iPhone 13 Pro review: a better display, the best camera, and incredible battery life

iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro Max are smartphones for those who value details. These iPhones have significant improvements that are not immediately obvious.
The 13 Pro's most significant upgrades are battery life and camera system, just like the 13 Mini and regular iPhone 13. With a high refresh rate, the 13 Pro brings you a third major upgrade.

The upgrade of the screen, battery, and camera sounds like an iterative, annual update. They sound like the "S updates" Apple used to make for iPhones in the days before the naming scheme became unpredictable. It is true that this design is almost identical to the iPhone 12 Pros of last year. These assumptions don't do justice to the extent of the changes.

Our review of Apple iPhone 13Pro Verge Score 9 of 10 Excellent Stuff Incredible camera system

Battery life is amazing

High refresh rate display Bad Stuff Average Selfie camera

Cinematic Mode isn't very pro

Lightning connector in place of USB-C Limits Options Buy at Apple for $999.00 Buy at Best Buy for $999.99

After further battery testing, we will update this review with a complete score and scorecard for iPhone 13 Pro Max. However, you can see the initial impressions below.

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max batteries

Battery life is the change most likely to have the greatest impact on the lives of the most people. Apple will tell you that battery life has been improved by a series of updates. These include an increase in efficiency in the A15 Bionic processor, and changes to the display's power consumption. All of that is true, however, I'm equally certain that the largest contributor to the battery improvements is the fact that the batteries are larger than last year.

The battery in the 13 Pro Max is 11% larger than that of the 13 Pro Max, and it's astonishingly 18.5 percent bigger in comparison. Apple claims that the 13 Pro model's battery life is up to one and a quarter hours longer than the 12 Pro Max models. The 13 Pro Max has a two-and-a-half hour usage time, while the 13 Pro Max can be used for about two hours.

It's not difficult to improve your battery life.

The phones were only my first week with them so I concentrated most of my time on the iPhone 13 Pro. This is a worst-case scenario test. My results were in line with Apple's claims. It survived from early morning to 11 PM with high 4K video and maximum brightness. The remaining 20 percent of the battery was left after four hours of heavy screen usage in the screen time tracking application. I managed to use the screen for seven hours on a day with less intense usage before the low battery warning triggered.

Although the 13 Pro Max hasn't been used as often, I believe it will perform even better. I found myself doing a double-take a few times this week, wondering why the battery was so full despite having used it extensively. After I have had more time to test it, I'll update this review.

Bottom line: Without an external battery pack, I feel more confident walking outside my house for long days without worrying about it. My smartphone must be able to trust that I can go through a day without worrying about battery anxiety. The 13 Pro Max and the 13 Pro Max both easily achieve this.

iPhone 13 Pro design and specifications

The iPhone's design was updated last year with flat sides and 5G. All of this is carried over to the next model, with minor changes. The screen's notch is the most prominent. Although it is slightly smaller horizontally, it still presses into the screen to the same extent. Apple didn't make any changes to the extra space at its top. You can still see your battery percentage by pulling down the control centre.

Another design change is the fact that the new iPhones are nearly imperceptibly lighter and thicker than the last year's models. The camera bumps on both phones have been significantly larger, so 12 Pro cases will not fit on the 13 Pro. The tradeoffs for better battery life and a more advanced camera system are worth them.

It is almost identical to the iPhone 12 Pro models.

Apple still has a small bezel around its screen, unlike many Android phones that have curving edges. The edges of the phone are made from glossy stainless steel and pick up fingerprints. The back glass is smooth matte. To prevent cracks, the front features Apple's Ceramic Shield finish. The camera lenses are sapphire. This phone is beautiful and a big improvement on the curving sides of iPhones 6 through 11.

Outside of the screen and camera, the most important feature is the A15 Bionic processor. It is very fast. As with all iPhones, this speed is not meant to make the phone feel faster than it did last year. The A15 seems to enable a number of camera features. I will also mention that the 13 Pro models have five GPU cores instead of the standard 13s four. However, that extra core does not seem to allow for any additional speed.

