A week ago, Apple unveiled the new iPhone 13 family, and now the first reviews of the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max are out. As expected, it was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary upgrade cycle for 2021, Apple refining the cameras, improving the displays, and dropping in useful features like dual eSIM. Question is, then, was all that worth upgrading for?
Some of the basics get the biggest credit. Apple’s decision to retire the 64GB configuration and make 128GB the minimum is widely praised, though sticking with Lighting is less popular. When most of the iPad line-up now uses USB-C, it leaves the iPhone looking even more laggardly.
The biggest improvement is to battery life, something every iPhone owner has probably hoped to see increase. That was particularly the case on the iPhone 12 mini, where the compact form-factor forced some compromises on just how long the smartphone would last. Happily, there’s been improvements across the board there for 2021.
The iPhone 13 mini certainly saw an increase over last year’s phone. Engadget reports it can now last up to a full day, albeit with “light use.” The iPhone 13, meanwhile, could stick it out for up to two days, which is legitimately impressive.
The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, meanwhile, stick around considerably longer than before. Rene Richie praises them in his video review, as do most other reviewers.
As for the display, there are pluses and minuses. CNN calls out the improvements in maximum brightness, which leave the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini easier to use in bright outdoor conditions. However they still don’t get 120Hz refresh rates, which Apple brands as ProMotion.
For that, you need the iPhone 13 Pro or iPhone 13 Pro Max. Wired saves plenty of superlatives for the displays there, crediting ProMotion with some silky-smooth performance. It’s adaptive, too, so as to balance refresh rate with power consumption.
For photography, Apple’s improvements may not be huge but they still make for great images. Wired concludes they’re “still excellent” though the WSJ warns that iPhone 12 owners probably shouldn’t feel the need to upgrade. The differences between them are tough to spot, though if you’ve got an iPhone XR or iPhone 11 it would be an easier decision.
Cinematic Mode seems, at this stage, to be more of a curiosity than an actual “pro” feature. The Verge says it’s fun to play around with, but also warns that it “feels like it’s a few years away from being truly useful for anything beyond casual use.” The WSJ is more scathing, finding the new video mode struggled to distinguish the edges of subjects.
Overall, then, these are all great showcases for iOS 15, and the improvements that Apple has made are, generally speaking, focused on day-to-day usability. While some, like the new camera modes, may need time to mature, that’s not to say they don’t have promise. iPhone 12 owners may want to wait to see what come in 2022, but anybody with an older iPhone should probably be checking out what upgrade deals their carriers are offering.