Review: iPhone 13

My wife got a new iPhone 13 to replace her iPhone XR. Now my wife doesn’t usually replace tech unless she is forced to. So I did the forcing by buying her the iPhone 13 as an early Christmas present. And after having her spend two weeks with it, I have some interesting observations to report.

In the box you get a USB-C to Lightning cable, SIM ejector tool, paperwork, and a single Apple sticker. I should note that it is not color matched with the phone. And for the second year in a row there’s no AC adapter in the box. There’s no use complaining about that now as clearly Apple is making you buy their adapter so that they can line their pockets with more cash. But that’s the cynic in me talking. And if you do need an adapter, there are other options like this one that you can get instead. You also get no plastic wrap around the box. Now the lack of a plastic wrap and the lack of an AC adapter in the box are according to Apple in the name protecting the environment. But seeing as that the iPhone 13 is not only not easy to repair, and the fact that Apple has attempted to dissuade repairs outright by making parts swaps impossible for non-Apple repair shops, on top of the fact that Apple is hyper aggressive about fighting right to repair laws, it’s hard to take their environmental claims seriously. In fact, I would call what Apple is doing “greenwashing”. But I digress. Back to the iPhone 13.

Here’s a look at the phone itself:

This is the Product Red version. My wife calls it a “proper” red because it not only is a deep red, but it aligns with her cultural values as to what red should look like. You’ll note that it still looks like an iPhone 12 and it still has a Lightning port. Everything else is pretty much the same. Though I would note that it is a bit thicker, a bit heavier, the buttons have been shifted slightly, and the camera bump is bigger. All of this is enough that your iPhone 12 case won’t work with it. The chassis is a glass front and back, with a aluminum band around the side. The screen has Apple’s “Ceramic Shield” tech on it to stop it from shattering if dropped. Though that should not stop you from putting a screen protector on it like this one as it will protect the screen from scratches at the very least as “Ceramic Shield” won’t help you with that as shatter resistance is inversely proportional to scratch resistance. Nor should it stop you from putting it in a case like this one as there is no “Ceramic Shield” on the back which means that the back will shatter if you drop it.

The screen is a 6.1″ OLED screen which significant upgrade over the LCD screen that was on my wife’s iPhone XR and even last year’s iPhone 12. It’s 2,532-by-1,170-pixel with a wide color gamut and Apple’s True Tone color management. Typical brightness is now 800cd/m2 as compared with 625cd/m2 on the iPhone 12. One of the differences between this iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Pro models is that the 13 has a 60Hz display, while the Pro phones have 120Hz displays. If you’ve never experienced a 120Hz display, this won’t be a big deal. In the case of my wife, she’s never had a 120Hz screen before. So the fact that this is a 60Hz screen is a total non issue for her. And Apple has tended to make the most fluid and smooth 60Hz phones around. So I suspect that this screen will be fine for most.

The new iPhones has a notch at the top that is 20% smaller from side to side. But a bit wider. Sadly, Apple didn’t see fit to add any additional information at the top of the screen seeing as they had more real estate to play with. Would it have killed them to add a battery indicator for example? I don’t think so. This is a missed opportunity as far as I am concerned.

The display is very easy to read in most lighting conditions including bright sunlight. The iPhone 13 is capable of HDR playback. And the test videos that I played on it looked stunning. If that’s not enough, the iPhone 13 is also capable of recording Dolby Vision HDR in 4k60, which is mind blowing considering that this is a phone and not a cinema quality video camera. To illustrate this, I recorded a pair of videos. One on my iPhone 12 Pro and one on my wife’s iPhone 13. Here’s the iPhone 12 Pro video:

Now here’s the iPhone 13 video:

There’s very little in it between the two iPhones. But I think that the iPhone 13 is a bit smoother despite all the shaking. That’s like due to the fact that the iPhone 13 has in body image stabilization from the iPhone 12 Pro Max from last year. I also think that the contrast is slightly better in the iPhone 13 video. Likely due to the improvements in the camera system.

Speaking of cameras, the iPhone 13 has two 12-megapixel cameras on the back:

  • A main f/1.6 camera
  • A 120-degree ultra-wide f/2.4 lens.
  • On the front, there’s a 12-megapixel camera with depth mapping sensors for Face ID and augmented reality.

