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Lifewire / Vicky Woollaston
Up to 30-hour battery life with support for fast charging
Double the storage of the iPhone 12
Professional camera setup
Sound quality is poor at high volumes
No expandable storage
The iPhone 13 is the best way to get Apple’s most advanced hardware and software improvements without having to sacrifice too much on price, size, or design.
Apple provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for their full take.
The number of new iPhone models to choose from has been increasing each year. During its September 2021 event, Apple released four handsets within its iPhone 13 range.
This included the entry-level iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro, and the flagship iPhone 13 Pro Max. Each phone has been designed to appeal to a different type of user, and they come in a range of sizes and prices.
The iPhone 13 occupies the space in the middle, offering impressive, high-end specs and quality without paying a relatively high-end price. We recently tested the iPhone 13 to see how well it performs against a range of everyday tasks, as well as more intense activities like gaming, streaming, and remote working.
We put Apple’s battery life claims to the test, put its new camera technology through its paces, and tried out the new features of iOS 15 to discover whether the iPhone 13 is the best new iPhone, or if it’s worth investing elsewhere.
As with everything Apple makes, the iPhone 13 is a well-designed device that looks and feels sturdy and luxurious. It comes with the same aluminum frame and a reinforced glass back seen on the iPhone 12.
Lifewire / Victoria Woollaston
The 6.1-inch display is coated in a type of glass known as Ceramic Shield, which Apple claims offers four times the protection of rival smartphone glass, and the handset measures 5.78 x 2.82 inches. These features are all identical to the iPhone 12. The iPhone 13 is 0.1-inch thicker, which is accompanied by the iPhone 13’s increased weight (6.1 ounces up from 5.73 ounces).
Despite these increases, the iPhone 13 is comfortable to hold and easy to use one-handed. The display size means the on-screen keyboard is not fiddly, as is the case with the smaller iPhone 13 mini, and it’s large enough to stream TV shows and films.
Playing basic games on this display is fine, but if you’re playing games with more detailed menus (Minecraft or Fortnite, for instance), you may find the display a little on the small side. You may also find it too small and a little straining on your eyes if you’re planning to replace your TV or tablet and watch all of your content on this phone.
The addition of the notch—the small, curved black protrusion at the top of the screen where the FaceID sensor is stored—further reduces the display real estate. However, the notch is 20% smaller than on the iPhone 12.
The Lightning charging port is sandwiched between a set of dual speakers on the bottom of the device, and the power button sits on the top right-hand side, opposite the volume buttons on the left. In addition to being able to charge the iPhone 13 via Lightning cable, you can charge the phone wirelessly using any Qi-compatible wireless charging plate, as well as Apple’s own MagSafe charging plate.
MagSafe is powered by a circular magnet fitted beneath the phone’s backing glass and can also be used to attach MagSafe accessories, such as the MagSafe wallet. This is a leather wallet where you can store your most-used cards and which stays attached to the phone via magnets. You can use the Find My feature to locate any MagSafe accessories in the same way this feature can be used to pinpoint where your iPhone, iPad, Airpods, and other Apple products are on an on-screen map.
On the rear of the iPhone 13, the camera sensors are now diagonally lined up in the top left-hand corner, rather than one above the other. This makes the camera bump marginally wider than seen on older iPhones and, while it may seem like a small change aesthetically speaking, it means you’ll need to buy a new case because an iPhone 12 case won’t fit. The protruding camera bump also stops the iPhone 13 from sitting flat on a table, unless it's in a case.
Color-wise, the iPhone 13 comes in five choices: starlight (off-white), midnight (black), pink, blue, and PRODUCT(RED). Proceeds from sales of the red model go toward AIDS charities as part of Apple’s long-running partnership with the charity.
As is the case with all Apple products, it’s not possible to physically expand the built-in storage on the iPhone 13. Thankfully, Apple has doubled the entry-level storage option from 64 gigabytes (GB) on the iPhone 12 up to 128GB on the $799 iPhone 13. You can then pay an extra $100 for 256GB ($899), or an extra $300 for 512GB ($1099). This is in addition to the 5GB of free iCloud storage Apple gifts every iPhone user.
