It’s hard to remember the world before the iPhone. So many things we take for granted now were the stuff of science fiction in 2007. 14 years later, and nearly an entire generation has been born in the wake of the iPhone, and they know nothing different. It’s hard for any product to keep itself relevant for a few years, yet the iPhone has evolved, improved, improvised and re-invented itself several times in that window, and is more popular today than it was in 2007 on it’s release.
With the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, Apple focused on the main 3 areas that people want to see improvements on – battery, screen and camera. I’m going to break down the improvements in each area, and then focus on the camera, because it is clearly the biggest upgrade in this iteration.
Out of the 3 main improvement areas, battery is the least sexy. But it is probably the one that is most appreciated on a daily basis. Both Pro and Pro Max models get bigger batteries this year, and along with new efficiencies in the A15 Bionic chip, get improved battery life .
Apple touts the Pro as receiving an increase of 1.5 hours and the Pro Max as receiving 2.5 hours more of battery life. This doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when you factor in the improvements in the second area – the screen, it’s a miracle that battery life increased and not decreased. Anyone who saw what happened when Android handset manufacturers adopted faster refresh rate panels knows what that does to battery life, and it doesn’t increase them.
The iPhone finally gets a 120hz screen. I say finally because these have been standard fare on many higher end Android phones for several years now. And yes, as I just mentioned, most of the Android phones who adopted higher refresh rate screens did so at detriment of battery life.
But Apple, being Apple, did something a bit different.
Instead of adopting a 120hz panel and calling it a day, Apple realized that having a panel refreshing at 120hz when a user is doing something static was a waste of precious power. So Apple implemented a variable refresh rate. Just sitting there looking at text on your phone screen, or a photo? The iPhone will throttle down the refresh rate to 10hz. The magic part is when you flick to scroll, the iPhone will immediately throttle up the refresh rate to the full 120hz. This adaptive refresh rate takes in to account what you are doing, and applies the necessary refresh rate all the way up to 120hz or down to 10hz. In this way, Apple took something that was done first on Android, and did it way better on iOS.
Now, Apple brought a number of camera improvements to the 13 and the 13 Pro models. The biggest is democratizing the sensor shift stabilizing that was present on the Pro Max last year, and bringing it to the Ultra Wide lens for all models, Pro and non Pro alike this year.
Then there is the Cinematic Mode. This is feature I would have figured Apple would have saved just for the Pro models, because, well, it seems like something that could be used to justify the increased cost of the Pro or Pro Max. But since this feature really only dependent upon the improvements made in the A15 Bionic, Apple made it available to all iPhone 13 models.
But for the Pro models, Apple improved the hardware and kept the camera system the same on the Pro and Pro Max models.
The standard wide lens has been upgraded to an f/1.5 aperture. The utlra-wide lens has been upgraded to a f1/.8 aperture. And the telephoto lens, which now features a more telephoto focal length of 77m (equivalent), features a f/2.8 aperture. So you get faster glass, and you get bigger pixels. What this means is better low light performance. Of course, Apple touts better low light performance every year, so the real test is actually putting the cameras thru the paces. So let’s take a look at a bunch of photos taken with both the iPhone 12 Pro and 13 Pro.
Whether you think the iPhone 13 Pro is just another iPhone or a significant entry in the iPhone’s 14 year saga will really come down to how much you value your iPhone as a camera. If you take casual pics and don’t think about things like low light photography, macro photography or portrait shots, you will probably be best served with the iPhone 13. If these details matter to you, the 13 Pro is the way to go. If you are an iPhone 12 Pro user and you are thinking of upgrading, you have to ask yourself – is $700 or so (the cost of a new iPhone after trading in your 12 or 12 Pro model) worth it to take macro pics, slightly better low light pics, or to gain a more “telephoto” telephoto lens? Are the battery improvements worth it to you? 120hz scrolling is nice, but I can tell you it’s not something I miss so much that going back to 60hz makes me feel like a caveman.
So, essentially – iPhone 13 Pro… a great upgrade for anyone not already using a 12 Pro.