We Spent Five Days Testing The IPhone 13 To See If It’s Worth The Upgrade

We Spent Five Days Testing The IPhone 13 To See If It’s Worth The Upgrade

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CNN —  

Like with other recent Apple releases, Apple’s new iPhone 13 and 13 Mini — up for preorder now, with shipments slated for Sept. 24 alongside the 13 Pro and Pro Max — are refinements to a working formula rather than reinventions of the iPhone.

We spent five days testing the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, so let’s discuss how they performed, the notable upgrades and who should consider upgrading.

Related: The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max reviewed.

Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Mini

Refinements to a working formula

APPLE If you’re in the market for an iPhone and have an 11 or older, now is a really ideal time to upgrade. You’d benefit from the refreshed design, the efficient A15 processor and two dependable cameras.

Who this is for: If you currently have an iPhone 11 or older, now is an excellent time to opt for a new iPhone. Both the 13 and 13 Mini offer a much faster experience in a more modern build than those earlier iterations of the iPhone. The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini also boast the best cameras we’ve tested — notably, the upgraded hardware and software allow you to capture an image in almost any scenario without the introduction of lower-quality elements. These upgrades, while notable, don’t differ wildly to what the iPhone 12 offers, so those with last year’s device shouldn’t feel a need to run out and upgrade.

What you need to know: With the iPhone 13 Mini and 13, Apple stuck with the modern and flat design akin to last year’s new iPhones but upgraded the dual-camera system, slimmed down the notch and increased the battery life. What’s more is that the entry-level storage has been doubled to 128GB from 64GB for the same price. And let’s be clear — aside from screen size, the 13 Mini and 13 are identical in terms of features.

How this compares: The iPhone 13’s performance is closely aligned with the iPhone 12. Power users will notice that photo exports finish faster and gaming is a bit more seamless. The camera, both physically and with the software, does offer a noticeable improvement. Those with an iPhone 11 or older, though, will see a more noticeable speed improvement with using apps and taking photos and not notice a slowdown in everyday or intense use. While you still can’t use two apps at once, having many open in the background won’t slow down performance or decrease the battery.

Jacob Krol/CNN The biggest difference year over year is with the camera — and we’re not just talking bigger lens size (which accounts for the new diagonal layout).

The primary camera is still a 12-megapixel wide lens that works for almost any scenario. You’ll get detail-filled images that are properly lit and accurate with colors. Aiding in delivering these improvements is the largest sensor yet in an iPhone, which, as a rule of thumb, means higher-quality photos.

The other piece of the puzzle is less blurry shots with stabilization built into this lens. It was a big help against shaky hands after a long day of shooting and managed to deliver a clear shot even with a decent tremor moving through the hand holding the device. It’s not professional-level, but it should increase your Instagram game. It first premiered on the iPhone 12 Pro Max in 2020, so it’s nice to see it trickle down to the 13 and 13 Mini.

The main 12-megapixel lens is a nearly perfect lens, and no matter the occasion or area, we could snap a clear photo with the iPhone 13 or 13 Mini. Comparatively, with an iPhone 11, even playing around with lighting settings and angles we couldn’t mimic the end results we got on the 13.

The second shooter on the iPhone 13 and the 13 Mini is a 12-megapixel ultrawide lens with an upgraded sensor inside. It’s nearly on par with that of the iPhone 12, but the core advantage here is better performance with less noise and more details across low-light or daylight shots. Even with a slightly fish-eye perspective, the ultrawide here could capture a view of a nighttime scene while handling the brightness of the moon, street lights and moving vehicles. It’s not night and day year over year, but Apple has reduced the noise of these types of hard-to-shoot scenes.

With either of these lenses, you won’t need to fuss around settings — it is just point and shoot, while Apple’s processing and software takes care of the rest. Apple upgraded the iPhone 13 with Smart HDR 4, which intelligently analyzes a shot before you hit the shutter button. It’s a step further than scene detection from other manufacturers like Samsung or Google in that it’s very versatile for a shot of anything — be it people, pets, animals or buildings.

Samsung has long offered a Pro mode on the Galaxy S21, which lets you customize white balance, contrast and all that jazz. Apple’s new Photographic Styles is the closest thing to a Pro mode yet, which lets you make customizations to how the phone will take a photo before you hit the shutter button. It’s sort of like filters on steroids, as it dynamically adjusts for any given shot. You can pick from five (standard, vibrant, rich contrast, warm and cool) and adjust the tone and warmth on a slider. Each lens has its own take, but we’ve been especially liking warm, which doesn’t oversaturate but skews the colors in a realistic way by adding in more gold or orange. Similarly, the cool setting will add in some hues of blue, while rich contrast focuses on the darker side of the spectrum for a sharper look. Given that it’s software, though, it would have been neat to see this or an aspect of this arrive as a software update to the iPhone 12.

