iPhone 13 Pro review: Refinement redefined

Is it worth every bit of the asking price? We find out...

author_img Tushar Kanwar Published :  01st November 2021 03:45 PM   |   Published :   |  01st November 2021 03:45 PM
iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of the iPhone 12 Pro. It was a good phone, but one that was stuck between a really great phone and a potentially even better one in last year’s iPhone lineup. My recommendation to readers and friends alike was this – save your cash and pick up the nearly-there iPhone 12, or spend a bit extra and get the unquestionably better iPhone 12 Pro Max, a phone that just felt more pro than the Pro.

That buying advice changes this year, with the iPhone 13 Pro. Not only has Apple bucked the trend of iterative biennial upgrades with significant improvements to display, battery and cameras even when compared to the iPhone 12 Pro series, it has done so without the feature disparity that plagued last year’s Pro. Is it worth every bit of the asking price, though? Here’s my take on the iPhone 13 Pro.

Straight up, the iPhone 13 Pro looks remarkably similar to the iPhone 12 Pro, save for two differences: a marginally 20% smaller notch and an even bigger camera bump on the rear, both of which are only really noticeable if you’re placing this year’s model alongside last year’s model. There is a new signature ‘Sierra Blue finish’ for this year’s Pro lineup, which is the color to get if you’re the sort who needs to flaunt that you’re carrying the latest iPhone! What’s more noticeable is the bump in weight, attributable largely to bigger batteries and camera lenses. Combined with the stainless-steel frame, this phone has some added heft, even for folks who’ve used last year’s 12 Pro. Despite the rest of the iPad and Mac lineup moving to USB-C, the now almost-legacy Lightning port remains, ostensibly to retain compatibility with thousands of ecosystem products. The looming issue is that this is a Pro phone, and the speed of the Lightning port is fast becoming the bottleneck particularly when it comes to transferring gigabytes of pro-quality camera footage (you do get a new 1TB storage option if you’re ready to fork over Rs. 1,69,900 for it). Well, at least the somewhat ‘safe’ design changes allow the spotlight to remain firmly trained on the big display and camera upgrades, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

The same size 6.1-inch OLED panel on the front may look just as good as last year’s displays, with the same colors accuracy, high contrast levels and great viewing angles, but “typical” brightness levels are a tad higher at 1000nits (1200nits peak for HDR content). Whether I was playing the sublime Genshin Impact or watching Netflix stream Our Planet in all of its HDR glory, the iPhone display delivered in every regard. Of course, the big improvement is that the screen finally refreshes at 120Hz with Apple’s ProMotion tech, up from the 60Hz panels on all iPhones thus far. ProMotion ratchets up and down the resolution based on what’s on the screen – higher refresh rate for UI navigation and supported games, lower refresh rate for reading text or watching streaming video. Plenty of iPad Pros feature this tech already, and Android phones have featured 120Hz for some time now, so what’s 120Hz ProMotion finally like to use on an iPhone?

At its most basic, every action while using the phone’s interface feels a bit faster - scrolling on web pages is smoother and multitasking between apps feels that much more responsive. Games that support the faster refresh rates feel more fluid, and the effect will be more noticeable as more apps unlock the faster refresh rates with updated versions. But here’s the thing – iOS animations, even on older phones, were slick and smooth to begin with, so the jump from a 60Hz iPhone 12 Pro Max to a 120Hz iPhone 13 Pro Max, while occasionally noticeable, isn’t as significant as the equivalent jump on the Android side of things, so your visual (and perceptual) mileage will vary. If anything, I’d have wanted the ProMotion to go all the way down to 1Hz (currently 10Hz), which would have enabled the always-on display that Apple has used to great effect on the Apple Watch, without a significant drain on battery life.

Contributing equally to the responsiveness of the Pro is the A15 Bionic chipset which, with its five-core graphics chip, keeps Apple’s ahead in the mobile processor race. Playing Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9 on the Pro is a delight, with the phone keeping up with the highest visual quality settings. If you’ve used a recent iPhone off late, all this is almost a given, but what surprised me was how frugal the new iPhones are in terms of battery consumption across the board. I’ll get to the insanity that is the battery life on the iPhone 13 Pro Max in my full review, but it’s safe to say even the smaller Pro pushes through a day of heavy use or about seven hours of screen use – Slack/WhatsApp, streaming 4K content and shooting 4K videos, gaming, emails, phone calls – and you can push a day and a half if you’re a light user. There are several reasons for this bump up in battery life, from how the ProMotion display sips power to the A15 Bionic efficiencies and even bigger batteries, but if this the sort of battery performance one gets, even with the noticeable weight gains, sign me up! Apple doesn’t include chargers with the new iPhones, so you’ll need to pick up a compatible 20W charger or one of many third-party Type-C chargers.

