All I want to say is, “But sweetheart, your processor is already crazy fast and your lenses are top-of-the-line. Instead, how ‘bout we work on getting Touch ID back or a USB-C port?”
But all Apple can do is stick its fingers in its ears and yell “lalala!” to my suggestions. Don’t get me wrong. There are some iPhone 13 upgrades that I love, including its larger batteries (the runtime boost is amazing!), extra storage for entry-level models, brighter display, and Night Mode/low-light enhancements, but absent are more pressing updates fans have been dying for.
Although Apple takes more of a “We know what’s good for you” approach as opposed to listening to fans’ feedback, the iPhone 13 still is — without a doubt — one of the best smartphones on the market. Let’s dive into the good, the bad and the ugly, so you can make an informed buying decision when it comes to the new iPhone.
iPhone 13 price and configurations
The iPhone 13 starts at $799 if you connect it with one of the big four carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon (otherwise, the iPhone 13 starts at $829). The entry-level iPhone 13 comes with the blisteringly fast A15 Bionic chip, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
If you need more storage, you can snag the 256GB variant for $899. The iPhone 13 I reviewed costs $1,099 and bumps your storage to 512GB.
You can slash those price tags by swapping a last-gen phone for a new one. For example, if you trade in your iPhone 12, you’ll get a $530 credit to get the iPhone 13.
The iPhone 13 comes in five colors: Pink, Blue, Midnight, Starlight and (PRODUCT)RED.
iPhone 13 design
iPhone 13 design
Apple sent us the pink iPhone 13 unit, and well, I don’t really see “pink.” If I wanted to recreate the color, I’d add a tiny drop of pink to a bucket of off-white paint. It’s the palest pink I’ve ever seen — it looks peachy to me.
The iPhone 13 doesn’t look much different from the iPhone 12, so unless you have tech pundits as friends, your social circle likely won’t notice that you own the iPhone 13. Similar to the iPhone 12, it has that iPhone 5-esque, flat-edge look — it reminds me of a thick, premium candy bar wrapped in peach foil.
There are only three design changes worth noting: the “smaller” notch, the new camera arrangement and the button placement. Let’s discuss the “smaller” notch — and why that word is in quotes. Apple claims the notch is 20% smaller than its predecessor, but it’s only 20% smaller horizontally. Compared to the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13’s notch is actually taller, which means it dips into the display more. As such, I don’t see this as a positive design change.
Flipping the iPhone 13 to reveal its back, another design change you’ll notice is that the dual-camera system is arranged diagonally. The iPhone 12’s cameras were placed vertically (one on top of the other). Lastly, compared to the iPhone 12, the placement of the iPhone 13’s buttons are slightly lower for the power button, ringer switch and volume buttons.
Truth be told, I suspect this iPhone 12/13 design will become obsolete next year. Rumors are flying about a notchless iPhone 14 with a hole-punch display. If this is true, the next-generation iPhone 14 will be distinctive, new and modern, making your iPhone 13 look “so 2020.”
I love that the iPhone 13 isn’t a fingerprint magnet; the back has an attractive shine to it when held under the light. The lustrous silver, rear-placed Apple logo is always a nice touch. The iPhone 13 still has IP68 water resistance. It can handle accidental spills from coffee, tea, soda and more. It should also be OK after being dropped into a puddle — just make sure you grab it quickly.
The iPhone 13 (0.29 inches, 5.7 ounces) is a hair slimmer and lighter than the iPhone 12 (0.3 inches, 6.1 ounces), but it’s nothing perceptible. When it comes to its Android rival, the Samsung Galaxy S21, the iPhone 13 is also negligibly slimmer and lighter (0.3 inches, 5.9 ounces).
iPhone 13 display
The iPhone 13 sports a 6.1-inch, 2532 x 1170-pixel, Super Retina XDR (OLED) panel. Like its predecessor, it’s packed with a crystal-infused Ceramic Shield display, which makes it that much closer to being shatterproof after accidental drops. According to Allstate Protection Plans’ iPhone 13 drop test, it’s the most durable phone the company has tested to date.
Despite all of this affirmatory information about the iPhone 13’s display, I was shocked to see a tiny, inexplicable scratch on the screen. No, I never dropped it. The iPhone 13 had been sitting inside my nightstand drawer, and to this day, I can’t figure out what caused it. It’s tiny and easy to miss, but it still bugs me. So much for the display being scratch resistant! Learn from my mistake; always keep a screen protector on the display.
