iPhone 13 Pro review: Apple’s very best

Super-slick screen, better cameras with 3x optical zoom, good battery and speed make it tough to beat

The iPhone 13 Pro is a solid upgrade on last year’s model with a faster and slicker screen, a better camera with 3x optical zoom, longer battery life and a small price cut.

Apple’s latest Pro smartphone costs £949 ($799/A$1,349), which is £50 cheaper than its predecessor but still near the top of the market. It sits between the standard £779 iPhone 13 and the £1,049 iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The 13 Pro has the same luxurious looking stainless steel and glass sandwich design as last year, but the camera bump on the back is significantly larger and the screen is brighter with a smaller Face ID notch.

iphone 13 pro
The notch at the top of the screen is significantly smaller than on previous iPhones, but is a purely aesthetic change. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The new ProMotion screen is a significant upgrade. It runs at up to a 120Hz refresh rate – twice that of the regular iPhone 13 – and makes scrolling and other on-screen motion significantly smoother, rivaling Samsung’s very best. Faster-than-60Hz screens have been a mainstay of Apple’s iPad Pro line since 2017 and a feature of top Android phones since 2019’s OnePlus 7 Pro. As with pin-sharp retina screens before them, faster screens are like a ratchet: once you use one it is very difficult to go back.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.1in Super Retina XDR with ProMotion (120Hz OLED) (460ppi)

  • Processor: Apple A15 Bionic

  • RAM: 6GB

  • Storage: 128, 256, 512GB or 1TB

  • Operating system: iOS 15

  • Camera: Triple 12MP rear cameras with OIS, 12MP front-facing camera

  • Connectivity: 5G, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, Lightning, ultra wideband and location

  • Water resistance: IP68 (6 metres for 30 mins)

  • Dimensions: 146.7mm x 71.5mm x 7.7mm

  • Weight: 204g

Rapid performance and good battery life

iphone 13 pro
The phone fully charges in about 114 minutes, hitting 80% in 50 minutes using a 45W USB-C power adaptor (not included). Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iPhone 13 Pro has Apple’s latest A15 Bionic processor, with a five-core graphics chip, making it one of the most powerful phones you can buy. Combined with the new 120Hz screen the 13 Pro looks and feels considerably faster and more responsive than previous iPhones and keeps pace with slick Android competitors.

Battery life is good despite the new screen. The phone lasts about 42 hours between charges with the screen used for about six hours in that time, which is longer than most similarly sized rivals but slightly shorter than the regular iPhone 13. The phone will need charging every other night with normal use.

Sustainability

white iphone 13 pro
Apple’s great-looking redesign from last year’s iPhone remains, coming in various colours of glass and stainless steel including gold. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the iPhone 13 Pro’s battery but it can be replaced for £69. Batteries in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity after 500 full charge cycles. The smartphone is generally repairable, with an out-of-warranty screen replacement costing £266.44. The phone was awarded five out of 10 for repairability by the specialist site iFixit.

The iPhone 13 Pro uses 98% recycled rare earth metals, 99% recycled tungsten and 35% recycled plastic in various components, plus 100% recycled tin in the solder of its main board and battery management unit. The company breaks down the phone’s environmental impact in its report.

Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

iOS 15

iphone 13 pro
iOS 15 includes various new features such as the faster, local voice interpretation for Siri, improved notifications and “focus modes” for removing distractions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iPhone 13 Pro ships with iOS 15, which runs on all Apple’s smartphones from the 2015 iPhone 6S onwards.

Apple provides software updates for its smartphones for longer than any other manufacturer. You can expect at least five years of software and security updates but potentially as long as seven years.

Camera

iphone 13 pro
The camera app’s new ‘photographic styles’ feature lets you customise the balance between contrast, vibrancy and tone beyond simply applying filters, if you don’t like Apple’s default warmer-looking shots. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

There are three improved 12-megapixel cameras on the back: one main, one ultrawide angle and one telephoto with 3x optical zoom – a first for an iPhone. All three cameras are among the very best you can find on a phone.

The main and ultrawide cameras are much faster and more light sensitive than on previous models. The dedicated night mode is needed far less in darker scenes on the main camera and quicker when it is, and photos are sharper and less prone to handshake, particularly on the ultrawide camera. Portrait and HDR shots are improved too.

The 3x telephoto gets you closer to the action than previous 2x magnification of cameras, but falls far short of the 5x and 10x optical zoom rivals such as the Galaxy S21 Ultra offer. Still, it captures some of the very best telephoto images across a range of light levels, including with the dedicated night mode.

The 13 Pro finally has a dedicated macro photography mode, too, that uses the ultrawide camera to produce some sharp, detail-packed photos from as close as 2cm away from your subject that are only rivalled by Samsung’s best.

The 12MP selfie camera is good in bright light, but can struggle with sharpness and detail in lower light levels unless you’re very steady.

Video quality is still the best you can get on a phone and the new “cinematic mode”, which simulates an advanced cinematography technique called “rack focus”, is fun to play around with.

Observations

iphone 13 pro
The camera lump on the back is significantly larger than previous iPhones but similar in thickness to top phone rivals. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • Call quality was excellent.

  • The 13 Pro is weighty at 204g, which is 17g heavier than its predecessor and 30g more than the iPhone 13, but its narrow width still makes it easy to handle.

Price

The iPhone 13 Pro costs £949 ($999/A$1,699) with 128GB of storage, £1,049 ($1,099/A$1,869) for 256GB, £1,249 ($1,299/A$2,219) for 512GB or £1,449 ($1,499/A$2,569) for 1TB.

For comparison, the iPhone 13 costs £779, the iPhone 13 Pro Max costs £1,049, the Samsung Galaxy S21+ costs £949, the Galaxy S21 Ultra costs £1,149, the OnePlus 9 Pro costs £829 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 costs £949.

Verdict

Last year’s iPhone 12 Pro didn’t offer enough to make it worth the extra money over the excellent iPhone 12, but Apple has significantly beefed up the iPhone 13 Pro.

The super-slick 120Hz screen significantly improves the experience of using the phone, bringing it up to par with top Android phones. The cameras are some of the very best with a 3x optical zoom, better low light shots and added macro photography. Combined with its good battery life and top performance, no one makes a better modest-sized phone. Plus Apple will support it with software updates beyond five years making it a long-lasting purchase.

It is still an expensive, luxury phone that’s pretty heavy but not cutting-edge like flexible screen rivals. Like most new phones it is not worth upgrading to if you have a good recent model, either.

The iPhone 13 Pro is Apple’s best. Not only is it the top “smaller” phone this year, but it is one of the standout phones of 2021.

Pros: better cameras, 3x optical zoom, Face ID, longer battery life, great performance, brilliant 120Hz screen with smaller notch, durable and easy to hold, 5G, long software support.

Cons: no USB-C, need your own charger, heavy, expensive, not cutting edge.

iphone 13 pro
The solid-feeling stainless steel and glass construction makes the iPhone 13 Pro one of the most durable smartphones, but it will still crack if you drop it without a case. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Other reviews

Contributor

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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