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Apple iPhone 13 Pro review: The best of the best

iPhone 13 Pro upright feature image.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro
MSRP $999.00
“The iPhone 13 Pro packs plenty of power under the hood with a 120Hz display, excellent camera capabilities, tons of storage, and endless battery life.”
Pros
  • Packs lots of power into the size
  • Incredible camera and video performance
  • Very long-lasting battery
  • Smooth and responsive 120Hz screen
  • Comes with 1TB storage option
Cons
  • No USB-C
  • Not all third-party apps are optimized for higher refresh screen

I’ll say it upfront; the iPhone 13 Pro is the new iPhone model you should buy if you can afford it. Unlike last year’s iPhone 12 Pro, it has all the same capabilities as the larger Pro Max model. You’ll remember that last year, the 12 Pro Max had bigger camera sensors, giving it better lowlight performance and 3x optical zoom, rather than 2x.

Not so this year. The iPhone 13 Pro has all the guts of the 13 Pro Max (aside from battery capacity and screen size, of course) without busting your hand or your wallet. Add into the mix the powerful A15 Bionic processor, 120Hz ProMotion display, battery life that can last almost two days, and excellent camera performance, and you get the best iPhone 13 model in the entire lineup.

Design  

The iPhone 13 Pro I reviewed came in gold, which isn’t my color of choice, but you work with what you have. Both the front and the back are protected by Ceramic Glass and there’s a squared-off stainless steel strip running along the sides, setting it apart in quality from the cheaper aluminum of the iPhone 13.

All the standard buttons are present including the Ring/Silent switch and volume buttons on the left and the Side button on the right to activate Siri and toggle the screen on and off. There are also bottom-firing speakers on either side of the Lightning port. As I’ve pointed out with other iPhone 13 models I’ve reviewed, it’s a letdown to see Apple continue to stick to Lightning, especially when most people largely have USB-C devices. But I hold out hope that Apple will make the change for next year’s model.

iPhone 13 Pro style shot.
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The iPhone 13 Pro measures 5.78 x 2.81 x 0.3 inches and weighs 7.2 ounces. Those are more or less the same dimensions as the iPhone 12 Pro (5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches), but it tips the scale at almost an ounce heavier (6.66 ounces) due to the additional battery capacity and telephoto lens, both of which are welcome additions that are worth the extra weight. In terms of usability, I found it to be as usable as the iPhone 13 — you can navigate it with one hand and reach across the screen. It’s only with the Pro Max that you start pushing the limits of one-handed use.

Like all the other iPhone models, the iPhone 13 supports IP68 dust- and water-resistance. I confess that came into play more often than I expected because the phone took a few spills in the park while I was juggling devices around during testing. That’s also how it picked up a gouge on the screen despite the Ceramic Glass protecting the front. It’s usually not visible unless the light reflects on it just so and it doesn’t impact usability. And if you’re more careful than me and not doing a circus act in the park (or you are using a case or screen protector), you likely won’t suffer from this issue.

In terms of physical differences between the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro, there aren’t too many. The TrueDepth sensor has a 20% smaller notch on the screen according to Apple, which is true, but it’s also a bit deeper, and as far as I could tell, it doesn’t add a meaningful amount of usable screen real estate. As always, there’s Face ID, which I generally found to be hit-or-miss when wearing a face mask. You can do some alternate face scans to make it work better, but it also isn’t as secure, so I decided not to go for it.

iPhone 13 Pro notch.
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

On the back, the sensor array is pretty similar to last year. There’s a vaguely square camera housing and three cameras. The only notable difference is that each camera sensor is bigger, and the camera bump protrudes a bit more. That’s a fair trade-off for the improved camera performance in my estimation.

Display

There are a lot of selling points for the iPhone 13 Pro, but one of the biggest is the screen, and we don’t mean in just size. Like the iPhone 13, it’s a 6.1-inch Super Retina OLED screen with great color accuracy, 2532 x 1170 resolution, and 460 pixels per inch. It’s sharp, bright viewing angles are great, it can hit 1,000 nits in brightness, and punch up to 1,200 nits for HDR content. Outdoor visibility is excellent even in direct sunlight, and the screen also supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

That’s all fantastic, but what really sets it apart is the 120Hz ProMotion display. ProMotion is a technology that first hit the iPad Pro series in 2017, letting Apple increase the refresh rate from the standard 60Hz to 120Hz for different kinds of content. This has become standard on Android flagship phones, but it’s a tech that Apple has been slow to adopt outside the iPad Pros, so it’s great to see it on both the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.

What’s particularly unique about Apple implementation of ProMotion is that the iPhone 13 Pro uses a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) panel, meaning that it’s able to dynamically vary the refresh rate from as low as 10Hz when doing something basic like browsing to up to 120Hz for something demanding like rapidly scrolling or gaming. This kind of implementation was first developed for the always-on screen of the Apple Watch to save battery life, and it has the same effect on the iPhone 13 Pro, but I’ll touch more on that in the battery section.