I watched the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer on YouTube and the display looks great. As Zendaya cowered through a paparazzi crowd, the screen was so crisp, I could tell that a makeup artist combed her eyebrows in an upward motion. I could even spot her under-eye circles and chapped lips. Every crevice, pockmark and sun spot on Tom Holland’s skin stood out on the panel. Colors are decent on the display, too, as I watched Benedict Cumberbatch cast a magic spell as Doctor Strange. Orange-yellow wisps and swirls danced on the screen, showcasing the iPhone 13’s eye candy of a display.
However, the screen isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. The Super Retina XDR has room for more improvement, especially when it comes to vividness. The iPhone 13, according to our colorimeter, covered 78% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, which pales in comparison to the average smartphone (98%). The iPhone 12 covers a little bit more of the DCI-P3 color space than the iPhone 13 (81%). The Samsung Galaxy S21 offers less coverage by a hair (77%).
The iPhone 13’s brightness is spectacular. Even as the hot sunlight beamed down on me in Bryant Park, I was able to see the display quite well. The iPhone 13 has a brilliant 795-nit display; the iPhone 12’s 570-nit panel doesn’t even compare. And let’s not even talk about the Galaxy S21’s 343-nit screen.
Unfortunately, the iPhone 13 doesn’t have an adaptive refresh rate like its Pro counterparts. The iPhone 13 Pro 13 and the 13 Pro Max come with ProMotion, which offers a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. The iPhone 13, on the other hand, is still stuck with a 60Hz display. Trust me — if you’re ditching a 120Hz smartphone (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Note 21 Ultra) for iPhone 13, you’ll definitely notice the difference (I know I did!). The display isn’t as fluid and zippy. However, if you’ve been using 60Hz displays all your life, it’s business as usual for you.
iPhone 13 audio
Like the iPhone 12, the iPhone 13’s built-in stereo speakers — jazzed up with Dolby Atmos support and 3D spatial audio — can be found on the bottom edge of the device as well as the notch.
I tested the iPhone 13’s speakers by flipping through tracks on Spotify’s Top 50 playlist. I listened to “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood at max volume, and the snappy alt-rock song filled my medium-sized testing room. The vocals were crisp. Plus, the layered, lazy melody boomed out of the speakers with a clear, bombastic sound.
If you want a more honeyed, smooth sound, I’d recommend the Apple AirPods Pro. The only downside is that, for the time being, Siri is not responsive to Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode commands. However, Apple is fixing this with an upcoming iOS 15.1 update.
iPhone 13 performance & graphics
The iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic chip was already Herculean, slaying all the other smartphone chips on the market with its godlike dominance. But for some reason, Apple wasn’t satisfied with that and introduced the beastly A15 Bionic inside the iPhone 13. If the A14 is “godlike,” the A15 inside the iPhone 13 is a goshdarn demon with a new six-core CPU, four-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine (excellent for machine-learning, AI and computational photography).
Showing you a comparative analysis of performance scores between the iPhone 13 and other competitors may seem futile. After all, we already know the iPhone 13 will destroy everything in its path as far its processor is concerned, but its graphics performance may surprise you.
Equipped with 4GB of RAM, the iPhone 13 had no problems juggling my chaotic inundation of apps, including 10 Google Chrome tabs, 10 Safari tabs, two AI apps, as well as Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and Apple TV.
On the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, the iPhone 13 achieved a mind-blowing score of 4,436. As expected, this crushes the average smartphone (3,036), the iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic processor (3,859) and the Samsung Exynos 2100 chip inside the Galaxy S21 (3,302).
The iPhone 13 is packed with a new 4-core GPU. On the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme test (Unlimited OpenGL ES 3.1), a demanding graphics benchmark, the iPhone 13 served up a score of 6,486, which flew past the category average (5,629) and the iPhone 12 (6,185). However the iPhone 13 couldn’t compete with the Mali-G78 MP14 GPU inside the Galaxy S21. The Samsung phone achieved a spectacular score of 8,700.
In our Adobe Premiere Rush video editing test, both the iPhone 13 and 12 took 26 seconds to complete a set of tasks, zipping past the category average (1:27). The snail-like Galaxy S21 couldn’t keep up with the iOS device; it took 1 minute and 3 seconds to complete the test.
iPhone 13 battery life
The iPhone 12’s eight-hour battery life is alright, but compared to the runtimes of other rivals (and even the iPhone XR), it’s an embarrassment. That’s why Apple packed bigger batteries inside the iPhone 13. The iPhone 12 has a 2,815 mAh battery while the iPhone 13 sports a 3,227 mAh battery. Now that’s much better!