Now, unlike last year where you had to pick up the iPhone 12 Pro Max if you wanted the sensor-shift image stabilization, this year both the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max come with the exact same camera, which is a relief for those wanting the best iPhone photography experience sans the extra dimension of the Pro Max. You get a triple camera array with a 12MP primary sensor with an f/1.5 lens, a 12MP f/1.8 ultra-wide with a 120-degree field of view and a 12MP 77mm telephoto with 3x optical zoom…plus the LIDAR sensor on the rear (previously seen on the iPhone 12 Pro Max) which aids in low-light portraits and augmented reality applications. With the ultrawide now doubling up on macro duties, new Photographic styles and Apple’s claims that the primary and ultra-wide cameras were capable of letting in a lot more light, this was an overhauled camera system I was eager to test.

 

Well-lit daylight photos are, no surprise, stunning, with the Pro’s bigger pixels affording more natural depth and detail, and the Smart HDR system doing an excellent job of handling dynamic range and colors even in trickier situations. The Photographic Styles feature on the 13 series allows for flexibility on how your shots look, from a ‘standard’ neutral iPhone color palette or a ‘rich contrast’ Pixel-like look or even a Samsung-esque vibrant, aside from warm or cool looks. You need to set these before shooting, and these are not merely filters – they change the way the iPhone reads the image, while adjusting for facial tones so you’re not getting jaundiced looks on your subjects even if you pick the warm style.

 

 

Portraits have that natural dreamy bokeh, even if framing a portrait shot is still a little fidgety. 3x zoom levels are handy for portraits, but they’re clearly bested by current flagship Androids that simply afford more reach. The macro via the ultrawide is very similar to what we’ve seen on Samsung flagships, where the camera app automatically switches to the Macro mode when you get up close on a subject (up to 2cm away). It’s automatic and a little too seamless (no manual macro selection, something Apple has fixed somewhat in iOS 15.1), but the macro results are fantastic.

It's at night where the big differences are seen, with the wider aperture lens ensuring that the iPhone 13 Pro ends up relying on the dedicated Night mode far less. Shots taken with bare minimum lighting still show good levels of details and natural colors, and light sources are correctly exposed. Noise levels are restrained, and the ultrawide is excellent in low light.


 

 

Over on the video side, there’s a new Cinematic mode, which can be simplistically described as ‘Portrait mode for video’. It takes the premise further by adding in the cinematic concepts of focus racking, automatically switching focus points if a face turns away or a new subject enters the frame. It’s early days for Cinematic Mode and it’s limited to 1080p 30fps, but I’ve used it successfully for our all-new video coverage of gadgets and can only expect it’ll improve. New to the recently released iOS 15.1 is support for ProRes recording, a pro-focussed format that allows for greater post-production flexibility, and I’ll touch on that in my iPhone 13 Pro Max review. No significant upgrades to the front 12MP selfie camera, though.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a ‘Rs. 1,19,900 onwards’ phone, but this year’s iPhone 13 Pro steps out triumphantly from the Pro Max’s shadows as the ultimate iPhone for regular sized hands. Improved battery life, exceptional cameras (with unmatched video capabilities) and top-notch displays and processing tick all the boxes for what is undoubtedly a highly refined premium flagship. This is a phone that will hold you in good stead for years to come, particularly if you’re a content creator who can take advantage of the ‘pro’ ProRAW and ProRes camera capabilities and video production prowess of the Pro variants. Even if you’re on a recent iPhone, the substantial benefits this year’s Pro delivers may tempt the well-heeled to upgrade.

iPhone 13 Pro

Pros: Excellent display, premium build, great battery life, class leading performance, versatile cameras and unmatched video performance

Cons: Heavy, pricey, 20W charging speeds

Rating: 9/10

Price: Rs. 1,19,900 for 128GB onwards

 

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