The ‘S’ year is always an interesting one for reviewers. Apple doesn’t use the S moniker on its iPhones anymore, but in many ways the iPhone 13 is to the iPhone 12 what an iPhone 6S was to the iPhone 6. Apple moved to the rounded iPhone designs with the iPhone 6, and the 6S was just slightly bigger, thicker and heavier than its predecessor. So is the case with the iPhone 13 and iPhone 12.
In fact, ‘bigger’ is essentially a theme with the iPhone 13. It’s not just bigger in your hand, it also has a bigger battery and bigger cameras. I could say the same about the iPhone 13 Mini. For the rest of this review, I’ll just talk about the iPhone 13, but remember that the 13 Mini does basically everything the iPhone 13 does, but on a smaller screen.
Apple says that this year’s phone will last a full two-and-a-half hours more on each charge than last year’s device. And that estimate is more or less true, at least based on my usage. The iPhone 13 lasts a full work day easily, as did the iPhone 12, but the iPhone 13 gets closer to midnight than its predecessor. You’ll still need a quick top up if you’re going out for a late-night party, but you should get by with an overnight charge on other days.
This only holds true for non-gamers though, or anyone else who uses their phone for resource intensive tasks, like video editing, watching hours of movies and video etc. But even then, you’ll get by with a single top-up charge a day, which is the industry standard nowadays.
Moving on, the iPhone 13’s big cameras do also make a difference. It’s basically an iPhone 13 Pro without the telephoto lens. The 13 and 13 Mini have bigger sensors for the wide and ultra-wide cameras on them. Which means that they resolve more light and enhance low-light shots. In fact, the sensor on the wide angle camera on this device has the same sensor that the iPhone 12 Pro Max from last year, and that phone just happened to have the best smartphone camera on the market in 2020.
Technically, the iPhone 13’s camera is ‘better’ than the iPhone 12, but it’s nigh impossible to tell the difference unless you’re pixel peeping. The iPhone 13 produces sharp photos with more true-to-life colours than competing Samsung or Google devices, and it creates brighter photos in low-light conditions too.
You can even use the Photographic Styles and Cinematic Mode, which are Apple’s “pro” features for this year. The former is a machine learning (ML) enhanced version of today’s camera filters, while the other is basically a portrait mode for videos. Photographic styles understands the subjects in your photos and applies a filter accordingly, while Cinematic Mode allows you to change focus from the foreground to the background when shooting video.
Photographic Styles are an interesting addition to iPhones, and as I said in the iPhone 13 Pro review, it’s an admission that Samsung and Google were right — users do prefer photos with less than natural colours. Cinematic Mode, on the other hand, feels more like a first-generation feature, which will take time to evolve. It doesn’t work in low-light and its real benefits may be lost on those who don’t really care about shooting ‘cinematic’ video. After all, you don’t really worry about focus and bokeh when you’re shooting a video of your friends behaving comically at a party, do you?
I already mentioned the bigger size, but it makes sense to give it its own section. The iPhone 13 is quite noticeably lighter than the 13 Pro, but I know that only because I had the chance to hold both phones next to each other.
More importantly, the bigger size means that the iPhone 13 is no longer a truly ‘compact’ device like its predecessor. The Mini still fits that bill, but it will last at least a couple of hours’ shorter on each charge. The fact that smartphones have become as big as they have shows that users want large devices, but for users like me who like compact, pocketable phones, it’s a niggle.
Should you buy it?
The post-pandemic year has been an interesting one for smartphone companies. Everyone wants a new smartphone, but companies can’t meet the demand. But the good thing about that demand is that a lot of first time buyers will enter the market in countries like India, which means incrementally updated devices like the iPhone 13 have more of a sheen.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying first time smartphone buyers are going to buy iPhones. But Apple’s market share in India has been growing gradually, which is a sign that as most premium smartphone sellers struggle to supply devices, Apple is gaining new users. And if you’re coming from a high-end Android phone, an iPhone 13 will at least feel new, even if it’s not always an upgrade.
Essentially, if you have anything but an iPhone 12, the iPhone 13 will feel like an upgrade. It’s also a viable alternative to the premium Android phone you may have saved in your cart. But there’s a catch.
Apple’s iPhones aren’t cheap, and Diwali offers on the iPhone 12 series make them quite attractive to prospective first-time iPhone buyers too. If the question you’re asking is whether an iPhone 12 is worth buying, the answer is a resounding yes. If the Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles don’t interest you and a couple of hours extra battery life is something you can do without, buy that one.