Jacob Krol/CNN You also still get Night mode, Portrait mode and other classic iPhone shooting modes on the 13 and 13 Mini. Night mode does a more leveled job of lighting shots, especially landscape ones, while Portrait mode is improved year over year with better blur near hairlines on both people and animals.

And here’s the gist with photos — while the experience is pretty similar to that of the iPhone 12, models older than an iPhone 11 aren’t as seamless and effortless to take a shot. Yes, the act of hitting the shutter and framing it is the same, but the benefits of the iPhone 13 analyzing the shot and working to ensure it’s balanced throughout makes a big difference in the end result.

The other new feature with the camera is Cinematic mode, which adds focus into whatever you’re filming. Let’s say you have multiple people, dogs and objects in a shot. The iPhone will identify the focal point or you can select it for that to be in focus and the rest to be blurry, but you can also switch it up on the fly. Cinematic mode is kind of like Portrait mode for video, but it’s also quite similar to a racked focus approach you’ve likely seen in TV shows or movies.

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Jacob Krol/CNN Powering the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 is the Apple-made A15 Bionic processor. It’s designed in-house and is uniquely attuned to all of iOS’ needs, so much so that it runs the just-released iOS 15 like a champ directly out of the box. From opening apps to typing away with some gaming, FaceTime calls and web browsing in between — everything feels pretty darn instant.

And it should be, considering it’s a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine all tossed into a single chip. That’s a lot for a smartphone, but it’s not a significant jump. With most tasks, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 feel pretty much in sync. At times a photo edit in Pixelmator would wrap a second or two faster, but no giant leaps year over year.

That’s not to say it isn’t fast, though. We used the iPhone 13 Mini and 13 for both work and play with nearly 30 apps constantly running at once. The 13 was effortless to use with productivity-centric apps like Outlook, Slack, Chartbeat, Mail and Trello while also being seamless with personal apps like TikTok, Instagram, Messages, Music or Safari. Everything just opens as it should and glides right along. We were hard-pressed to make the iPhone 13 slow down and ultimately couldn’t make that happen.

Now, those with an older device, even an iPhone 11, will notice some improvements with speed and overall efficiency on the device. Apps opened a bit faster and it was evident with games. For instance, Real Flight Simulator was ready to take to the skies about six seconds faster on a 13 compared to the iPhone 11.

You’ll also have ample room for apps, music, photos and messages with a starting internal storage of 128GB, double the usual 64GB of years past.

Apple promised better battery life with the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 — specifically one and a half hours longer than the 12 Mini, and two and a half hours longer than the 12. This is being done thanks to a physically larger battery inside the 13 Mini and 13, along with some optimizations and efficiencies of the A15 Bionic.

With both the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13, we had no issue making it through a full day of use. We started at around 7:30 a.m. each morning and didn’t make it back until close to 10 p.m., when we’d see the battery level start to trickle down. That’s nearly a 15-hour day filled with ample tasks like calls, messages, web browsing, some gaming and content capture. Safe to say, you shouldn’t have any battery issues with either phone. The 13 Mini did show a battery alert about 30 minutes before the iPhone 13.

Both devices charge via a Lightning port on the bottom, and when you pair that with a fast wall charger you can indeed fast charge the iPhone 13 or 13 Mini. You can also wirelessly charge the iPhone 13 or 13 Mini on the back with a MagSafe or Qi-enabled wireless charger. And yes, since there’s a magnetic array in the back, the iPhone 13 does work with other MagSafe accessories like the MagSafe Battery Pack.

As we do with every device we test at CNN Underscored, we ran the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 through our battery test gauntlet. In it we play a 4K video on loop with the brightness set to 50% and volume at 30% with the device in airplane mode. We also ensure that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off and play the video on a loop until the device dies. We monitor the test with two cameras for redundancy. The iPhone 13 Mini lasted for 13 hours and 35 minutes, while the iPhone 13 lasted for 14 hours and 15 minutes in this endurance test. The iPhone 12 lasted for 12 hours and 30 minutes, while the 12 Mini remained on for 12 hours and 45 minutes. This falls slightly behind Apple’s promised battery life boost.

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We spent five days testing the iPhone 13 to see if it’s worth the upgrade

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