Shootouts

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

By Kenny Yeo - 3 Oct 2021

Performance & battery life

Introducing A15 Bionic

There's now two versions of the A15 Bionic. The Pro iPhone's version has an additional GPU core for added graphics performance.

As with every generation of new iPhones, we have a new processor. Powering the new iPhones is Apple’s A15 Bionic chip. And as usual, Apple does not reveal much about the inner workings of its chips so here’s what we know. 

It’s built on a 5nm process but it has a lot more transistors. It has nearly 15 billion transistors, which is roughly 27% more than the A14 Bionic. The CPU core configuration is unchanged so we have a 6-core CPU with two performance cores and four efficiency cores. Apple says the CPU is up to 50% faster than “the competition” but didn’t say who the competition specifically was. The GPU still has four cores but Apple says it’s up to 30% faster than “the competition.” Again, no idea who they are referring to.

And for the first time, the Pro iPhones will have a slightly different processor. Though the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have A15 Bionic chips, their chips have five GPU cores instead of the usual four. Naturally, the extra GPU core will give better graphics performance and Apple says the Pro iPhones will deliver up to 50% more graphics performance than “the competition.” If Apple is referring to the same competition, then we can expect the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max to have up to 15% better graphics performance than the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini.

A15 Bionic also has enhancements in other areas. It has a new image signal processor (Smart HDR 4), a new video decoder and encoder, double the system cache, and a new 16-core Neural Engine that is now capable of up to 15.8 trillion operations per second (up from 11 trillion operations per second). The Neural Engine is critical because the iOS 15 does a lot more processing on-device such as Siri and Live Text.

 

Geekbench 5

Geekbench CPU is a cross-platform processor benchmark that tests both single-core and multi-core performance with workloads that simulate real-world usage. Geekbench 5 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 1000, which is the score of an Intel Core i3-8100. As a result, Geekbench 5 scores are not comparable against those of Geekbench 4, whose baseline score is derived from an Intel Core i7-6600 processor.

Also included in this analysis are scores from Geekbench 5's Compute benchmark which measures GPU performance across workloads that include image processing, computational photography, machine learning, and more. Geekbench says this benchmark approximates performance in apps such as cameras, image editors, and real-time renderers.

Geekbench scores are moderately impressive. Compared to the A14 Bionic in last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, the A15 Bionic in the new iPhones recorded about 6% higher single-core scores and 8% higher multi-core scores. Interestingly, single-core scores of the new iPhones were almost on a par with the M1 chip in the newest iPad Pro. There’s no doubt that these are the most powerful phones you can buy, but the leap in performance wasn’t as great as going from the A13 Bionic to A14 Bionic. 

Compared to the competition, there’s no contest. Even against the best Android phones that we’ve tested, the newest iPhones’ single-core scores were at least 50% higher and their multi-core scores were at least 20% better.

The new iPhones were also put to the test in Geekbench’s Compute benchmark which measures GPU performance. Here, the Pro iPhones managed scores that were about 27% higher than the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, on the other hand, recorded scores that were at least 19% more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

 

JetsStream 2

JetStream 2 is a combination of a variety of JavaScript and Web Assembly benchmarks, including benchmarks that came before like SunSpider and Octane. It primarily tests for a system’s and browser’s ability in delivering a good web experience. It runs a total of 64 subtests, each weighted equally, with multiple iterations, and takes the geometric mean to compute the overall score.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini’s scores were about 5% higher than the iPhone 12 Pro Max while the iPhone 13 Pro’s score was about 13% better. Impressively, the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max outscored even the M1 iPad Pro. Android phones have typically fared poorly on this benchmark but it’s incredible that even against the best-performing Android phone (Galaxy Z Fold3), the new iPhones’ scores were at least 230% better.

 

AnTuTu

AnTuTu is an all-in-one benchmark that tests CPU, GPU, memory, and storage. The CPU benchmark evaluates both integer and floating-point performance, the GPU tests assess 2D and 3D performance, the memory test measures available memory bandwidth and latency, and the storage tests gauge the read and write speeds of a device's flash memory.

On AnTuTu, despite the extra GPU core, the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max recorded roughly the same scores as the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. What’s notable, however, was that the new iPhones recorded scores that were about 28% higher than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Against the current crop of top-performing Android phones, the new iPhones’ scores were about 17% better.

 

3DMark Wild Life Unlimited

3DMark Wild Life is a new cross-platform GPU benchmark that was released only days before this review and it measures graphics performance on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. This means you can compare scores of devices regardless of platform. On iOS devices, it runs Metal; and on Android and Window devices, it runs Vulkan. This benchmark comes at a good time because prior 3DMark GPU benchmarks for mobile devices (like Slingshot and Ice Storm) are woefully old and use outdated graphics engines and rendering techniques. The benchmark is ran in Unlimited mode which renders the test offscreen and maximises the performance of the GPU.

Here, we can see that extra GPU core of the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max is giving them a leg-up on the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max’s scores on 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited were about 15% better than the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. As for the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, their scores were about 8% higher than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Incredibly, the new iPhones’ scores were at least 70% better than flagship-class Android phones.

 

 

Battery life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email

Thanks to larger batteries and more efficient components, the new iPhones will deliver better battery life. Here are Apple’s claims:

  • iPhone 13 Mini - 1.5 hours longer than iPhone 13 Mini
  • iPhone 13 - 2.5 hours longer than iPhone 12
  • iPhone 13 Pro - 1.5 hours longer than iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max - 2.5 hours longer than iPhone 12 Pro Max

In our battery test, which is admittedly quite extreme given that we run the phones at maximum screen brightness, the gains are more modest. We saw gains from 10% to as much as 32%. Lovers of smaller phones will be happy to see that the iPhone 13 Mini gained over an hour in battery life in our tests. At 313 minutes, it lasted nearly as long as an iPhone 12.

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