On the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous web surfing at 150 nits on the AT&T network), the iPhone 13 survived for 10 hours and 33 minutes, which beats the average smartphone (9:58). The iPhone 13 also beat its predecessor, which only lasted 8 hours and 24 minutes, as well as the Galaxy S21 (9:53).
Because Apple refuses to let go of its proprietary Lightning port, there is still no fast charging on the iPhone (the most you can get is 20W via wired charging). After 30 minutes of charging, the average smartphone climbs to 53% power. Within the same timeframe, the iPhone 13 and 12 reached 51% and 31%, respectively, which is a big improvement. The Galaxy S21 was faster than the iPhone 13, climbing to 55% after 30 minutes.
iPhone 13 cameras
The iPhone 13 has two, 12-megapixel rear cameras. How are they better than the iPhone 12? Your eyes may glaze over from the technical jargon I’m about to unleash, but stay with me here — I’ll explain what it all means.
The iPhone 13’s wide camera now has a 1.7 µm lens, a step up from the iPhone 12’s 1.4 µm lens.
These figures represent pixel size, which is measured in microns (µm). To keep it simple, the larger the pixel size, the more light is gathered. That’s why Apple boasts that the iPhone 13’s wide camera collects 47% more light than its predecessor. After giving the wide camera a spin in post-sunset Long Island and Times Square, I believe it (I’ll talk about Night Mode later). Other than that, iPhone 13’s seven-element wide lens shares the same specs as its predecessor: 12 megapixels, f/1.6 aperture and 26 mm focal length.
I put the iPhone 13’s wide camera to the test, walking all over Midtown Manhattan to capture eye-catching landmarks and the city’s bustling, on-the-go energy. Below, you can see a snapshot of Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge towering over the East River.
The camera crisply captured the distorted reflection of the bridge’s substructure as the ripples rolled across the river’s surface. The lens picked up on rust (and other signs of corrosion) that reminds you that this bridge, connecting Long Island City to the Upper East Side, is 120 years old. I love how the photo memorialized the temperate weather New York City had during the last weekend of September, showing off the clear, blue, cloudless skis with a cool ombre effect.
In the distance, you’ll see what looks like two buoys under the bridge, but in actuality, they’re two red boats. If you look closely, you’ll find a man sitting on a bench, reading a book in the shade.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was another subject of my wide-lens experiment. Looking like a medieval castle, it contrasted nicely with the whizzing yellow cab that honked as it weaved down E 51st St. The lens perfectly captured the sun rays gently caressing its finials. You can also spot the different shades of pearl gray-colored bricks that compose the religious landmark. Gothic revival architecture is striking in the photo, from the intricately decorated parapets to the eye-catching rose window.
Take a look at the photo I took in the heart of Times Square. On the left, you can see a Google Pixel 6 ad, but there is some distortion. Don’t be alarmed; this is normal. The screens refresh at a slower pace than the iPhone 13’s shutter speed, which explains the strange lines populating the panels. Although my naked eye can’t catch Times Square’s displays mid-refresh, the iPhone 13’s wide lens can.
This photo also captures how well the iPhone 13 can render color, from the coquettish green M&M in the background and the bright-red Levi’s retail sign to the colorful Mickey Mouse figure on top of the Disney Store and the oil painting-esque blue sky.
Apple said that it custom-designed a new ultra-wide camera that “reveals more of the dark areas with less noise.” In my experience with the new camera, this is true, especially in well-lit environments. Other than that, the iPhone 13’s ultra-wide lens shares the same specs as its predecessor: 12 megapixels, f/2.4 aperture and 13 mm focal length.
The ultra-wide camera is best for those moments when you want to capture your subject in its entirety, including its surroundings. For example, using the ultra-wide camera, I took a full photo of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral — and then some. In the last section, you can see its cross-shaped spire got cut off from the frame when I used the wide lens.
In this photo, however, you can almost see the whole darn block, as well as the enormous building situated on 5th Ave. Although the ultra-wide camera’s aperture is less ideal than the wide lens, its photos are as poignant and sharp. However, in low-light conditions, the photo-quality differences between the wide and ultra-wide lenses are more perceptible (I’ll talk about this in the Night Mode section).
Remember the wide-lens Times Square photo I took? Here’s the ultra-wide version. The ultra-wide lens creates this striking perception of elongation and vastness thanks to its 120-degree field of view.
