Earlier this year rumours swirled that Apple would skip the iPhone 13 due to superstition surrounding the world’s unluckiest number. Such a decision would have been warranted: in a sign that triskaidekaphobia is alive and well, one survey of 3,000 consumers revealed that nearly three-quarters would rather the new phone’s name didn’t include the spooky integer.
Nonetheless the Cupertino giant held firm and has launched a quartet of iPhone 13s – the regular; Mini; Pro; and Pro Max – whose jacked-up cameras and battery life have enough oomph between them to swat away any bad juju.
The looks won’t wow you. I’m trialling the Pro – which is nearly £200 more than the £779 regular model and comes with numerous additional features – and, like its counterparts, it’s a perfectly elegant slice of polished metal and glass whose flat edges sit neatly in the palm of your hand. But this aesthetic hasn’t really moved on from the 12 series, which has led some in the Twittersphere to describe the new iPhones as “boring”. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip3, whose screen bends in half like a yogi, the new 13 isn’t pushing the limits of a smartphone’s form.
It does have a smaller notch (that little black trough at the top of the display) than its predecessors, so you get slightly more usable screen, but it’s also a tad thicker and heavier across the series. And the camera humps on the backs of the Pro and Pro Max are so sizeable that, when the phone is on a flat surface facing up, it wobbles, which makes typing tricky and just feels a bit odd.
Yet such quibbles are easily dismissed when you consider the substantial practical enhancements – especially to stamina. The regular model can last for 15 hours playing a streaming video (compared with 11 hours on the iPhone 12), while for the Duracell Bunny-like Pro Max it’s an astounding 25 hours (more than double its precursor). They should comfortably last a full day without needing to approach a socket, which is the most valuable quality of all.
Other developments are sexier. All models have a brighter OLED screen and the Pro and Pro Max boast 120Hz displays, meaning their screens refresh 120 times a second, as opposed to 60 times on all other iPhones (and most other smartphones). That makes navigation and scrolling look sharper and feel silkier.
Much noise has been made about the cameras, and this is justified, especially for the Pro and Pro Max, whose powerful lenses rival the best on the market. A cinematic mode enables you to focus on individuals while blurring the background, which makes for more sophisticated videos. What will be more useful for most people, though, are the photography upgrades. All phones in the series have much-improved light gathering skills which means no scene is too shadowy to snap: a shot of east London’s skyline taken on a starless night had pin-sharp clarity and was so bright it resembled late afternoon. There’s a “photographic styles” function that essentially allows you to apply a filter before you’ve taken a photo, and make adjustments in real time, which is fairly neat too.
I had the most fun with the camera’s macro mode, which zooms in to capture the minutiae of an object – the fuzz on a peach; the fibres on a newspaper – in more detail than the naked eye. That this is only available on the Pro and Pro Max is another reason – in addition to the 120Hz screens and superior battery life – to splurge on these premium models. Irrespective of whether you do, you’ll know about their cameras’ impressive capabilities soon enough when your Instagram feed becomes inundated with blown-up images of the glistening bubbles in a latte’s foam.
Indeed, the macro mode seems an apt metaphor for the new iPhone: Apple has zeroed in on what matters most and nailed the details.