iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro launched at Apple's California Streaming event on Tuesday, as predicted, rumoured, and leaked for nearly a year now. The new iPhone models have narrower notches, tweaked cameras, and … not a whole lot else. Apple held its typical keynote-style event, which though virtual by necessity, was not short of superlatives and praise for every little detail. But while the gap between the Pro and regular models has reduced, the fact is that there was not too much to get excited about.
The new iPhones are exactly the same shapes and sizes as their immediate predecessors, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro series, give or take a few millimetres. They come in different colours, sure. On the front, we have slightly narrower (but taller) notches, and I don't think this is a significant improvement. I'd love to be able to see my battery level percentage again, if that's allowed, but given how quickly the Android world realised that notches were not worth copying, Apple does not really come out ahead here.
On the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, there are still only two rear cameras, and they're now in an awkward diagonal arrangement – a rare example of Apple going with something so anti-minimalist. The non-Pro models don't get a dedicated optical telephoto camera, and they also can't use their wide-angle cameras to take macros, which is something even bargain-bin Android phones have been capable of for a while now.
Cinema Mode and Photographic Styles are the two big new camera features, and it doesn't look like they're coming to older iPhones with future versions of iOS. These are both big value-adds for anyone really interested in the art of photography or cinematography, but they aren't for situations where you'll just whip out your phone to quickly grab a shot of what's going on around you, or even for photos and videos you'd regularly take of people, places and events. They're for times when you are able to carefully consider how to frame a subject, what sort of expression to capture, and what nuance you as a photographer want to bring to your work.
Will this be interesting for hobbyists and financially constrained filmmakers? Sure. Does the average person want to put this much thought into everyday photos? Unlikely.
Of course generational camera quality improvements are always a good thing, especially when you get new devices at the same prices as outgoing models. Low-light performance should be good across the board, and sensor-shift stabilisation will make a subtle difference in all kinds of situations.
Thankfully, there are no major functional camera differences within each pair of iPhones – the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have identical specifications, as do the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. The Pros don't just have an additional telephoto camera though; their wide and ultra-wide cameras are not the same as the ones you get on the non-Pro models. Reviews will show how much of a difference there will be in real-world usage. However, while you don't need the biggest and best iPhone to get the top-end features anymore, do note that ProRes video recording is limited to 1080p rather than 4K on the 128GB storage variants – likely due to flash memory read and write speeds – so you still have a to spend a bit more than the entry-level price to get all the best capabilities.
Improved camera hardware and software are the main attractions of the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max
When it comes to raw power, while the new A15 Bionic SoC is at the heart of all four new iPhones, the two Pro models get one additional GPU core. Just like with many recent Macs powered by Apple's M1 SoC, GPU power is being used to differentiate between price tiers. This should have some effect on gaming as well as video encoding performance. Apple doesn't go into much detail about SoC frequencies or thermal characteristics, only telling us that there are two high-performance cores and four power-efficient ones. Notably, this keynote was also light on performance comparisons – except that Apple considers itself multiple generations ahead of its competition, which actually tells us that last year's products are still great.
What else do the new iPhones bring to the table? Battery life is improved by up to two and a half hours, which is great. If you want a 120Hz refresh rate, you'll have to go for one of the Pro models since this is inexplicably a differentiating factor between the families. The Ceramic Shield front, IP68 rating, and MagSafe accessory compatibility all seem to be brought forward from last year, unchanged.
Then of course there's iOS, the iCloud ecosystem, easy integration with Apple Watch, Macs, and AirPods, and Apple's familiar appeals to security and privacy. There's the promise of software updates for several years; long beyond what any Android phonemaker so far has been able to deliver. All four phones will be built superbly, with top-quality materials and finishes. iPhone displays always look great, the speakers are fine, and there's nothing to complain about in terms of call quality.
iPhone prices do tend to slide over time, and we can often find attention-grabbing discounts on previous-gen models when major ecommerce websites hold their sales. Even if we consider the new official MRPs, the iPhone 12 family still looks great. The iPhone 12 mini (Review) now costs Rs. 59,900 for 64GB, Rs. 64,900 for 128GB, and Rs. 74,900 for 256GB, compared to the iPhone 13 mini which costs Rs. 69,900 for the 128GB, Rs. 79,900 for 256GB and Rs. 99,900 for 512GB.
Cinematic mode automatically changes focus as subjects move around or shift their gaze
There's some overlap when you consider the iPhone 12 (Review), which now costs Rs. 65,900 for 64GB, Rs. 70,900 for 128GB and Rs. 80,900 for 256GB, versus the iPhone 13 priced at Rs. Rs. 79,900 for 128GB, 89,900 for 256GB and Rs. 1,09,900 for 512GB. Would you rather buy the newer iPhone 13 mini or the larger iPhone 12 at the same price? That will be an interesting point to consider in our full review.
The iPhone 12 Pro (Review) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (Review) have officially been discontinued but we're sure to see them continue to sell for a while. If they drop to under Rs. 1,00,000 (like the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max recently did), they'll be well worth considering even over the non-pro iPhone 13.
The iPhone 13 Pro will set you back by Rs. 1,19,900 for 128GB, Rs. 1,29,900 for 256GB, Rs. 1,49,900 for 512GB and Rs. 1,69,900 for 1TB. The iPhone 13 Pro Max costs exactly Rs. 10,000 more per tier, making the 1TB variant at Rs. 1,79,900 the most expensive iPhone ever. You probably don't need 1TB of space unless you're a filmmaker, but 128GB will limit your video recording aspirations so the middle-ground options would make the most sense. If you want the latest and greatest, this is what it will cost.
On the flipside, there are still annoying restrictions that iPhone users have to live with – limited UI customisation, a locked filesystem, no easy Bluetooth file transfers, expensive accessories, and the proprietary Lightning port (with no charging adapter in the box). More than any of that, it's incredibly hard to dismiss the fact that you can get several equivalent or better features in Android phones priced anywhere from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 45,000.
Despite all of this, iPhones will always have takers. It's hard to counter the appeal. In India, even old models are in high demand because of the lure of the brand. With Apple including India in the first wave of countries, this launch is right in time for this year's festival shopping season and major ecommerce sale events. There's just this question that you should consider before you buy: have the iPhone 13 models finally crossed the point of diminishing generational benefits? We'll have the answer to that question soon, once we carry out our detailed reviews of these new iPhones.