In actual usage, the ProMotion OLED screen is smooth and fantastic to use. As someone who was using the 120Hz-capable Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 before picking up the iPhone 13 Pro, the transition was seamless in terms of usability and smoothness, despite the change in display size. And don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t notice the difference.

After getting used to 120Hz, it’s impossible to go back, which does bring me to the one downside of the implementation – not all apps run in 120Hz. Most of the games I tested max out at 60 frames per second (fps), and at the time of testing, many third-party app animations weren’t enabled for 120Hz, meaning animations looked stuttery while scrolling was smooth. All this will undoubtedly change over time as more app developers enable support for ProMotion, but it’s something to be mindful of.

I don’t usually comment on speaker quality since there’s only so much you can do on a phone speaker, but the iPhone 13 Pro has remarkably robust stereo speakers. They don’t suffer from much distortion, even at higher volumes, and offer good range.

Performance, battery life, and connectivity

To some extent, it feels a little pointless to talk about performance on the latest iPhone model. It’s the iPhone 13 Pro; it has the latest and greatest A15 Bionic processor with 6GB RAM, so of course, it’s going to be an improvement over what came before it. You get various large storage options, including 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB, which is what the model I tested had. That’s a significant amount of storage, letting you download tons of apps and games and take plenty of photos and video. I didn’t even come close to filling it up during my testing.

I know I said benchmarks were pointless to run on the latest iPhone, but I ran them anyway, and the results 9below) confirmed the phone’s powerful capabilities. I was able to launch plenty of apps and play demanding games like Genshin Impact and Asphalt 9. The iPhone 13 Pro will handle everything you can throw at it, and then some.

AnTuTu: 823,553
Storage Read/Write: 1635.3/1768.6 MB/s
RAM Read/Write: 205.8/83.2 MB/s
3Dmark Wild Life Extreme:  56.4 fps

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro.
iPhone 12 Pro (left) and iPhone 13 Pro (right) Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The iPhone 13 Pro is a battery king. Not quite so much as the Pro Max, but it still lasted for well over a day. If I really wanted to, I could go almost two days before needing to recharge. A lot of this is due to optimized power usage from combining the larger A15 Bionic processor and the LTPO screen with its variable refresh rate. The cell is also larger at 3,095mAh compared to the 2,815mAh battery that came with the iPhone 12 Pro. The result is hours more runtime with average usage, even as a power user.

The iPhone 13 Pro is a battery king.

As with all the other iPhone 13 models, the Pro is MagSafe compatible, supports 20-watt fast wired charging, 15W MagSafe charging, and 7.5W Qi wireless charging.

Connectivity is as good as you’d expect, with support for 5G, Ultra Wideband, sub-6GHz, and mmWave. I tested on T-Mobile in the greater NYC area, and while it didn’t live up to expected 5G speeds, connectivity was pretty stable overall. The phone also supports dual-band Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.

Cameras and video

The iPhone 13 Pro, together with its larger sibling, has the best camera array in the lineup. You get three 12-megapixel sensors: A 12MP wide-angle, a 12MP telephoto, and a 12MP ultrawide that can take 120-degree snaps. This camera array translates into truly incredible photo outcomes. At launch, the Camera app has you set your preferred filter. For this review (and personal preference), all photos were taken in Standard mode, which is most true to life.

All the shots taken outdoors in bright sunlight were excellent. Both the standard and ultrawide cameras picked up plenty of detail and accurate color. The rich blueness of the sky, the fluffy white clouds, the green grass, the reflections and ripples of the pond, and even the fine details of individual tree branches all came across great.

Also notable is how well the phone handled shots in direct sunlight. Blazing sun tends to be a big challenge for phones, even flagships. The iPhone 13 Pro handled it like a — dare I say it – pro. Even when the sun was a blazing orb in the sky, it didn’t completely wash out the photo or cast everything into shadow. There was some darkness to the image and some colors, especially muddiness to tree canopies, but Apple’s software processing is clearly at play here, and it’s impressive to see.

Also worthy of praise is the detail in both the ultrawide and telephoto lenses.

Also worthy of praise is the detail in both the ultrawide and telephoto lenses. While I did sometimes notice a bit of edge distortion when shooting in telephoto, by and large, it came across with outstanding clarity and detail. It’s also a champ at focusing on what’s most relevant in the photo, a fact we noted in our deep-dive comparisons with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, where the iPhone 13 Pro generally came out on top more often than not when it came to focusing. At the same time, the Ultra won out in sheer 10x optical zoom.

