Apple’s iPhone 13 and 13 Mini build on a working formula

Apple’s new iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, like other recent Apple releases, are tweaks to a working formula rather than reinventions of the iPhone. They’re available for preorder now, with shipments set for Sept. 24 with the 13 Pro and Pro Max.

Let’s talk about how the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini performed, the major enhancements, and who should consider upgrading after five days of testing.

Who, What, and How

Who this is for: If you currently own an iPhone 11 or older, this is a fantastic opportunity to upgrade. Both the 13 and 13 Mini provide a substantially speedier experience in a more modern design than previous iPhone models. The cameras on the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are also among the best we’ve seen, thanks to enhanced hardware and software that allows you to take photos in practically any setting without introducing lower-quality elements. While these improvements are notable, they don’t differ significantly from what the iPhone 12 has to offer, so users using last year’s smartphone shouldn’t feel compelled to upgrade.

What you should know: Apple kept the sleek and flat style of last year’s new iPhones with the iPhone 13 Mini and 13 but updated the dual-camera system, trimmed down the notch, and increased battery life. Furthermore, for the same price, the entry-level storage has been increased to 128GB from 64GB. Let’s be clear: the 13 Mini and 13 have the same functionality as the 13 except for the screen size.

How does it compare to the iPhone 12?: The iPhone 13 performs similarly to the iPhone 12. Photo exports will be speedier, and gaming will be more fluid for power users. The camera is noticeably better, both physically and in terms of software. Those who have an iPhone 11 or older, on the other hand, will experience a substantial performance boost when running applications and shooting images, but will not notice a slowdown in normal or intensive use. While you can’t utilize two applications at once, having a lot of them running in the background won’t slow you down or drain your battery.


The camera is the most noticeable difference between years, and we’re not just talking about the increased lens size (which accounts for the new diagonal layout).

The primary camera remains a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens that can be used in practically any situation. You’ll obtain photographs that are rich in detail, well-lit, and color-accurate. The largest sensor ever in an iPhone is helping to provide these enhancements, which means higher-quality images as a rule of thumb.

With stabilization incorporated into this lens, the other piece of the jigsaw is less blurry photos. It was a tremendous aid against shaky hands after a long day of filming, and even with a considerable tremor flowing through the hand holding the gadget, it managed to provide a clear shot. It’s not quite professional, but it should help you improve your Instagram game. It debuted on the iPhone 12 Pro Max in 2020, so it’s great to see it make its way down to the 13 and 13 Mini.

The main 12-megapixel lens is practically flawless, and we were able to take clear photos with the iPhone 13 or 13 Mini regardless of the occasion or location. In comparison, we couldn’t replicate the results we achieved on the 13 with an iPhone 11, no matter how much we fiddled with lighting settings and angles.

The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini’s second camera is a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens with an improved sensor. It’s nearly as good as the iPhone 12, but the main advantage is superior performance in low-light and daylight photographs, with less noise and more details. The ultrawide here could catch a view of a nocturnal environment while handling the brightness of the moon, street lights, and moving automobiles, even with a slightly fish-eye perspective. Although the difference isn’t night and day, Apple has decreased the noise in these difficult-to-shoot settings.

You won’t have to fiddle with settings with any of these lenses; simply point and shoot, and Apple’s processing and software will take care of the rest. Smart HDR 4 is a new feature on the iPhone 13 that intelligently analyzes an image before you press the shutter button. It goes a step farther than scene detection from other manufacturers, such as Samsung or Google, in that it can detect people, pets, animals, and buildings.

On the Galaxy S21, Samsung has long had a Pro mode that allows you to adjust white balance, contrast, and other settings. Apple’s new Photographic Styles, which lets you customize how the phone takes photos before you press the shutter button, is the closest thing to a Pro mode yet. It’s like filters on steroids, in that it adapts dynamically for each shot. You can choose from five different options (standard, bright, rich contrast, warm, and cold), and then alter the tone and warmth with a slider. Each lens has its style, but we’ve been particularly fond of warm, which doesn’t oversaturate but realistically skews the colors by adding more gold or orange. Similarly, the cold option will bring in some blue hues, whereas the rich contrast setting will focus on the darkest end of the spectrum for a sharper effect. Given that this is software, it would have been nice to see this, or at least a portion of it, appear as a software update for the iPhone 12.

Night mode, Portrait mode, and other classic iPhone shooting settings are still available on the 13 and 13 Mini. Portrait mode is enhanced year over year with better blur around hairlines on both people and animals, while Night mode performs a better job of lighting images, especially landscapes.

