It’s that time of the year again, where Apple’s iPhone 13 series has launched in India, with four shiny new iPhones to choose from — the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
I’ve been using the iPhone 13 Pro for just over two weeks as my primary phone, after having shifted from the iPhone 11 Pro. Personally, I think the iPhone 13 Pro is the best among all iPhones announced in September 2021, and here’s what I think about the experience so far.
iPhone 13 Pro: Design
Shifting from the iPhone 11 Pro with its curved edge, the iPhone 13 Pro definitely feels a touch heavier. The iPhone 13 Pro is slightly taller and wider, but also thinner in comparison to the two-year-old iPhone 11 Pro; its characteristic matte touch on the back paired with the stainless steel edge (which is high on iPhone 4 nostalgia) makes the iPhone 13 Pro feel exquisitely premium in your palm every time you pick it up.
The edge is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, I have to admit, but it’s nothing a quick wipe can’t fix. Aesthetically, it definitely adds more lustre to the iPhone 13 Pro than the curved edges on the iPhone 11 Pro, making it an attractive phone to carry around — one that’s always going to glint and sparkle if it isn’t encased. And that’s great for the iPhone 13 Pro’s overall flaunt value, even if its design hasn’t changed much from the iPhone 12 Pro. Bottomline, it’s an iPhone and it’s guaranteed to make heads turn.
The iPhone 13 Pro is Apple’s most premium iPhone ever, except the iPhone 13 Pro Max. But compared to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the iPhone 13 Pro is more practical to use with a single hand — whether you’re firing up apps, typing a message, taking pictures or shooting videos.
Apart from being IP68 water resistant, Apple claims it has equipped the iPhone 13 Pro with ceramic shield glass both on the front and back panels, making it more sturdy and impervious to damage from accidental drops. I still don’t know how effectively it works, even after accidentally knocking the iPhone 13 Pro down from my work desk in the very first week — it was inside the transparent Clear Case made out of scratch-resistant polycarbonate. Both the iPhone 13 Pro and the Clear Case survived the fall with absolutely nothing to show for it, which is quite reassuring and an upvote to Apple’s claim.
iPhone 13 Pro: Screen
The iPhone 13 features a 6.1-inch OLED display, but it finally takes a huge leap ahead of the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro’s screen in terms of its refresh rate. Yes, finally the iPhone 13 Pro justifies its ‘Pro’ billing with a 120-Hz ProMotion display, which dynamically scales down to 10-Hz in appropriate scenarios to save battery life without you having to worry about it. The higher-refresh rate 120-Hz screen really shines when you swipe up to unlock, giving you the first true taste of the ProMotion goodness.
Compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro’s OLED display definitely feels more fluid, sharp and less blurry overall. Right now, the full tilt 120-Hz refresh rate experience is only limited to iOS 15, Apple’s own built-in apps, and during kinetic scrolling in third-party apps (like when you try to scroll deeper into a long text article), with support for ProMotion expected to arrive in popular games and other third-party apps whenever they update themselves.
Beyond the 120-Hz ProMotion display, the iPhone 13 Pro’s OLED screen offers a great overall viewing experience, be it text or moving visuals, in light or dark mode. The screen goes as bright as 1000 nits and is excellently calibrated out-of-the-box with a wide colour gamut support, allowing for true-to-source colour reproduction. To put it simply, the iPhone 13 Pro’s screen can reproduce the subtle differences in shades of colour in a photo or video as it was intended more realistically on its screen than a lot of phones in the market that try to boost details beyond real life.
Where the Samsung S21 Ultra or Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Galaxy Z Flip 3’s screen tend to be oversaturated in their appeal, they still can’t match the iPhone 13 Pro’s true-tone display experience in my view. For over my decade spent using Apple devices, I have always found their screens to be more naturally calibrated than competition and that trend definitely continues with the iPhone 13 Pro. Whether you watch a Netflix video, scroll through a long Medium post, flick through Instagram pictures or read an article draft on Google Docs, the iPhone 13 Pro gives you a superb viewing experience — whether it’s indoors or outdoors, in daylight or lowlight. It is something you have to see to believe and eventually realize.
The Face ID notch hasn’t gone away yet, as it slowly becomes part of the iPhone’s identity. Having said that, the Face ID notch on the iPhone 13 Pro is slightly smaller than what it is on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro screen. Despite all the increased screen real-estate, it still fails to squeeze in the battery percentage indicator in the top right corner — which is just plain annoying. Why Apple, why?
iPhone 13 Pro: Photography
Since Apple actually markets the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max to creators and professionals, camera capture experience becomes a crucial differentiator for people who choose the iPhone.
Apple deploys an improved trifecta of 12MP telephoto, wide and ultra wide lenses as part of its rear camera system. There are incremental advancements in almost every aspect of the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera specifications over the iPhone 11 Pro and 12 Pro, most noticeable of which is the 3x optical zoom when you fire it up. The camera rings themselves have become slightly bigger — and so has the camera bump — on the iPhone 13 Pro’s rear panel to make room for some of these enhancements. All this allows the iPhone 13 Pro’s photography and video capture game to be among the best in the business.
In my experience, the main camera on the iPhone 13 Pro is more sensitive to light than previous models, giving you an overall better looking photo in outdoor, indoor and low-light conditions. The iPhone 13 Pro’s camera focuses faster, locking onto the subject more seamlessly than before — even in night mode in extremely low-light conditions. Portrait shots appear sharper with better bokeh effect and depth control, crisper edge separation and fewer artefacts. Thanks to Apple’s introduction of sensor shift optical image stabilization, blurry photos are a thing of the past — as long as you’re shooting stationary subjects.
