iPhone 13 Pro (/Max) review roundup

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Something of a cheat, in that I'm having to summarise other people's thoughts on the new iPhone 13 Pro range this year, since I'm not buying it (as in previous years), mainly because the update from 12 to 13 series is so relatively small. But I've been reading and watching the reviews and I thought it worth rounding up the verdicts, including some that highlight a serious shortcoming in the iPhone stills camera system - something that Apple should fix in a software update.

[As usual, cross-posted to AAWP for interest sake and because AAM isn't complete and/or discoverable yet.]

Before embedding the videos, I should summarise a little and draw out the top-level takeaways:

  • The 120Hz displays on the two 'Pro' devices seem to work well, varying up from 1Hz according to needs, though note that if you're over about 50 then your eyes won't really see any difference from the older 60Hz refresh rate.
  • The main Camera application has a 'trick' in which it switches from the main to the ultra-wide when it detects the subject is less than 14cm away, leading to a shift in framing and loss of bokeh, which is understandably annoying for anyone who knows what they're doing and wants to try an arty close-up optical bokeh. While useful as an option for new users, the new system just gets in the way for others and word on the street is that Apple has said they'll provide a toggle in Settings, in a future update, to turn this behaviour off.
  • The 'cinematic mode' in video capture is aimed at 'pros' but only possible in 1080p for performance reasons, which is a shame as 'pros' will want to be shooting in 4K. So best consider this just a 'portrait mode for video' for regular users and not to concentrate on the focus-change effects.
  • The much vaunted ProRes video capture mode isn't available yet, it'll come in an update. But note that this mode is strictly for video professionals - it uses insane amounts of disk space and 99.9% of users should never, ever need this.
  • Each of the iPhones (mini, standard, Pro, Pro Max) are a little heavier though with bigger batteries and longer battery life. Which is always good.
  • If you have an existing iPhone 12 series then there's little reason to pay to upgrade unless you're changing form factor or strike a particularly good trade in or contract deal.

From The Verge's written review:

The ProMotion display is the perfect example of what you get with the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. It’s an improvement that may only matter explicitly to a few but will subtly make life nicer for everybody who uses it. The battery life upgrade isn’t quite so subtle, of course.

As for the camera, I can see it both ways. When you’re sharing photos and videos to social media and looking at them on a phone, the differences are subtle at most — but they’re there if you look for them. And if you use your iPhone’s camera for more than just Instagram, you’ll appreciate the updates.

The list of significant things I have to complain about with these phones is almost astonishingly short. (Though, as you might expect, I can quibble for days about little things like the lack of a meaningful MagSafe ecosystem, the lightning port, or how iOS 15 handles notifications).

The story of the iPhone 13 Pro is a story of iteration, sure, but iteration matters. iPhone 12 Pro owners will have to pay a lot of attention to see some of the differences and an upgrade probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if you’re using something older, all that iteration comes on top of the major improvements from the iPhone 12 Pro — the upgrades will be very noticeable.
Either way, when you start to pay attention to the details, prepare to be impressed.

And now for a few video reviews, if you have the time. Firsly again from The Verge:

And from Rene Ritchie:

And from MKBHD:

That's enough for now, I think. Note that each of these reviews has been done with only five days to put them together, so none are exactly real world tests, borne of weeks of use, plus there are the features that Apple says it will add (or fix) in updates in the coming months. So expect more from longer term reviews if you're still in the market for an upgrade or switch later this year.

All of these opinions are from Apple-supplied review units, mainly in the USA. Notably, Apple UK PR is extremely restricted in who it sends review devices to, and I've never been on that list. So it'll be a while before I get my own hands-on time. But, from the thoughts so far, it does seem as though my existing iOS phone, the 12 Pro Max, is going to be quite good enough and that I'd only see marginal gains in spending over £1000 to get the 2021 models.