iPhone 13 Pro & Pro Max review: The ultimate flagships [Video]

Every year we look forward to the new flagship iPhone. We expect it to bring something new to the table that revolutionizes the smartphone industry. But like it or not, iPhone 13 Pro & Pro Max are here to do something different. This year’s updates are far from revolutionary, and many users believe that the iPhone 13 Pro is what the 12 Pro should have been. But with everything Apple’s brought to the table this year, I think these are easily the best overall flagship smartphones you can buy right now.

Design

iPhone 13 Pro leaves very little to be desired as far as the design is concerned. The 13 Pro represents the second iteration of the stainless steel flat-edge design with a frosted matte glass back, and one year later, I’m still a big fan of the design language. The feel in the hand and usability is generally better for me with some sort of case, as a result of the hard edges, but other than that I have no complaints.

The larger iPhone 13 Pro Max is my daily driver, and I personally have no problems with the size. While it doesn’t bother me, I think Apple should consider tweaking the proportions for next year’s Pro Max iPhone, as I’ve heard from many users that the Max is just too wide for their hands – and compared to flagships like the Galaxy S21 Ultra or OnePlus 9 Pro; the iPhone 13 Pro Max is definitely a wide phone. Making the iPhone Pro Max more universally useable would only be celebrated.

Be sure to subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube!

Smaller Notch & Larger Camera Lenses

The notch housing the earpiece speaker, camera, and FaceID sensors is now 20% smaller in size. There’s nothing Apple’s done from a software standpoint to take advantage of this small increase in space on the display, but the smaller size of the notch is pretty noticeable if you’ve got a 12 series model to compare. With that being said, I believe the selling appeal of this update to the average consumer is likely going to be trivial. More people will pay attention once the notch is actually eliminated.

The camera lenses have also gotten noticeably larger in size, and I think this was more of a symbolic move than a technical one on Apple’s part. Apple has consistently put an emphasis on the Pro models’ camera system, so I believe that Apple increased the physical size of all the lenses to visually emphasize the performance of the cameras even further.

Apple introduced ProMotion for the iPad Pro more than five years ago. Now we finally have ProMotion on the iPhone. The display is capable of a 120Hz refresh rate, but it won’t necessarily be running at 120Hz all day. ProMotion utilizes an adaptive refresh rate, so depending on the task, the display could be at 10Hz, 30Hz, 120Hz, or somewhere in between.

12 Pro Max vs 13 Pro Max

The primary benefit of an adaptive refresh rate is to preserve battery life. If the display is running at 120Hz nonstop, you’re not exactly going to have an all-day battery. Thankfully, ProMotion is doing its job, because Apple hasn’t compromised battery performance in a noticeable way on either of the Pro models.

The only other change to the display outside of ProMotion is an increased maximum brightness. The new max for standard content is 1000 nits, which is 200 more than last year’s model. As far as daily usability is concerned, this is something I’ve struggled to find any value in coming from the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The difference in brightness is more noticeable on camera than in person.

13 Pro Max vs 12 Pro Max

While to some, these updates may seem somewhat mundane, you have to keep in mind that these are merely additions to an already fantastic screen. Colors, sharpness, brightness, and view-ability on the iPhone 12 Pros were already fantastic. Adding these new features to what they already have has made the experience even closer to perfect for everyday use.

A15 Bionic Performance

Modern iPhones in general are incredibly fast and smooth the majority of the time. It’s never an issue to endlessly game, browse the web, or capture photos and videos without a hiccup. So the 10% increase in overall power that the A15 provides is pretty negligible for day-to-day performance compared to last year. There’s a new 6-core CPU with a 5-Core GPU and 16-core neural engine. While the A15 is a very capable processor, the performance isn’t going to necessarily wow you unless you’re coming from a X or earlier.

However, there’s always more to the story with a new processor than pure performance figures. Any improved efficiency or software optimization that the chip provides must always be factored in, and I believe that’s how the A15 stands out compared to the A14. This processor is probably doing more on the backend for efficiency than on performance. All of the new software and hardware features (such as ProRes video recording) need a processor capable of running it.

Cameras

As per tradition with the Pro model iPhones, the camera is where you’ll find the bulk of the new features for this year. On a hardware front, very little has changed. The main wide-angle lens now has an f1.5 aperture instead of an f1.6, and the Ultra-wide Lens now has an f1.8 aperture instead of an f2.4. The Telephoto lens, however, has actually dropped down to f2.8 from f2.0 in the 12 Pro. This comes as Apple has increased the focal length of the lens from 58mm on the iPhone 12 Pro to 77mm on the iPhone 13 Pro.

You’re going to be hard-pressed to find any major differences in overall image quality between the 13 Pro and last year’s model, but that’s nothing to be upset about because the 12 Pro has a great camera system.