And here’s the deal with photos: while the experience is very similar to that of the iPhone 12, models older than the iPhone 11 aren’t as smooth and easy to use while taking a picture. Yes, the act of pressing the shutter and framing the image is the same, but the iPhone 13’s ability to analyze the shot and try to ensure it’s balanced throughout makes a significant difference in the finished outcome.

The camera also has a new feature called Cinematic Mode, which increases focus to whatever you’re filming. Let’s imagine you have a shot with many people, dogs, and things. The iPhone will automatically detect the focal point, or you may choose to have it in focus while the rest is blurry, but you can also change it on the fly. Cinematic mode is akin to Portrait mode for video, but also to the racking focus approach you’ve probably seen in TV shows or movies.

The A15 Bionic delivers quick results

Apple’s A15 Bionic chipset powers the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13. It’s built in-house and is perfectly optimized to all of iOS’ requirements, to the point where it runs iOS 15 like a champ right out of the box. Everything feels pretty dang quick, from launching apps to typing away with some gaming, FaceTime chats, and online browsing in between.

It should be, given that it’s a single chip with a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. Although this is a big increase for a smartphone, it is not a significant one. When it comes to most functions, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 are nearly identical. A photo edit in Pixelmator would occasionally wrap a second or two faster, but there were no significant improvements year over year.

But that isn’t to mean it isn’t quick. With over 30 apps running at once, we utilized the iPhone 13 Mini and 13 for both work and play. The 13 worked well with productivity programs such as Outlook, Slack, Chartbeat, Mail, and Trello, as well as personal apps like TikTok, Instagram, Messages, Music, and Safari. Everything just clicks into place and moves along smoothly. We tried everything we could to get the iPhone 13 to slow down, but we couldn’t.

Those who have an older handset, even an iPhone 11, will now see some improvements in the device’s speed and overall efficiency. Apps opened a little faster, and this was especially noticeable with games. Real Flight Simulator, for example, was ready to launch to the air around six seconds faster on a 13 than on an iPhone 11.

With starting internal storage of 128GB, you’ll have plenty of place for apps, music, photographs, and messages, which is double the standard 64GB.

Gains in battery life

Apple stated that the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 would have a longer battery life than the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 — one and a half hours longer than the 12 Mini and two and a half hours longer than the 12. This is made possible by a physically larger battery inside the 13 Mini and 13, as well as several A15 Bionic optimizations and efficiencies.

We were able to get a full day of use out of both the iPhone 13 Mini and the iPhone 13. We began at 7:30 a.m. each morning and didn’t return until after 10 p.m. when we noticed the battery level begin to dwindle. That’s practically a 15-hour day, jam-packed with calls, messages, web surfing, games, and content capture. It’s safe to say that neither phone should have any battery difficulties. About 30 minutes before the iPhone 13, the 13 Mini displayed a battery warning.

Both devices charge via a Lightning connection on the bottom, and when used with a fast wall charger, the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini may be charged quickly. You may also use a MagSafe or Qi-enabled wireless charger to charge the iPhone 13 or 13 Mini on the rear. Yes, the iPhone 13 works with other MagSafe accessories like the MagSafe Battery Pack because it has a magnetic array in the back.

We put the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 through our battery test gauntlet as we do with every item we examine at CNN Underscored. With the smartphone in airplane mode, we play a 4K video on loop with the brightness set to 50% and the volume set to 30%. We also turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and play the video indefinitely until the gadget dies. For redundancy, we observe the test using two cameras. In this endurance test, the iPhone 13 Mini lasted 13 hours and 35 minutes, while the iPhone 13 lasted 14 hours and 15 minutes. The iPhone 12 had a battery life of 12 hours and 30 minutes, while the iPhone 12 Mini had a battery life of 12 hours and 45 minutes. The iPhone 12 had a battery life of 12 hours and 30 minutes, while the iPhone 12 Mini had a battery life of 12 hours and 45 minutes. This is slightly less than Apple’s stated increase in battery life.

Two sizes of the smaller face ID

The iPhone notch is getting smaller with the iPhone 13 family. It’s been a long time coming — four years to be exact — but it’s finally here. Though it is somewhat taller, the TrueDepth sensor on the iPhone 13 Mini and 13 is 20% smaller, with much more space on the left and right. For the time being, the newfound space on the left and right sides offers the status bar a little more breathing room.