The base storage starts at 128GB. However, the top end has a 1TB option. This is quite a lot of storage for a phone. However, if you plan on shooting lots of ProRes video it may be worth considering. The screen sizes and resolutions of the 13 Pro Max and 13 Pro Max are identical: 6.1 inches at 1170x2532 pixels and 6.7 inches respectively at 1284x2778 pixels.

Apple's focus is on the expansion of Mid-Band 5G support. This will be more important than the UWB version, which is only available at certain street corners. The US 13 Pro is now ready for 5G if carriers keep their word (which they haven't yet, but perhaps next year). If you are a frequent traveler, you need to be aware of the bands available for each variant.

Even though it is a lost cause, and I am sure I sound like an old record, I believe Apple should change the Lightning connector to USB C for the iPhone. Apple also made a mistake in not taking advantage the obvious opportunities for this with the iPhone X and iPhone 12 changes. While I can understand why the iPhone has not switched, I disagree with them. The standard cable is extremely convenient for charging your phone and connecting accessories to it, especially if you have a Pro model.

iPhone 13 Pro cameras

The cameras on the iPhone 13 Pro Max and 13 Pro Max are identical, so you don't have to spend more money to get the best shots. The iPhone 13 Pro is the best phone for taking photos. Google's Pixel 6 is still in development, but the company has already begun to release it.

Apple's marketing for its 13 Pro camera system is that it is the greatest advancement ever. However, I can't recall the last time that I said "Whoa, look at that photo" as many times as I did during this review.

The best camera on a smartphone

To start with, I want to point out that the 13 Pro camera system is something I am referring to when I state that the phone is for people who pay attention. These phones can take pictures in bright sunlight, normal lighting, and it is very difficult to tell the difference from the iPhone 13 and the iPhone 12. Any high-end smartphone can be very competent in good lighting.

Low light is where the Pro 13 camera system shines. This year, the main wide-angle sensor received a major upgrade. Apple has remained with 12 megapixels since the iPhone 6S in 2015, unlike Android phones which chase big megapixel counts and then use pixel binning for low light performance. The sensor is larger now, with 1.9 million pixels. These are nearly as large as any smartphone we have ever seen. The lens also features an f/1.5 aperture.

This all adds up to a camera capable of absorbing a lot of light faster than other phones. The 13 Pro's low-light performance is simply unbeatable thanks to some tweaks and improvements to Apple's computational photography.

Low light has less noise and there is more dynamic range for low and medium lighting. Apple also told me that it has improved how it handles black point. The 13 Pro is now more open to letting darks be dark, while accurately exposing lighter areas. The 13 Pro is more patient than the 12 Pro, which would often jump into night mode to brighten things up. The exposure process is twice as fast when the 13 Pro switches to night mode.

This word was used last year in our 12 Pro Max review. I believe it is even more relevant this year. The 13 Pro camera is confident. Since computational photography has become a common practice over the last few years, I have seen many camera systems, including the iPhone, panic and make mistakes with tone or exposure. In my testing, the iPhone 13 Pro almost never did that.

Let's get back to basics. Is it likely that most people will notice the difference in quality between the 13 Pro iPhone 13 and the regular iPhone 13? Or even the iPhones from last year? I believe the answer is no most of the time. You really need to zoom in to see the phone screen. If there is one place I believe it makes sense to label an iPhone Pro for professionals, it would be the main wide angle camera.

Although the ultrawide camera received an upgrade to take in more light, it is not as significant. An interesting upgrade to the camera is the addition of autofocus, which allows it pick up a new trick: macrophotography.

The camera frame switches to ultrawide mode when the subject is less than 10cm from the phone. Apple sent us an email the night before to inform us that it would be sending a software update with the option to disable automatic switching over. You can then keep pressing in until you are as close to 2cm away as possible and still get an in-focus shot. It takes better photos than many Android phones' throwaway macro lenses. Its a fun feature.

My favorite upgrade to the wide angle camera is the telephoto lens. Apple has increased the zoom to 3X, which is equivalent to a focal length of 77mm. This is in addition to the 2.5X/65mm in the 12 Pro Max. The extended zoom drops to an aperture of f/2.8 from f/2.2, but the low light losses it causes are more than compensated for by the night mode. Apple isn't trying to be the superzoom 100X player; it's focusing on the quality of the 3X optical zoom, which can be used for portrait photography.

