Anton D. Nagy contributed to this post “Apple’s best iPhone 13 is complicated”.
I think the topic of choosing a new iPhone usually goes three ways. One: Some people just want an iPhone, no matter which one, meaning the cheaper it is, the better. Two: other people either want the successor to their current iPhone because they loved it or want to try a different one because they didn’t. I think the third category is the most interesting: people who want the best iPhone, and that’s a difficult premise as we usually put price as the determining factor, and in the case of iPhones, it’s not that easy.
This year we have four iPhones, two Regulars and two Pros, although for the first time it is really just two different phones with different size options. The thing is, the more I’ve spent the past few days comparing them, the more I realize that they don’t differ that much. So you may not have to pay extra to get the best for yourself.
I think the most important thing is that, in my opinion, these are the best iPhones Apple has ever made. I know for many of you they look like a repeat of last year, and visually they are, but think of this as the introduction of M1 where each product is exactly what each product has always had should be, even if it is baked under known hardware. and I say familiar because looks can be deceptive. I’ll have comparisons with the older models soon so you can understand where I’m going.
Whichever iPhone you choose, you get exactly the same in the box. A phone and a USB-C to Lightning cable. You’d assume the Pro models at least get a few extra perks for the price difference, but this isn’t the case here. If anything, they made a lot more eco-friendly this time around as there is no plastic to be seen here.
As for the differences, think of it this way: If you like small to medium sized phones that are lightweight, the 13 series should be your pick. If you like it a little heavier in the mid-range or if you are into large phones, the 13 Pro series is for you. Just remember that there is a difference in price and features.
The 13 Series is made from the same aluminum that most high-end phones are made of, but the Pro Series uses stronger stainless steel. If resale value is important to you, I would only recommend that you go for a darker color if you choose Pro as my 12 Pro Max After The Buzz has proven that silver doesn’t age as well as aluminum. I prefer the Pro series matte back, however, but it’s not that the regular 13 wouldn’t handle fingerprints well in most cases. The regular 13 models also have color options for those looking for variety, even if I would consider the Pro versions for a more elegant finish.
From the front, their screens are now almost identical. The same flat finish, the same Ceramic Shield protection, the same smaller notch for Face ID pushing the earpiece higher, and almost the same AMOLED panels across the board. This means that all four models have amazing color accuracy and contrast, and are all bright enough to handle outdoor visibility well. Where they differ is that the Pro models have LTPO panels that allow for a variable refresh rate from 10 to 120 Hz. This means that with moderate use, it will be more efficient to swallow energy, and as the intensity increases, it will suffocate. If you don’t care, stack them next to each other and most of the time you’ll feel like all 4 are the same quality, and that experience extends to the dual-fire speakers on each device as well.
As for the experience with these phones, it’s interesting that iOS 15 is pretty consistent no matter which phone you choose. The icons are just spread out a little further between the Pro Max and the Mini, and the text naturally gets bigger, but even if there is a difference in resolution, as the pixel density doesn’t vary much, you’re just getting a little bit more content on the Pro Max, and not really the 20% that their size differences mean. However, the Pro and Regular share the same numbers, so they are both identical. This is good because you don’t really get a watered down experience with the Mini. Rest assured that if this size works for you, so will the experience. It’s not good because it wastes a lot of space on the Pro Max. I wish there was some sort of multi-window UI or Apple Pencil support for such a large canvas. That’s why I think the 13 or 13 Pro is the sweet spot because you get a huge screen on a package that you can handle with one hand.
Even up to the datasheet, it’s crazy to see all phones now boot on the same memory. They all get the A15 Bionic, which has never been seen before. You now all start with the same stock quantity and picking costs the same price difference. All flavors of 5G are now standard, and so are their IP ratings and wireless connectivity. And of course the regular variants get two gigs less RAM and one less GPU core, but I can’t really tell the difference in daily use. Load up the home screen with all the widgets you want, move around different screens and you won’t find out that one is better than the other. Unless you’re scrolling down menus or playing a game that supports a high refresh rate, the experience is solid on all four iPhones. You may find that the battery life has improved. I’ll leave my final judgment for our full reviews on each one, but so far I’m finishing the days on all of the devices, even the Mini.
Perhaps most think they’ll find big differences in the camera department because if you look at the datasheets, the Pro models not only have an extra focal length, but also better optics and perks like Pro RAW, ProRes and a macro mode, the the regular models don’t have. However, since the regulars have the same sensor as last year’s 12 Pro Max plus the sensor displacement stabilization, I think you’ll be surprised.
During the day, you won’t notice much of a difference from a distance. Whether you use the ultra-wide angle or the standard camera, their results are almost identical, and even if you wanted to punch in 3X Digital with the 13 just to match the Pro, I’d say these digital shots are pretty decent are. You just can’t punch in 15X like the Pro, but even that isn’t as useful. The problem is close-ups where I have a love-hate relationship with the Pro, as I love the shallow depth of field and the macro mode is automatically forced without being able to turn it off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool when you get closer but not compared to the 13 when you don’t.
You will notice the optical differences in low light. I would say both smartphones perform admirably from their primary sensors in very harsh conditions. If you switch to ultra-wide mode, the 13 Pro will take a lot less time to take a picture, but then the results won’t be much better. The same goes when you type in, as this is just a digital crop for both.
Portraits and selfies are literally the same as these modules are identical across the board, with some pretty good separations and details.
Even if you jump to the video, the results are almost identical in detail, stabilization, and color rendering. I would trust any of these four iPhones to serve as my B camera as long as I have good light, and the same can be said about the 4K in front camera’s selfie performance. Now I skip cinematic on all phones because it only supports 1080p HDR which I can’t display in this 8 bit video, and it is also limited to 30fps which is not a cinematic frame rate in my opinion. Even if ProRes is a distinction between Pro and Regular, this is unfortunately not available at the time of this comparison.
In conclusion, I think you now understand why I am as shocked as I am. You’d think there would be a lot of differences between them, but it turns out that no matter which iPhone you choose, you’re still getting an iPhone in every sense of the word. There’s really nothing here that I would call watered down. Yes, there are differences, but I cannot say that they are a step backwards from one lineup or the other.
The iPhone 13 Pro packs Apple’s best processor and camera hardware into its stainless steel case to give buyers the most rugged iPhone experience yet.
Of course, I have to choose one, and that’s harder than it sounds. As much as I think the Mini is too good for its size, I need reading glasses that will kill it for me in everyday use. As much as I love the Pro Max’s extra space, I commute a lot and one-handed operation isn’t really its thing. If any of these extremes work for you, go for it. Really the best middle ground is either the 13 or the 13 Pro, and what you need to be aware of is the importance of stainless steel, an extra camera lens, extra photo and video benefits, and 120 Hz on the display.
In my case, I’m a creator so 13 Pro is a no-brainer. The more focal lengths I get, the better. In your case, this may not be necessary. If you’re looking for the best iPhone money can buy, I think all 4 devices will fit the bill. The question is which one best suits your needs.
Jaime has been a fan of technology since he got his first computer when he was 12 and has followed the evolution of mobile technology from the PDA to everything we see today. As our multimedia manager, he is responsible for developing our YouTube hobby into one of the largest video channels in the industry. When he’s not making one of our videos or shooting our Pocketnow Daily, he can be found in his second greatest passion, running and fitness. Read more about Jaime Rivera!