These increased storage options are a welcomed upgrade, and unless you’re a power user, even the lowest of these storage options should be adequate. If you do need more, you can pay for iCloud+ storage. Prices start at $0.99 a month for 50GB, $2.99 for 200GB and $9.99 for 2TB.
Just as the design of the iPhone 13 has remained largely the same versus the iPhone 12, so too has the screen quality. It has a Super Retina XDR OLED display with the same resolution seen on the iPhone 12: 2,532 x 1,170 pixels. This means the iPhone 13’s display is crisp, bright, and clear from all angles.
Colors look vibrant and realistic, particularly when the phone is on the highest brightness setting, and this is great for playing games and watching HD videos. Even the most brightly colored games and shows like Candy Crush Saga, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race never once looked washed out or faded.
Each OLED pixel on the iPhone 13 has its own light source, which helps make blacks look deeper and darker, improving contrast. This is great for both watching Netflix shows and for reading ebooks or web content. It makes text lines sharp and clear, even when the font is small.
Colors on the iPhone 13’s display look vibrant and realistic, particularly when the phone is on the highest brightness setting, and this makes it great for playing games and watching HD video.
The refresh rate on the iPhone 13 display is 60Hz. A refresh rate refers to how many times an image is updated every second. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother and less blurry the image will look. For everyday tasks, a 60Hz refresh rate is more than adequate, and you’ll rarely, if at all, have any issues with it on the iPhone 13.
However, if you’re a keen gamer, this may cause problems when playing graphic-intensive games. If you fall into this camp, you may want to opt for a phone with a higher refresh rate, like the Google Pixel 6’s 90Hz, or the 120Hz refresh rate seen on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.
The iPhone 13 handled everything we threw at it during our tests well and without any lag. The screen immediately unlocks with FaceID; it’s fast to switch between apps and tasks, and the screen is responsive. This is largely due to the way Apple has optimized its iOS 15 software to work with the hardware on the iPhone 13. It's also not uncommon for Apple iPhones to feel powerful and fast straight out of the box.
Apple does also credit this to its A15 Bionic chip. This chip's new computer processing unit (CPU)—the unit that handles most of the phone’s everyday computing power tasks—is said to be up to 50% faster than the competition. Its new graphical processing unit (GPU), which is what powers graphics seen in games, augmented reality, and the phone’s camera features, is said to be up to 30% faster.
There is also a new Neural Engine that has been designed to carry out up to 15.8 trillion operations a second. This means any tasks that use AI or machine learning, like Siri’s text-to-speech tools, directions in Maps, the iPhone 13’s new Cinematic mode (read more about this in the Camera section below), and iOS 15’s Live Text feature are fast, work as promised and don’t slow the phone down, or cause it to heat up, in the process.
Everything we threw at the iPhone 13 during our tests, it handled well without any lag.
While it was hard to quantify Apple’s claimed percentage increases and how many operations the phone was performing every second during real-world tests, we can confirm we didn’t once experience any lag or overheating on the iPhone 13.
Not when we were playing Fortnite, not when we were streaming episodes of The Chestnut Man on Netflix, not when we were switching between emails and Google Docs when editing a feature. There was no delay when opening the camera, and there was minimal delay (less than two seconds) between taking a photo on Portrait mode, and the photo’s bokeh being processed.
When tested using the GFXBench app, which records how good the phone is at playing games of varying intensities, the iPhone 13 scored 52 frames per second (fps) on the Car Chase benchmark—a little short of the 56fps seen on the iPhone 12—but the same 60fps score on the less-demanding T-Rex benchmark.
The iPhone 13 supports 5G as well as Gigabit LTE/4G and Wi-Fi 6. These are all the most advanced versions of their respective technologies, meaning no matter which network you’re connected to, you should get the fastest speeds possible for your area and data plan.
Put more simply, if you’re having connectivity problems, it’s unlikely the iPhone 13 is the problem.
The iPhone 13 has an increased number of bands compared to the iPhone 12 range, meaning it will work in more 5G areas than before, and, in our tests, this meant the signal was stronger and rarely dropped out. We experienced problems only while on vacation in a forest, but that was more likely due to the strength of the signal from our network operator and not the phone itself.
