Apple has gone from one smartphone a year to two to four new devices every 12 months. That’s when I am not counting the ‘Special Edition or SE’ which makes an appearance every few years. The idea is simple: there should be an iPhone at every price point and for almost every type of smartphone user. This year we have the iPhone 13 series which aims to achieve that. I have spent some time with all four models — iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max — but this review focuses on the standard iPhone 13 model.
While Apple has options on either side of iPhone 13, what we mustn’t forget is that they are either add-ons (for the ambitious users) or compromises (for buyers on tight budget). It’s the iPhone 13 that delivers the best of both worlds. It doesn’t come with ground-breaking upgrades on the iPhone 12 but, improvements in nearly all departments — faster processor, better cameras, bigger battery and yes, more storage.
Apple has done well to keep the starting price same as last year’s iPhone 12. Honestly, that’s a very unlike-Apple move. The iPhone 13 price starts at Rs 79,900 for the 128GB storage variant. The 256GB storage variant costs Rs 89,900 while the top-end 512GB storage variant is priced at Rs 1,09,900.
So, is the annual upgrade enough to spend on or should you be saving for next year’s iPhone 14? I will try and explain in this review.
iPhone 13 review: Design
The iPhone 13 comes in five colour options and this review features the iPhone in the best one: (Product) Red. The Black and White variants are now called Midnight and Starlight, respectively. The Black variant gives you a shade of dark Blue from certain angles. There is also the standard Blue and new Pink colour variant in a very light shade which almost makes it feel like White. The same colour options are also available for the smaller iPhone 13 Mini.
The rear panel has a glossy feel to it, still not as much as some Android smartphones but enough to attract few fingerprint smudges. You get the Apple logo at the middle and camera module on the top right corner.
Overall, the smartphone looks very similar to last year’s iPhone 12. If you are on social media, you would have probably already noticed that the camera sensors are now placed diagonally and that’s the only way to differentiate the new model from its predecessor. Inside, of course there are bigger changes in the camera. The lenses are now bigger and have bolder rings around them which look fabulous on the Red variant.
Apple has used an aluminium frame around the iPhone 13 while the Pro models come with stainless steel frame. The aluminium frame has a matte-finish and avoids fingerprint smudges. It gives you a good in-hand feel and grip. At this point I must also say that this is probably the ideal sized smartphone at 6.1-inches.
There were reports suggesting that Apple may finally switch to a USB Type-C charging port but, that has probably been reserved for the future. On iPhone 13, you still get a lightning port at the bottom. It sits right next to speaker grille.
The iPhone 13 also weighs 12 grams more than the iPhone 12. Even then the weight is just 174 grams which is quite impressive. The phone is also a bit thicker because of the bigger battery used by Apple. More on that later. The iPhone 13 is also IP68 rated for protection against dust and water.
Moving on to the biggest design change on the iPhones this year: the notch that houses the front camera is now smaller. Honestly, we are in 2021 and it should have gone by now. But, this is also what differentiates the iPhones from Android smartphones – most of which look the same from the front. The notch is considerably smaller than the previous generation iPhones and does make a difference in normal usage.
iPhone 13 review: Display
The iPhone 13 retains size from last year’s models. It sits comfortably in palm at 6.1-inches and is ideal for daily usage. The phone features Apple’s Super Retina XDR display with an OLED panel. The screen has a 2532×1170 resolution with 460 pixels per inch. It has support for HDR playback and True Tone automatic colour temperature adjustment. The latter adjusts display’s colour temperature according to the room ambience.
Some of this may sound familiar. However, Apple has updated things on the front as well. The iPhone 13 display is now 28 per cent brighter than the iPhone 12. It can achieve 800 nits of peak brightness in typical usage and 1200 nits with HDR playback.
Apple unfortunately reserved the high refresh rate panel for the Pro models and the iPhone 13 continues to run at 60Hz. It’s still buttery smooth but, the ProMotion tech takes iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max to a different level. Apart from that, there is not much to complain about.
The screen feels brighter, is crisp and colours are sharp. The icons, text and visuals look good as well. It gets the fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating which is quite effective. I hardly noticed any fingerprint smudges on the screen during my usage.
Videos look great on the screen. I watched a few episodes of Ted Lasso and The Morning Show. The display gets really bright for streaming content and has good contrast ratio.
The front is protected by a Ceramic Shield as well which is infused with nano-ceramic crystals for better protection from drops. It’s also supposed to protect the phone from scratchesonly, it didn’t. No glass shield does.
iPhone 13 review: Camera
There is a bit of new and bit of old in the camera department. Apple has used a similar camera setup from last year on the iPhone 13: regular wide-angle sensor and an ultra-wide angle sensor. The wide-angle camera now uses the same large image sensor that Apple exclusively in the iPhone 12 Pro Max last year. This is great news for the iPhone 13 users. The wide camera now comes with f/1.6 aperture while the ultra-wide senor has f/2.4 aperture and 120 degree field of view. Apple claims that the bigger sensors will take in more light and eventually help in better images.
The camera system supports 2x optical zoom out and 5x digital zoom. Apple has also added the sensor-shift optical image stabilisation to the standard iPhone 13. The tech was introduced on last year’s iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. It helps in steadier images and videos.
Last year’s iPhone 12 already had a great camera and it’s not easy to improve upon it. The iPhone 13 somewhat manages to do that. The daylight images may look similar but, the lowlight shots are now crispier.