The main place you will notice the difference is low light or at night. Take for example this iPhone 12 Pro shot:

Note the flaring in a couple of places. Notably the building on the left and the light in the center of the picture. That is a common occurrence on the iPhone 12 Pro. Compare that with the iPhone 13 shot:

Because the iPhone 13 cameras let in more light because their bigger lenses (relative to the iPhone 12), you get a much better photo at night or in low light. The same thing is true for more favorable lighting conditions. Take this photo that was taken with the iPhone 12 Pro:

There’s noting wrong with this picture per se. But compare it with the same shot with the iPhone 13:

There’s a lot more contrast in this picture and the picture “pops” a lot more. Even in ideal lighting conditions, this is true. Again, this is the iPhone 12 Pro:

And this is the iPhone 13

In short, Apple has made the cameras much better. Especially if you are coming from an older iPhone or perhaps even one from last year in this case. Thus if you want a great camera system outside of the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max which has a telephoto lens and other camera tweaks, this is it.

In terms of speed, the iPhone 13 gets the A15 Bionic processor. Benchmark tests say it is up to 20% faster. You won’t notice the difference unless you are coming from a much older phone like the XR. But it does power a bunch of new features that the iPhone 13 introduces. Specifically two. The first is Photographic Styles which are basically like iPhone photo preferences that are baked into the photos that you take. Which put another way, once you take the photo you can’t change it after the fact. So it’s not a filter but a preferred look that you want your photos to have. You can adjust the tone and warmth of each style to suit your preferences and tastes. These stylistic effects won’t affect the skin tones of people in your photos. There are four preset Photographic Styles:

  • Rich Contrast
  • Vibrant
  • Warm
  • Cool.

And you can also create your own. I suspect that most people won’t touch this feature unless they want to tweak their photos to look like what you get with a Samsung or Pixel phone for example.

The last new feature is Cinematic Mode. Cinematic Mode is designed to act like a virtual focus puller. This is someone who might work alongside a camera operator, ensuring that the right parts of the picture are in focus, and perfectly sharp. Except that the iPhone itself is able to focus on faces and blur out the rest of the background. If there are multiple people in the shot, it will focus on the closest person. If that person looks away, it will focus on the next closest person. And you can edit this effect after the fact, but only if you use Apple made editing software just in case the iPhone gets it wrong. For me this is a bit of a party trick that is likely to be used once, but never to be used again. But in the interest of science, I tested it and here’s the video proof.

Because the figurine was the only thing in the shot, it was basically video portrait mode. And it’s limited to 1080p and not 4K. While it’s better than the attempt that Samsung made at doing this a couple of years back, It’s far from a must use feature for my wife and I personally consider it to be version 1.0 of this feature. Maybe it will be different in a few years and a few revisions from now.

The iPhone 13 has better 5G connectivity versus the iPhone 13 thanks to updated tech from Qualcomm. My wife and I tested this by running a few Speedtest.net tests from our balcony on the TELUS network. Here’s my iPhone 12 Pro:

And here’s the iPhone 13:

While the downstream speed is somewhat slower on the iPhone 13, the upstream speed is somewhat faster. This was a repeatable result and I am guessing that Apple is trying to balance downstream and upstream speed to give you a more consistent 5G experience. To stop you from chewing through your battery life, Apple has a feature that will switch between LTE and 5G depending on your data needs to save power that they ported over from the iPhone 12 series.

Speaking of Battery life, it’s insane according to my wife. Here’s a few examples of her usage over a few days:

On this day she got almost 8 hours of battery life and didn’t even use 50% of her battery.

On this day she had just over 7 hours of battery life using just over 50% of her battery.

She also used the phone on 7 hours on this day with roughly 50% of the battery life used. These examples pretty much destroy the battery life on her previous iPhone XR. So when Apple said that they improved battery life, they meant it. You will get much better battery life by going to the iPhone 13 versus any older iPhone.

So, should you buy the iPhone 13? Well, let’s start with why you might want to consider the iPhone 13 Pro instead: 

  • If you want better photo quality because of the telephoto lens and other camera enhancements found in the iPhone 13 Pro, then the iPhone 13 Pro would be worth it. 
  • If you want to leverage the upcoming ProRes video format from Apple, then the iPhone 13 Pro is worth it.
  • If having 2GB extra RAM over the iPhone 13 which comes with 4GB of RAM is worth it to you, then buy the iPhone 13 Pro. 
  • If you want a bigger screen, then the iPhone 13 Pro Max is your only choice.

However, if you want pretty good photos, and you are coming from an older iPhone like a iPhone X, XR, or XS or earlier, then this iPhone 13 is the one to go with. Here in Canada the iPhone starts at $1099 CDN with 128GB. My wife 256GB version was $1239 CDN, but if you can get 512GB for $1509. My recommendation would be to choose 128GB or 256GB as those are the best values. I’d also recommend AppleCare+ which is $199 CDN as fixing any iPhone out of warranty is not cheap.

The iPhone 13 is a great iPhone which is a great upgrade from last year’s iPhone 12, and one that I would recommend to most people. Just make sure that your bank account can support the purchase as it isn’t cheap.

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