On paper, the camera setup on the iPhone 13 looks nearly identical to that seen on the iPhone 12, but don’t be fooled. Apple has made a number of software and sensor upgrades that make this camera among the best we’ve used.
On the back of the phone, the Wide camera sensor is now larger than before, meaning it captures 47% more light. Letting more light into a camera sensor helps improve how much detail is captured, and helps improve the contrast of images, particularly those taken in low light.
Apple has also added a new sensor on the Ultra Wide Camera on the rear of the iPhone 13. This has similarly been designed to reveal more dark areas within your photos. As a result, shadows are darker and clearer, while areas of light are better illuminated. This makes the handset great for use indoors, where light may be poor, and for use outside as the winter nights come in and the weather takes a turn.
One negative is this camera setup uses 12MP sensors. By comparison, the Google Pixel 6 has a 50MP sensor—the higher the sensor, the more pixels it captures. This typically equates to a better-quality photo, but the software and hardware tweaks Apple has made to its proprietary camera setup means it still performs as well, despite this lower number specification.
Apple has made a number of software and sensor upgrades that make this camera among the best we’ve ever used.
Elsewhere, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have Night mode, Deep Fusion, and HDR video recording with Dolby Vision. Night mode helps take even better photos at night, while Deep Fusion captures multiple shots at multiple exposures and “fuses” them together to present the best possible image.
Software-wise, Apple has added two new features that combine with these hardware upgrades to make your photos and videos look highly professional. The first is called Cinematic Mode, and it uses what’s known as “rack focus.” This is a technique popular among cinematographers in feature films to guide the viewers’ attention. It works by switching focus between subjects and adding a depth-of-field effect.
Although the mode wasn’t as straightforward to use as Apple’s demonstrations suggested, when we mastered it, we were so impressed with the results that we almost couldn’t believe we’d filmed them.
The second new feature is called Photographic Styles. It’s not quite as impressive as Cinematic Mode, but it does add a level of professionalism to photos that we hadn’t seen before. Each time you take a photo, the iPhone 13 will show you five different versions. A balanced, true-to-life image alongside four alternative styles—Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm, and Cool.
As you select each style, the iPhone 13 is said to use “deep semantic understanding” to apply different adjustments to different parts of the photos and change their overall appearance.
While it may sound like you’re just adding a filter to a photo, the overall effect is much more nuanced and impressive. The adjustments made by Photographic Styles take the lighting, as well as each individual person’s skin tone into account.
This may not seem like a big deal, but adjusting the warmth of a photo and treating each person’s tone the same results in an overall “washed-out” appearance. It also doesn’t represent their skin in a realistic way. This can mess with the overall balance of a photo. By comparison, images taken using Photographic Styles are much more true-to-life.
The 12MP True Depth camera on the front, which also houses the FaceID sensor, has had fewer upgrades and tweaks than the camera setup on the rear of the iPhone 13. However, it does support Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles. This means you can snap and film selfies using these new tools. The front-facing camera also supports the same Night mode, Deep Fusion and Dolby Vision HDR recording. The latter will be of particular interest to vloggers looking to produce professional-quality content.
According to Apple, the battery on the iPhone 13 lasts “all day." This is a little vague and when you delve into what it actually means, it equates to a promise of 19 hours battery life when watching videos—up from 16.5 hours on the iPhone 12—and up to 75 hours when listening to audio.
In our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat with the screen set to 70% brightness, the iPhone 13 lasted 19 hours and 24 minutes. A slight improvement on Apple’s claims.
In our real-world tests, however, the iPhone 13 lasted an impressive 29 hours. During this test, we used the iPhone 13 as we would do normally for a month; we used it to send WhatsApp messages, play Sim City, make video calls with our parents, send emails, record videos on days out with our toddler, watch TikTok, stream Netflix shows, and more. We then recorded how long it lasted between charges each day and took the average.
The iPhone 13’s impressive battery life is because of the way the software and hardware have been optimized to work with one another. Yet it’s even more impressive when you consider that the Neural Engine is running trillions of operations every second, the display is bright and powerful, and both the CPU and GPU have been given major speed boosts.