The newly introduced macro mode on the iPhone 13 Pro is a lot of fun to use — in typical Apple fashion, there’s no “mode” to select within the Camera app, it fires up automatically when the camera lens gets extremely close to the subject. The iPhone 13 Pro camera’s macro mode is one new feature that really adds to the device’s overall photography chops.
The 12MP selfie camera on the Face ID notch of the iPhone 13 Pro is largely unchanged, performing well in capturing still photos and FaceTime video calls under bright ambient light conditions, struggling to match up to the iPhone 13 Pro’s rear camera supremacy in low-light conditions.
Photographic Styles is another interesting new addition to the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera game, as it allows you to access the iPhone’s ISP to tweak the default tone, vibrancy and contrast captured in all of your images on the iPhone. Photographic Styles like Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm, and Cool allow you to tilt the default Standard true-to-source image capture engine to tiny enhancements which improve the final image that conforms to your personal taste. For users who find the iPhone’s true-to-source image capture too flat or neutral, Photographic Styles are a good first step to customize the camera’s performance like never before.
iPhone 13 Pro: Video performance
The biggest talking point here is Cinematic mode, which tries to squeeze “rack focus” techniques of high-end professional video cameras into the handheld form factor of the iPhone 13 Pro. Cinematic mode is essentially iPhone’s portrait mode in video, where focus auto-shifts between a foreground and background subject seamlessly.
In my casual tests, the iPhone 13 Pro’s Cinematic mode pulled off the auto rack focus shift with two faces in the frame, allowing me to adjust the focus while editing the video right there in the Camera app itself — which is great in terms of ease of use. Just like the early Portrait mode debut, Cinematic mode’s depth effect is slightly rough around the edges when it shifts automatically, but it’s nothing that Apple can’t fix over a future iOS update. In terms of allowing creators and artists an out-of-the-box preset to shoot cinema-style video clips intuitively, the iPhone 13 Pro works as advertised without skipping a beat.
In terms of video capture and performance, not a lot has changed from the iPhone 12 Pro going into iPhone 13 Pro, but that’s also partly because everything is so damn good already. Whether it’s 4K capture at 60fps or 1080p slow-mo at 240fps, across a wide variety of indoors and outdoors lighting conditions, the iPhone 13 Pro consistently captures high quality video with Dolby Vision HDR support that almost always is a cut above the rest.
In my experience, over the years no flagship Android phone has come close to matching the iPhone’s video capture performance, and that bar is raised even higher by the iPhone 13 Pro — its video quality is still the best you can hope to get on a smartphone.
iPhone 13 Pro: Battery + iOS
Apple claims the iPhone 13 Pro’s battery life is 90 mins longer than the iPhone 12 Pro — while I can’t verify that claim, it’s definitely longer than the two-year-old iPhone 11 Pro. The latest iPhone 13 Pro benefits from chip-level power enhancements in the A15 Bionic and also gains made in subsequent iOS 15 updates.
The iPhone 13 Pro’s battery has easily lasted over 18 hours in my usage — with close to 6 hours of screen-on time on average. My typical iPhone 13 Pro usage involves a lot of WhatsApp, music streaming, snacking on YouTube videos as quick breaks, Google Meet and FaceTime calls, work spread across Chrome and Edge web browsers, and GSM-based voice telephony. I don’t think I ever hit an 18-hour cycle where the iPhone 13 Pro’s battery percentage dipped below 10 percent, which is quite splendid. One of the reasons why the iPhone 13 Pro offers such amazing battery life is because of Apple’s tightly integrated hardware-software tech stack, which is simply better at extracting that last ounce of battery juice compared to Android phones.
From reading text to watching videos, from listening to music to casual bursts of gaming, the iPhone 13 Pro handles all these tasks and more with a yawn. From Geekbench 5 to UL Benchmarks, synthetic tests of all kinds have pegged the iPhone 13 Pro / Max as the current smartphone performance king, and you can truly feel it. Capturing 240fps slow-mo video is blazingly fast in terms of edit access, and even 4K video tweaks get applied in a wink, and gaming Call Of Duty Mobile or more graphics intensive battle royale games is when you really start to make the iPhone 13 Pro break a sweat to be honest. Simply put, the iPhone 13 Pro’s performance is just very good.
iOS 15 is obviously the layer through which users largely experience the iPhone 13 Pro, and all the feature enhancements it has received — Focus mode, notification summary, Android FaceTime calls, Live text in Photos app, and more — obviously make the iPhone 13 Pro even better to use. The iOS 15 integration on iPhone 13 Pro is definitely much better than vanilla Android on Google Pixel or OxygenOS on OnePlus phones, something you need to experience to understand and fully appreciate.
iPhone 13 Pro: Conclusion (for now)
If you’re an iPhone 12 Pro user, you shouldn’t upgrade to the iPhone 13 Pro simply because the gains aren’t spectacular. But if you’re an iPhone 12, iPhone 11 Pro or an older iPhone user, then upgrading to the iPhone 13 Pro makes sense. Not only will the design of the iPhone 13 Pro feel new, but everything from camera performance to battery life and every usage scenario you can imagine will show significant improvements on the latest iPhone.
The iPhone 13 Pro is a powerful smartphone with new ‘pro’ features that actually matter to the creators and professionals. It’s definitely among the top 3 flagship phones of 2021, without a doubt. The iPhone 13 Pro offers the best balance of practicality of use, cutting edge performance, longevity of software support and best-in-class battery life that you will be hard pressed to find in any other phone in the market.
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