Shootouts

Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Pro series review: These are peak iPhones

By Kenny Yeo - 3 Oct 2021

Introduction & design

Note: This review was first published on 21 September 2021 and it's republished now because the new iPhones are available in retail.

Say hello to the iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Lucky number 13?

Despite reservations about the name, Apple has stuck with what’s sensible and went with the number 13 for their latest iPhones. You might have already heard, Apple’s newest iPhones are the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, and the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max . No surprises, there. However, there are some profound changes compared to last year’s lineup and that could affect your purchasing decision. Sit down, grab a cuppa, this is a long one.

 

Design

Last year’s iPhones got a major redesign so we knew we weren’t going to be getting phones that look drastically different this year. The basic recipe for this year’s iPhones is nearly identical to last year’s models. In fact, unless you know what to look out for, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this year’s models and last year’s.

Aesthetically, the new iPhones are identical to last year's. This is the iPhone 13 Pro.

They all have flat sides and the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini have aluminium bodies while the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have stainless steel bodies. The sides of the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are matte, whereas the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have highly polished sides that are fingerprint and dirt magnets. Round the back, the regular iPhones continue to have clear glossy glass backs while the Pro iPhones have matte glass backs.

The displays are protected by Ceramic Shield.

Speaking of glass, the front of the phones are protected by Ceramic Shield, a glass that was developed with Corning to be the strongest smartphone glass ever – again, the same as last year’s models. And since we are on the topic of protection, the IP ratings of the phones are unchanged, so all of this year’s iPhones are rated IP68 which means they can stay submerged in up to six metres of water for up to 30 minutes. Buttons and ports are also all carried over, which means the Lightning port is sticking around for another year. 

Sorry, no USB-C. You still get Lightning ports on these new iPhones.

Now, I have strong thoughts about the Lightning port. At this point, the Lightning port should make way for USB-C. Previously, a point could be made for compatibility but since all new Macs and nearly all new iPads rely on USB-C, it’s time that iPhones do the same. USB-C not only enables faster charging, it also transfers data quicker, and works with a greater variety of accessories. It’s funny because Apple talks about all the benefits of USB-C in its Mac and iPad events and yet puts Lightning ports on their phones. Alright, rant over.

Can you tell which is the iPhone 13 and which is the iPhone 12?

Overall dimensions are slightly different. Heights and widths are identical but the new iPhones all gain 0.25mm in thickness. This is to accommodate the larger battery. And because there’s a larger battery inside, the weight has gone up a bit. Is it noticeable? Sure, but only if you hold them next to each other.

The iPhone 13 Pro's larger sensor and faster lenses also mean a more pronounced camera bump.

Readers who have invested in expensive phone cases, however, should note that the camera bump is larger to put up the new sensors and lenses (more on this in the photography section). So yes, if you are upgrading from last year’s phones to this year’s, these differences are enough that you will need new cases for these phones, even if you think they can stretch to accommodate the extra thickness.

The long controversial notch is now 20% smaller.

Another minor difference is the notch on the display. The TrueDepth camera system is unchanged and continues to take great 12-megapixel photos and offer Face ID authentication, but Apple has shrunk the system so the notch is 20% smaller. Honestly, I didn’t really notice the difference until I placed it next to an older iPhone.

Pink is a soft pastel shade that I think many will find appealing.

There are new colours to choose from. The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are available five colours: PRODUCT(RED), Starlight, Midnight, Blue, and Pink. The units I have are the iPhone 13 in Pink and the iPhone 13 Mini in Midnight. Pink is a very lovely soft shade of pink that I think can be more accurately described as pastel pink. Midnight, on the other hand, can be easily passed off as black. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to see the entire lineup so I can’t comment on the other colours.

The various colours of the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. From left to right: PRODUCT(RED), Starlight, Midnight, Blue, and Pink.

The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are available in four colours. Graphite, Gold, and Silver make their return and joining them this year is the new Sierra Blue finish. Like last year’s models, the highly polished finish is achieved using a physical vapour deposition process (PVD). And according to Apple, the Sierra Blue model required an entirely new process that involves placing multiple layers of nanometer-scale metallic ceramics to achieve the colour. As for the Pro iPhones, the units I have are the iPhone 13 Pro in Gold and the iPhone 13 Pro Max in Sierra Blue. This year’s Gold finish is slightly different from last year's. The polished sides are indistinguishable from one another but the glass back of this year's model is a richer darker shade of gold. As for Sierra Blue, it appears to be a lighter shade of last year's Pacific Blue. 

The iPhone 13 Pro Max in Sierra Blue below and the iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue above.

The various colours of the iPhone 13 Pro. From left to right: Graphite, Gold, Silver, and Sierra Blue.

From left to right: iPhone 13 Pro Max in Sierra Blue, iPhone 13 Pro in Gold, iPhone 13 in Pink, and iPhone 13 Mini in Midnight.

Overall, fans of last year’s new design will love this year’s phones. But even if you don’t fancy the squared-off edges and flat sides, the outstanding build quality of these phones is undeniable. Yes, these phones are expensive but they most definitely look and feel every bit as much as they cost.

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