That quality is amazing. It is so easy to take photos of people using the telephoto at three times the resolution. This year's award goes to the telephoto lens for best improvement.

Grid View

Apple has held the title of best smartphone video for a long time, being beaten (but not lost) by the Samsung Galaxy Ultra series smartphones in the past year. The wide angle camera has produced amazing video quality this year. The larger sensor combined with the sensor-based stabilization makes it possible to capture beautiful and stable footage in low light.

Apple will allow you to shoot video in ProRes format this year. ProRes was not something I had time to try and it isn't a standard part of our video workflow. It is available if your iPhone has sufficient storage.

I'll be clear because it bears repeating: The iPhone 13 Pro has the most advanced camera system of any smartphone currently available.

Photographic Profiles

Apple has introduced two new camera modes to its iPhones this year, Pro and regular. Each mode is unique and fascinating. Cinematic Mode is basically Portrait Mode, but for video. Picture Profiles alter the default way that the iPhone takes photos. Picture Profiles are very interesting as they almost serve to admit that Apple is under pressure from Google and Samsung.

Profiles, a new feature in the camera app, change the default look of your photos. Instead of applying filters after a photo has been taken, you can instantly set your iPhone to a particular look. Apple claims that Profiles are not filters, which Ill explain shortly.

Grid View

Profiles come in a variety of default settings: Standard, Rich Contrast and Vibrant. Each profile has its own sliders, which you can manually adjust for Tone or Warmth. The name of the profile will change to match your settings if you adjust those sliders. My personal favorite is Rich Cool because it's Apple's target audience. You can set these profiles to become the default way that the camera takes photos. However, the button will allow you to toggle it off. The button's appearance changes depending on the profile you have set.

Profiles' TL;DR is that Rich Contrast makes iPhone photos look more like a Google Pixel. It uses bluer tones with deeper contrast. Vibrant makes iPhone more like a Samsung phone with more vivid colors.

Apple has always maintained that photography should reflect the truth of what your eyes would see. Regrettably, I'll leave aside philosophical questions about objective reality and the definition of a photograph and instead point out that Apple is less opinionated when it comes photography. Both Google and Samsung are more open to adjusting their images to make them more appealing to customers than Apple. Apple Profiles gives its customers the ability to choose the best photos without the need to alter them afterwards.

It is not easy to understand how Profiles works. The Apple's algorithm for computational photography is Smart HDR. It takes several photos with different exposures at once, then merges them to create a single image. You will need to make choices about the white balance, color, contrast, etc. The iPhone semantically recognizes different objects in the scene, such as faces, people, sky, cats, and so forth, and can expose them differently.

The Smart HDR capture makes different choices about white balance, color and contrast depending on your preference. The semantic recognition also helps it make better decisions about things such as skin tone. It is not a filter that is applied uniformly across an entire image.

Although profiles can't be undone in the edit, Apple will label them in metadata when you view them within the Photos app. It is not possible to simultaneously shoot with profiles and RAW output. Photographic Profiles, unlike RAW photos where you have many options for editing the image, lock your choices into the saved file. Although it may be possible for iPhone to save all that data, Apple says that it would create large files that wouldn't be practical for everyday use. People who want to edit the file after the fact can simply shoot RAW.

Cinematic Mode

Cinematic Mode is Apple's most flashy iPhone ad. Cinematic Mode is a completely new mode for iPhone video. It uses software to blur background, just like Portrait Mode does with photos. Cinematic, unlike Portrait Mode does not use the iPhone 13 Pros LIDAR sensor to create a depth map. Instead, Cinematic uses software to recognize faces and bodies.

Cinematic mode is a great demo because it automatically shifts the focus to the relevant scene. The iPhone locks onto the largest face it sees. However, if the face moves away, the iPhone will automatically shift the focus to another person in the background. It's fun to use and can be used with both the front-facing and rear-facing Selfie cameras.