The scene is more epic and grandiose, capturing the brief moment New Yorkers take a breather at red lights before racing down the crosswalk. The ultra-wide lens also caught an ad featuring Millie Bobby Brown — adorned in a floral, high-neck dress — in an unfortunate facial expression as her giant visage overlooked the busy Time Square streets. If you look closely, you can spot the cool zig-zaggy hair pattern of the woman with the Champion backpack. Colors still pop, from the red baseball cap on the gentleman’s head to the aquamarine watch ad across the street.
I also took an ultra-wide photo of the snazzy, well-dressed mannequins placed at Armani Exchange’s front window.
The photo captures the reflection of the sun-drenched, storied Cathedral; you can even see a crowd of churchgoers flooding out of the doors. The ultra-wide lens is also able to capture reflections from a store window at the very end of the block. If you zoom in, you’ll spot a gaggle of teenage girls, a nun wearing a chalk-white veil and sapphire-blue garments, and a young masked man with bright-red shorts. Gearing up for the upcoming cold weather, the onyx mannequins show off their stone-gray sneakers, crumpled black sweats and warm puffer jackets.
Some tech journalists criticized Apple for not upgrading the 12-megapixel selfie camera, but the front-facing camera doesn’t need an upgrade — it can already pick up far too many subtle details on my face that needn’t be highlighted. As it turns out, I have peach fuzz and I didn’t even know it. There is such a thing as a camera being too good — and I do feel that way about the iPhone 13’s selfie camera.
Luckily, there are cool filters you can use to reduce the rawness, thanks to Apple’s new Photographic Styles feature. You can choose between Rich Contrast, Vibrant Warm, Warm and Cool. On their default settings, I also didn’t get the “look” I was expecting. For example, I thought the Rich Contrast filter would turn up the vibrancy. I thought my new ginger hair would be redder and my brown complexion would be richer, but I didn’t get that. The changes are unnoticeable and my selfies seemed unadulterated. This is by design, though. Apple did say that the Photographic Styles tool preserves skin tone. Vibrant Warm and Warm Photographic Styles are similar to me, highlighting yellow, red and orange tones. The Cool filter looked drastically different from the other three, toning down my red hair, giving it more of burgundy hue.
You can tinker with the Tone and Warmth settings on all four filters until they fit your tastes. In doing this, I was able to get the bold, punchy look I wanted from the Rich Contrast filter. Check out the gallery to see some of my Photographic Styles selfies, as well as some Portrait Mode filters (e.g. Natural Light, Studio Light, etc.).
Night Mode and low-light photos
Apple gushed about how the cameras’ low-light performance have improved across the iPhone 13 series, but I’m a skeptical person, so I decided to test the Night Mode in Manhattan and Long Island. Each nighttime wide-lens photo will be accompanied with an ultra-wide shot. You’ll notice that the spec differences between wide and ultra-wide are more apparent in low-light environments. The wide lens has a lower (better) aperture than the ultra-wide lens and therefore lets in more light — and it shows.
This vibrant Times Square shot captures a hodgepodge of characters, including Pikachu, Spider-Man, Optimus Prime, Iron Man, a giant panda bear — and if you look far into the distance — Minnie Mouse’s head. This photo has an explosion of color, from the liquid gold glittering from the American Eagle Outfitters ad to the sightseer’s bright pink top. However, with the ultra-wide photo, you’ll see a slight loss of that charming vibrancy.
Both lenses have their advantages. If you want to capture a colorful nighttime moment, opt for the wide lens. If you want to squeeze as much scenery as possible into one frame, and you’re willing to sacrifice some vibrancy, the ultra-wide camera is your best bet. Times Square is pretty darn bright, though, so I decided to challenge the iPhone 13 by moving away from the dazzling displays to a more dimly lit location.
The Harry Potter nerd in me couldn’t help but take a photo of the Lyric Theatre’s striking awning on W 43rd St. Again, you can see the differences between the wide and ultra-wide photos.
The former captures the rich orange-yellow that makes up the Harry Potter sign; the latter makes it look slightly washed out.
The creepy, black detail — reminiscent of a dementor’s trail — looks sharper, clearer on the wide camera. But again, it’s not the ultra-wide lens’ job to capture niceties. It’s meant to fit more scenery into a frame.
I decided to head back to leave the city that never sleeps and go to Long Island, which would truly put the iPhone 13’s Night Mode to the test. Here is when Night Mode really kicked in (you can always tell because the exposure time is longer than usual). Apple said the iPhone 13’s Night Mode capture times are shorter, which I’ve definitely noticed.