The main camera has a quick auto focus, details are accurate, colours are not oversaturated and the skin tones remain true. If you look at the image samples below — the flowers look vibrant and natural. You have to give credit to Apple’s image processing to ensure that subjects are not burnt. The landscapes look beautiful. The sky has been recreated well and even the far off objects appear sharp.
The Portrait mode is good. It adds ample blur in the background. The edge detection can be off at times but, on occasions you get it right – the images look great. The ultra-wide angle shots have plenty of details. The text in far off objects also came out crisp.
The lowlight shots have good details but once you zoom in, grains are also visible. Still, this is probably one of the best lowlight cameras out there.
On the front, you get a 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera with f/2.2 aperture. It’s the front camera where I expected to see more improvements. I have never been a fan of skin tones in iPhones selfies. The iPhone 13 sees some improvement, especially in controlled light. But, there is still scope for improvement.
The camera app has a lot of familiar options with exception of the Cinematic Mode. The feature is basically Portrait Mode for videos. Apple has provided an option to switch between the background and foreground. This can be done with a simple tap on the subject. It will appeal to content creators and documentary makers. It’s good to see Apple adding this mode to both the iPhone 13 and iPhone mini.
Cinematic Mode is nowhere close to what Apple had shown during its launch event. It only works at 1080p at 30fps so filmmakers are unlikely to use it, as hyped by Apple. Yet, it is a step in the right direction and with few tweaks can be a game changer.
You also get Photographic Styles, which lets you customise the tone and character of photos you take before they are rendered. It’s a good option for those who prefer specific kind of tones to their images.
The smartphone can record HDR videos with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 60 fps, other 4K videos at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps, 1080p HD videos at 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps and 720p HD videos at 30 fps. The iPhones have always been great for recording videos and that’s also the case with the iPhone 13. The video quality is unmatched and you get impressive stabilisation.
iPhone 13 review: Performance
This year’s iPhones also get a new chip. Apple has used the same A15 Bionic chip on all the iPhone 13 series models and is claimed to be more powerful than any competing chipset in the market. The iPhone 13 comes with a new 6-core CPU with two performance and four efficiency cores.
The Pro models also get special treatment under the hood. They come with one additional GPU than the iPhone 13 but, it shouldn’t make a huge difference in your daily usage. You can seamlessly switch between apps, have multiple tasks going on in the background and the overall experience is quite smooth.
The iPhone 13 delivers a good gaming performance as well. Battlegrounds Mobile India ran seamlessly at Ultra HD graphics at Ultra frame rate. There were no drops in frame rates and the gameplay felt polished.
We did a gaming test on the iPhone 13 and the side frame only started to feel warm after 17-18 minutes. The rear panel or rest of the body didn’t get warm at all even after 30 minutes of gaming.
A major change this year that actually matters is the base storage on the entry-level variant of iPhone 13 has been doubled from 64GB to 128GB. That’s a welcome move for anyone who uses iPhones to shoot videos or take a lot of images. The phone runs iOS 15 out of the box. It should be a familiar territory for any iPhone user. We have already covered everything new on iOS 15 so you can read it here.
Apple has used dual stereo speakers on the iPhone 13 and while I have used several flagship phones with this year with stereo speaker setup, Apple somehow manages to stay a long way ahead. The speakers are loud and clear. They are ideal for consuming media, listening to music and even for gaming. The in-game audio is crystal clear – be it the guns firing or the approaching footsteps.
iPhone 13 review: Battery
There is always a lot of ho-halla around the iPhone batteries. So, just like every year, Apple did the obvious — it used a bigger battery on the iPhone 13. It claimed that the iPhone 13 will provide two-and-a-half hours of more usage than the iPhone 12. Here is the thing — if you have the iPhone 12, you don’t need iPhone 13. So, there is point comparing the battery to the previous generation device.
For everyone else, here is what you need to know — the battery is genuinely good. During our battery test, we played Battlegrounds Mobile India on iPhone 13 for nearly 30 minutes and the battery was down by only 4 per cent. That’s impressive. Of course, we didn’t have any apps or tasks running in the background.
Even with normal usage, the phone managed to last from 10am in the morning to nearly midnight. This included camera testing, a bit of gaming, exchanging emails etc.
Yes, there is still no charging brick inside the box. So, if you have an Apple adapter from the past, take good care of it because you will probably end up using it for a few years to come. Apple is shipping the phone with a Type-C USB to lightning cable though. The phone also supports 15W wireless charging.
iPhone 13 review: Final verdict
You may look at iPhone 13 and think this is a not a huge upgrade on the iPhone 12. That’s somewhat true. Honestly, you shouldn’t even expect ground-breaking tech in every 12 months. Most fancy features introduced in a small cycle end up being useless and are often phased out. At the end of the day, any smartphone is defined by its reliability, longevity and utility. The iPhone 13 ticks all boxes.
You get improved performance, better battery life and upgraded cameras — at the same price at last year’s iPhone 12 (which by the way came with 64GB of storage on the base variant). The fact is iPhone 13 doesn’t even compete with iPhone 12 and as I said before, anyone on last year’s model should ideally skip it.
But, for anyone on a two- to three-year-old iPhone, the iPhone 13 is a massive upgrade in all departments and most importantly, it’s still available at a starting price of Rs 80,000.
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