By tapping on something in the background, you can change your focus point and then lock it by tapping again. After you're done shooting, the Photos app will allow you to change your focus points and adjust the background blur.

It is the equivalent to Portrait Mode for video and can cause the same problems for photos as Portrait Mode. For example, it doesn't work in low light. Apple's own advertisements for Cinematic Mode claim it works in low light. This is misleading. You may also see weird or unnatural cutouts in the hair. This is less obvious because it's video but still there. Cinematic Mode is only available in 1080p at 30FPS.

Cinematic Mode only works within Apple's ecosystem of apps. The depth map information is saved to an ancillary file that goes along with the video. However, only Apple apps such as Photos and Final Cut can access it. AirDrop the file to another Mac running MacOS Monterey. The iPhone will then bake your depth selections into the file before you send it. Apple says it has not worked with Lumafusion or Adobe to make the data editable in these apps.

Cinematic Mode is a lot of fun, but I'm not sure how much it adds value to those who use their iPhone to do professional video work. It is not a gimmick. Cinematic Mode, like Portrait Mode in photos, feels a little bit behind its time and is not yet useful enough to be used for serious purposes. Despite Apple's claims, it is hard to believe that real movies will be made using this mode in its current state.

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max display options

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max now offer a feature that flagship Android smartphones have enjoyed for a while: higher refresh rates. Apple's screen branding is Super Retina XDR with ProMotion. The important part of the ProMotion previously was only available on the iPad Pro.

The iPhone's screen refresh rate has always been 60Hz, or 60 times per second. However, the iPhone 13 Pros can change the refresh rate from 10Hz to 120Hz. Apple uses a type OLED panel called LTPO (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide), which was first used on Samsung phones. It can increase brightness, has a wider dynamic range and can be dimmed to reduce power consumption.

This basically means that animations and scrolling will look smoother. This screen has a longer battery life, as if there is nothing moving on it, the screen will need to refresh less frequently and use less power.

Apple has not been quick to implement high refresh rates displays on its Pro smartphones, but it has done so well

Android users are not surprised by this, but it can be difficult to understand why a high-resolution display makes such a difference if you've never used one before. This is especially true for iPhones. Apple has been able to keep the high refresh rate screens off their phones for so long, mainly because iOS is a smooth OS with very few jank animations.

The text is clearer when I scroll on my iPhone 13 Pro than blurred. The screen is smoother. Because the iPhone can adjust its refresh rate to match my movements, it feels more like I am actually touching the screen.

Apple's implementation is smart too: iOS monitors what activity is occurring on the screen and adjusts its refresh rate accordingly. The screen now matches the 24FPS framerate in video apps, as an example. Apple says that apps written with Swift, its default tool, will receive these benefits free of charge. Developers will also have the ability to access tools to help them update their apps to include ProMotion support if they wish.

All this may sound absurd, but I understand. This is a premium feature, which is more about the experience than practicality. ProMotion is exactly that, and I believe it's what we should expect from phones over a thousand dollars. Similar story happened when Apple's high-density Retina Displays arrived. After many people had experienced the better thing, they became annoyed by its absence.

All the speculations about why Apple took so long to implement this feature have been a part of my life, and I don't really believe any of them. Although high refresh rates are a nice feature, Apple's Pro phones were designed to give the best experience possible. They do, finally. Apple did a great job in implementing it.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro Max have the ProMotion displays. Although it may not be obvious to all, the improvement will make everyday life easier for everyone who uses it. Of course, the battery life increase is not as subtle.

The camera can be seen both ways. The differences between sharing videos and photos on social media are very subtle, but you can see them if they're there. You'll also appreciate the updates if your iPhones camera is used for other purposes than Instagram.

It is hard to find a list of major issues with these phones that I don't have any complaints about. (Though as you might expect I can rant for days about small things such as the absence of a meaningful MagSafe ecosystem or the lightning port, and how iOS 15 handles notifications.

The iPhone 13 Pro story is one of iteration. But iteration is important. iPhone 12 Pro owners need to be attentive to the differences. An upgrade may not make sense. If you have an older device, the upgrade will be noticeable.

Regardless of your preference, you will be amazed when you pay more attention to details.