For example, on the right, you can see the time and a recently used function, while on the left, you can view wifi information and a visual depiction of the battery. You may also slide down with your finger to access Notification Center (on the left) or Control Center (on the right) (on the right). You don’t lose any functionality, and the sensors and technology used to power secure authentication are the same.

The TrueDepth sensor houses within a notch in the OLED display, which measures 5.4 inches on the 13 Mini and 6.1 inches on the 13. Both displays performed admirably in our tests, giving vivid and realistic colors as well as deep blacks for an immersive experience. On-screen features in games like Catalyst Black or NBA Live Mobile appear slick and lush.

The only other difference with the displays is that they now have a higher maximum brightness, which is useful when using the iPhone 13 Mini or 13 in direct sunlight. To battle natural illumination, you can brighten the display to view details clearly or merely see objects on the screen.

A 120Hz refresh rate, which makes the display more natural and smooth, is still lacking from the iPhone 13 Mini and 13. Apple ultimately incorporated it as “ProMotion” to the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, and we found it to be a significant improvement, but it’s still not available on the lower devices. While it’s not something you’ll notice unless you’ve used it, it’d be nice to see, especially because other phones — some at lower price points — do have it. This refresh rate is already present in the Galaxy A52 5G, the Galaxy S21 family, and even several OnePlus alternatives, with the majority of them coming in at similar, if not lower, price ranges.

A similar modern build

Apple has stuck with a candy bar-like flat design that is a modern spin on previous iPhones. The hull is made out of flat aluminum sides with a screen on the front and a glossy glass back.

Both phones are only 0.30 inches thick and extremely comfortable to hold. The 13 and 13 Mini can both be operated with one hand, albeit the latter is more portable. The iPhone’s buttons are all somewhat lower on the sides, with the volume up, volume down, and the silencer switch on the left and the power button alone on the right. It’s a visible difference that, depending on hand size, makes it a little simpler to reach them.

The iPhone 13 or 13 Mini will be charged via the Lightning port on the bottom, which is flanked by speakers or wireless charging on the rear. Finally, the SIM card slot is located on the lower left side. There is also no headphone jack, but don’t anticipate one since Apple removed it with the iPhone 7. Colors limit for five options, all of which are rather neutral. Apple has never gone the flamboyant route that other OEMs, such as Samsung or OnePlus, have; the iPhone has always been a little quieter. Blue, Midnight (black), pink, Product Red, and Starlight are the colors available for the 13 and 13 Mini (a light silver). The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini are also IP68 certified, meaning they can be submerged in water or other liquids for up to 30 minutes. That also implies it can manage a variety of mishaps.

One thing to keep in mind: the 13 Mini and 13 have a physically larger main camera module on the back. This is to accommodate the increased camera technology, but it means you’ll need to acquire a case made expressly for the iPhone 13 Mini (not the 12 Mini) (not the 12 or 13 Pro).

Let’s discuss 5G once more…

On the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, there are two varieties of 5G: 5G and 5G UW. The first is standard 5G, which is quite comparable to 4G LTE. It’s the Sub-G network standard, which is faster to deploy and provides speeds that are comparable to 4G LTE (think 200 to 300 Mbps). The difference is that it’s a five-lane highway rather than a three-lane highway. Which means you’ll have plenty of room and won’t be slowed down. This service is available nationwide via Verizon and AT&T, and we were able to connect to it on both devices in New Jersey and New York.

5G UW, which employs the ultrawide mmWave spectrum, is the 5G you’ve probably been dreaming about — or more likely thinking. And these are the claimed super-fast speeds, which are akin to fiber-optic cables running through your house. But there’s a catch: mmWave is much more difficult to roll out and connect to on your phone. Cell sites for it are still hard to come by from AT&T and Verizon a year later. However, you’ll require a line of sight to a cell tower and no obstructions. This has been shown to interrupt the connection in our testing. When you do discover it, however, you’ll see upload and download rates of up to 1,000 Mbps, which is rather astounding.

So, unless you’re in a mmWave community, it’s not exactly a mind-blowing experience. The good news is that choosing an iPhone 13 Mini or 13 will keep you ahead of the curve in this regard. But don’t buy it because of the 5G promise.

In conclusion

If you’re looking to upgrade your iPhone and have an 11 or older, this is a great opportunity to do so. You’d benefit from the updated modern flat design and get an iPhone that we expect to last three or four years on all fronts. Inside, the A15 Bionic is more efficient than the A14, resulting in longer battery life. And if you’re looking for simple, effective photography, the iPhone 13 offers two lenses that will help you shoot some fantastic images. However, if you have an iPhone 12, there isn’t much that you’re losing out on.

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