I was impressed with the stunning Night Mode photo I took of a Valley Stream home. The freshly cut, verdant grass caught my eye, as well as the clean-cut landscaping that added to the home’s curb appeal. You can even see the brick detail that flanks the front white door. Apple said that it added sensor-shift optimal image stabilization (OIS) tech to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, and I believe it greatly improved Night Mode. When I took this photo, I purposely trembled my hand, and still, the photo came out great for a nighttime shot.
When I used the ultra-wide lens, however, I was disappointed. As expected, the colors aren’t as vibrant and the photo looks more like a watercolor painting. Details of the small tree in front of the home seem to disappear into the night sky — same for the dangling branches that are hanging in front of me.
It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 13, unlike the Pro Models, does not have a telephoto lens (a sensor that’s ideal for zooming in). As such, the iPhone 13 is limited to up to 5x digital zoom.
See this wide-lens photo of this funky, colorful mural? Check out all the visual information I was able to gather when I zoomed in at 2.5x.
Upon closer inspection, I was able to see that this artwork features a new, colorful interpretation of Lady Liberty. I could even zoom into 5x (the max) to read the artist’s signature: @Okudart.
In regards to video, the star of the show this year is Cinematic Mode (CM), which lets users add a depth-of-field effect called “rack focus” while they’re recording. I experimented with CM while strolling through Manhattan, and it works best when there are two conspicuous subjects in the frame. For example, a massive bridge in the background and a ship in the foreground. You can implement this cool shifting blur effect, guiding the viewer to either focus on the bridge or the ship.
Leveraging the power of the A15 Bionic chip, CM is excellent at intelligently determining which subjects you’d want to isolate from the background for blurring. For example, while sitting on Times Square’s Red Steps, I isolated a couple sitting in front of me and brought them into focus by blurring the background. Apple said that CM is intuitive to use, and I agree. All I needed to do was press and hold the subject I wanted to blur (or unblur), and CM would play along. Again, CM works best when there are two (or more) distinct subjects in the frame, otherwise it gets “confused” about what you want to focus on. Keep in mind that CM is capped at 1080p, so you won’t be able to record 4K CM videos.
The iPhone 13 also features HDR video recording with Dolby Vision (up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second). In Times Square, the iPhone 13 did an excellent job at recreating the overstimulated environment, capturing the flashy, vivid displays, the colorful fashion of excited tourists, and unfortunately, the Naked Cowgirl who suddenly appeared in my shot (oh, how I wish I could unsee that moment!).
Other goodies include slo-mo video support (1080p at up to 240 fps) and time-lapse video with stabilization.
iPhone 13 software and warranty
The iPhone 13 runs iOS 15, which was released in mid-September. The new OS comes with a slew of exciting updates that enhance FaceTime calls, notifications, Safari, Apple Maps, and more.
For example, iOS 15 now lets users blur their background during FaceTime, which is a nice touch if you don’t want the caller to see your messy, disorganized room. Android users can also join FaceTime calls — a feature I’ve played around with. Simply create a FaceTime link and send it to an Android user. Another cool FaceTime feature worth noting is screen sharing. Users can watch videos from streaming platforms with their loved ones via FaceTime. However, when I tried to experiment with this feature, I couldn’t find it. Apple told me that this FaceTime update will roll out in the near future.
Shared With You is another cool iOS 15 perk, which lets users sift through all the content (e.g. photos) sent to them by friends and family. So if you’re looking through the Apple News app, you’ll see all the articles that have been shared with you. Same for Photos, Music, Apple Podcasts and the Apple TV app.
Those who are easily distracted will love iOS 15’s new Focus feature, which lets users filter apps and texts to help boost their productivity. The new OS also introduces Live Text, a tool that can recognize text in photos, allowing you to copy and paste, research information and even translate.
The best aspect of iOS 15 is that if it senses that you’ve left your iPhone behind, it will send a notification to another Apple device (e.g. Apple Watch Series 7) and show you where it’s located on a map. It’s an awesome Find My feature that is super useful during those absentminded moments we all inevitably experience.
At the end of the day, the question isn’t, “Should I upgrade?” Instead, you should be asking, “Who are these upgrades for?” If you own the iPhone 12, but you’d love to have two extra hours of battery life, then yes, you should consider upgrading. However, if you’re already content with your phone’s runtime and cameras, and Cinematic Mode doesn’t “butter your biscuit,” then an iPhone 13 upgrade would merely serve as a nice-to-have — not a must-have.
As for me, I’m already looking forward to the iPhone 14. Perhaps the next-gen iPhone will have a greater generational leap and bring about more significant, worthwhile upgrades for the average consumer.