You can fast-charge at up to 20W with a Lightning-to-USB-C cord (sold separately), charge wirelessly on a Qi charger at up to 7.5W (sold separately), or use the MagSafe anchor (yep, you’ve guessed it, sold separately). The 15W wireless MagSafe Charger cable magnetically snaps onto the back of the phone and can also be used to charge AirPod cases.
Apple always ships its new phones with its most up-to-date software and on the iPhone 13, this is called iOS 15. It’s familiar enough for existing Apple users, and easy enough for Android users to get to grips with, all while offering a number of new and redesigned features that make it even easier and more useful to use.
On iOS 15, notifications have more rounded edges than those seen on iOS 14. The Weather app uses more visual cues to make it easier to see air pollution, rain levels, and the hourly forecast at a glance, and Apple Maps now displays routes and walking directions with 3D and AR features. Wallet has added support for home keys and there are new privacy controls in Siri and Mail that protect them both from unauthorized use.
You can also now enable Personal Focus, Sleep Focus, and Work Focus settings in iOS 15. Each one lets you disable notifications at certain times, like when you’re trying to concentrate or sleep, and you can ask Siri to send a message to people who contact you during this time, telling them Focus has been switched on.
There is then the option to search for photos directly from the Search bar at the top of the screen, as opposed to going via the Photos app, and Apple has added a new Live Text tool. This uses the Neural Engine in the A15 Bionic Chip to recognize writing in a photo or image. A small text bubble appears and clicking it allows you to cut, copy and share this text as if you were copying from a document.
There’s also a small feature Apple introduced in iOS 14 that is even more useful when used with Live Text. This feature allows you to copy text from anywhere on your phone—from a document, a website, a photo, and so on—and automatically paste it from a shared clipboard onto your MacBook or iPad. This may seem insignificant but it’s been a game changer in terms of productivity.
Elsewhere, the built-in camera app on iOS 15 is where you’ll find the controls for Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles.
The sound quality on the iPhone 13 is decent. It sounds a little tinny and rattly at the highest volumes but the stereo speakers do an admirable job of filling a small room when played directly from the phone.
The location of the speakers (on the bottom of the device) can cause the sound to become a little muted when watching TikTok, because the audio is directed away from you. Similarly, if you’re watching Netflix or playing games in landscape mode and holding the phone, rather than using a stand, it’s hard to not cover these speakers with your hand. This can make it sound muffled and less immersive than we’d have liked.
When using headphones, depending on their quality and the sound quality of the app you’re using, audio tends to have much more depth.
Apple products can never be described as “cheap," but in offering four models within its iPhone 13 range—and with the most expensive iPhone 13 Pro Max model starting at $1,099—the iPhone 13 represents an affordable way to buy a new Apple phone.
It occupies a sweet spot of running Apple’s latest processor, camera, and display technology with its latest operating system in a form and price that make it accessible. There are even enough improvements and new features to warrant upgrading to the iPhone 13 from last year’s iPhone 12.
There are very few phones that can rival the iPhone 13 when it comes to the quality of features versus its price.
The $599 Google Pixel 6 is an exception. For $200 less, you get a larger, 6.4-inch display, a higher-capacity battery, a 50MP rear-facing camera, a 90Hz refresh rate and twice the amount of memory power, called RAM.
Its two-tone design is a little lacking and cheap-looking, in comparison to the more luxurious iPhone 13, and Android 12 is clunky and buggy in comparison to iOS 15. However, if you’re not tied to a particular software, the Google Pixel 6 is an all-around fantastic option.
Check out our list of the best smartphones on the market today, along with our picks for the best 5G phones.
The best iPhone for the masses.
The iPhone 13 is the Goldilocks of Apple’s latest iPhone range. It’s not too big, not too small, and is available at a price point designed to appeal to the widest-possible demographic. There are very few sacrifices that need to be made for the relatively lower price. And with the improvements made to the storage, performance, battery life, and camera, you’d be hard-pressed to find a phone that offers more for this price. It’s certainly the best all-round iPhone available on the market.
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