Aside from the 3x telephoto zoom, the other big feature at play on the iPhone 13 Pro is macro photography. Normally, when you focus in close on an object, the phone loses focus and blurs out. It just can’t handle the focal length. The iPhone 13 Pro, on the other hand, can swap to the zoom lens to give you a very close focus on objects. This kicks in automatically, and while the outcome doesn’t always work out, when it does, the results look great, with lots of detail, like the stitching in a crocheting piece or the individual veins in a leaf.

The one downside is that since this is entirely automatic, you can’t manually force the phone into macro mode, so if you try to shoot macro on a moving object like a flower blown by the wind, it’s easy to get kicked in and out of macro mode.

Last but by no means least when it comes to photography are lowlight photos. The iPhone 13 Pro has a Night mode that takes effect automatically when it detects lighting conditions aren’t ideal. It largely works by increasing autoexposure so that a photo that might have snapped immediately will instead take five to seven seconds to let in more light for an image with better clarity. The outcome is photos taken at night and in dark rooms are a lot clearer than you usually get, with better color accuracy. There’s some loss of detail and muddiness, but it’s still an impressive result in most shots I took.

Cinematic mode is supported on both the rear and front cameras. It’s a neat effect that adds a movie-like blur to the background. It works best when focusing on faces, but it tends to be hit-and-miss with objects. You also get Portrait mode, which adds the bokeh effect to both front and rear shots. It’s neat, and I ended up snapping several shots outdoors and playing around with the background.

Solid #iPhone13Pro pic.twitter.com/mkTRl8xXDB

— AJ (┛ಠ_ಠ)┛彡┻━┻ (@Ajay_H_Kumar) September 26, 2021

Adding on to an already impressive set of capabilities is the iPhone 13 Pro’s video recording capabilities. It can handle 4K at 24/30/60 fps and 1080p at 30/60 fps. I recorded smooth and steady 4K video of a plane flying overhead with almost no shake or loss of focus that I could notice. It’s rare to get that level of stabilization on a phone without the assistance of a gimbal.

Software and features

The iPhone 13 Pro updates to iOS 15 out of the box. We took a deeper dive into individual features that rolled out with the operating system, but the notable ones are improved notification summaries, support for text scanning in the camera app, tabs for Safari, and future support for storing immunization records and other data.

iPhone 13 Pro home screen.
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

This review isn’t an evaluation of iOS versus Android. We have plenty of those sorts of pieces if that’s what you’re interested in, and by now, you already likely know which ecosystem you prefer. However, I will note that this release of iOS had more bugs at launch than I’ve typically seen. Aside from the app optimization for the 120Hz screen and the hit-or-miss Face ID, I also had an issue with the phone not unlocking with my Apple Watch Series 6. Apple has acknowledged this issue, though, and it should be fixed in the next update.

Price and availability

The iPhone 13 Pro is currently available on sale for a starting price of $999 in blue, silver, gold, and graphite color options. It also has 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB storage size options and works with all major U.S. carriers. The only thing to be mindful of when you pick storage size, aside from your needs, is that ProRes recording at 4K 30 fps is only supported with a minimum of 256GB storage.

Our take

The iPhone 13 Pro is the best iPhone you can get. Giving you the form factor of the iPhone 13, a 120Hz screen, excellent camera performance, tons of battery life, and ludicrous storage options, it truly is a phone for power users. It was a joy to use as my daily driver, and you won’t be disappointed if you shell out for it.

Is there a better alternative?

In terms of hardware, the iPhone 13 Pro is the best model in the lineup, but if you want a longer-lasting battery and a bigger screen, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has everything in the Pro, just bigger. The iPhone 13 is more affordable, but it’s pared-down with no 120Hz screen, telephoto lens, or support for macro photos> It also doesn’t have a 1TB storage option. The iPhone 13 Mini is an even smaller version with the same hardware, making it a good choice if you love small phones. If you have an iPhone 12 Pro, our camera test didn’t show much difference between the two devices and it likely isn’t worth upgrading.

If you’re willing to switch to Android, the Samsung Galaxy S21, OnePlus 9 Pro, and upcoming Google Pixel 6 can all offer equal or better camera performance, just as much power, and plenty of unique features. Android manufacturers also tend to be more innovative with adopting new tech like folding screens, giving you options like the Z Flip 3 and Fold 3.

How long will it last?

Standard warranty for the iPhone 13 Pro is one year, but you can get Apple Care+ to extend it for 2 to 3 years and cover two instances of accidental damage every 12 months. The phone is also IP68 water- and dust-resistant, letting it survive full immersion and rinsing in the sink. I did personally suffer a superficial gouge when I dropped the phone on rocky ground without a case, but that’s hardly standard use and easy to avoid. Apple is also great about software and security updates, so your iPhone 13 Pro should feel like new for three years or more.

Should you buy it?

Yes. There’s no question that the iPhone 13 Pro is the best model in the entire lineup, with all the same capabilities as the Pro Max without the bulk or the bigger hit to your wallet.

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