Final Results: iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max

The cameras, displays, and battery life get high marks from CR's testers. But is there enough upside to persuade you to buy one?

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The Apple iPhone 13 Pro and Max
The iPhone 13 (left) and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Photo: Nicholas De Leon/Consumer Reports

Apple has a long history of making great smartphones, and the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max are no exception.

Consumer Reports’ testers rate them Excellent overall, earning top marks for the upgraded cameras, OLED displays, speedy performance, and, yes, battery life.

In fact, the 13 Pro Max is now the undisputed champion of staying power, logging nearly 53 hours on a single charge in our labs. The old champ—the Samsung A52 5G—threw in the towel at 45 hours.

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Apple has, of course, added clever new camera and screen features, too, enough to make the 13 Pro Max or one of its three siblings a compelling upgrade for the right person.

The question is: Are you that person?

In essence, Apple has released two distinct product lines, one for the everyday consumer and one for pros.

All four phones feature sharp OLED displays and a new video recording setting called Cinematic Mode that automatically blurs the background. But only the Pro models have Apple’s high-refresh-rate ProMotion technology, which makes scrolled content look crisper and animations appear smoother than they would on a regular display, plus a new macro photography mode that lets you take crystal clear photos of subjects so close they’re practically touching the camera lens. Prepare for an influx of puppy close-ups on your Instagram feed.

But make no mistake: At $699, even the iPhone 13 Mini is no impulse buy, at least not for the hardworking families I know. And the iPhone 13, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max start at $899, $1,000, and $1,100, respectively.

Still thinking about buying one?

Here’s a closer look at what the iPhone 13 lineup has to offer and how the four phones performed in our testing.

ProMotion Display

The ProMotion feature on the higher-end models has been available on the last few versions of the iPad Pro, but this marks its debut on the iPhone.

So what is it? Apple’s brand name for a display that updates, or refreshes, as many as 120 times per second (that is, 120Hz), which is double the rate (60 times per second, or 60Hz) for the screens probably in your home—on an older iPhone, a laptop, or your big-screen TV (though we’re beginning to see high-refresh-rate TVs).

As a result, any motion you see on the screen, whether you’re scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Safari, or Twitter; playing games like Mario Kart or Need for Speed; or merely swiping through the pages (and pages) of apps on your phone, appears much smoother than before. The content now sails rather than smears across the screen. And given how often the average person scrolls through content on an iPhone, it’s pretty much a transformative experience.

Yes, you’ve probably never said “This screen refresh rate is not up to my standards” while flying through puppy photos on Instagram. But I can assure you that going back to a 60Hz display will be very challenging once you’ve tried 120Hz. I’m already dreading returning to my iPhone XS.

But whether or not you opt for the ProMotion feature on the 6.1-inch 13 Pro or 6.7-inch 13 Pro Max, you’re getting a first-rate screen. Just like those models, the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 and the 5.4-inch 13 Mini earn a display score of Excellent, according to our testers, and exhibit some level of improvement over their iPhone 12 counterparts. The new displays are a touch brighter, making them easier to read, for example, under direct sunlight. As was the case a year ago, the Pro models surpass their non-Pro siblings during typical use (reaching 1,000 nits vs. 800 nits), but all four can achieve 1,200 nits when screening HDR (high dynamic range) content, a feature often found on modern TVs.

Put simply, video—whether professionally produced content like “Foundation” on Apple TV+ or a more DIY-sized option like the movie review channel “Hack the Movies” on YouTube—has never looked better on iPhone.

The displays on all four models survived the equivalent of 100 drops in our rugged tumble test, too.

Macrophotography

I’ve become something of a wristwatch nerd over the past two years, and while I don’t yet have a Royal Oak or Daytona in my collection, I do have more than a few pieces I’m happy to own. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about watches, it’s that people love to share photos of them on social media.

That’s a long way to say the new macrophotography mode of the iPhone 13 Pro line was practically made for me. The feature may not even be best described as a “mode” because it kicks in automatically.

Images representing the iPhone's macrophotography mode
The Macrophotography Mode lets you move in real close with the camera: Images 1 and 3 were snapped with an iPhone XS, and 2 and 4 were taken with the iPhone 13 Pro.

Photo: Nicholas De Leon/Consumer Reports Photo: Nicholas De Leon/Consumer Reports

Here’s how it works:

Step 1. Get close to your subject.

Step 2. Take photo.

That may seem glib, but it’s not meant to be. It’s an attempt to demonstrate how well Apple has integrated the new mode into the Camera app.

After opening the app, you merely approach your subject, whether it’s the watch on your wrist or perhaps the family cat, and once you get up close (up to roughly 2 centimeters—or a little less than an inch—away), the app automatically switches to the appropriate camera lens and keeps the image in focus. Snap the photo and you’re ready to share it with the whole wide world.

Macro mode aside, the camera setups on all four phones rank among the very best options in our ratings when it comes to still-and video-image quality, just (and I do mean “just”) edging out their iPhone 12 equivalents.

In addition to the wide and ultrawide cameras found on the back of the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max have a 3x telephoto camera for optical zoom shots. In comparison, the 12 Pro offers a 2x telephoto lens and the 12 Pro Max a 2.5.

Cinematic Mode

If you’re familiar with Apple’s Portrait Mode, which debuted in 2016 with the iPhone 7 Plus, then you have an idea of what to expect with the Cinematic Mode available on all of the iPhone 13 models.

Here, the iPhone attempts to give your video a touch of Hollywood panache by lightly blurring the background while keeping your subject in focus at all times. The subject (in my case, the family cat) can even move around the frame and Cinematic Mode will remain locked in focus. It’s a super-impressive effect, but one that requires decent lighting to work well. (The Camera app will warn you if there’s not enough light in the shot.) 

You can also manually shift from one subject to another while recording the video (by tapping where you want to focus) or even after the fact while editing.

There are a few technical limitations.

Cinematic video can be shot only in 1080p at 30 frames per second, for example, though it should be mentioned that 1080p/30fps actually meets broadcast standards for most TV shows. (For movies, it’s generally 24fps.)

And you can edit this video only inside Apple apps like iMovie. In the end, however, I doubt these limitations will have a big impact on consumers who merely want to send fun videos to their friends and family.

A black cat named Musky
The details in this photo of Musky the cat show what you can capture with the iPhone 13.

Photo: Nicholas De Leon/Consumer Reports Photo: Nicholas De Leon/Consumer Reports

Battery Life

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best battery life we’ve seen yet in a smartphone, clocking in at 52.5 hours. That’s a sizable leap over the 41 hours logged by the 12 Pro Max. But that great big battery results in a great big phone, one that is—for me, at least—too much of a handful. If possible, I suggest taking the model out for a trial run before buying it.

The other three models are no slouches. The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro come in at 40 hours. By comparison, last year’s iPhone 12 Pro lasted 34 hours.

Even the humble iPhone 13 Mini—which fits in just about anyone’s hands—took an impressive step forward, powering along for nearly 33 hours vs. the 29 from last year’s 12 Mini.

Should You Buy an iPhone 13?

In an earlier time, the iPhone 13 might well have been called the iPhone 12s. The overall design is almost the same as that on last year’s phone but with some additional tricks to sweeten the deal. So far, so good.

But the question isn’t whether the iPhone 13 or the 13 Pro is good or not, which anyone who paid even half attention to Apple’s introductory video could answer with an emphatic “yes,” but whether or not you should upgrade. The answer requires some nuance.

For consumers with a recent iPhone model (say, an iPhone 11 or 12), I’m not sure there’s enough knock-’em-dead benefits here to warrant an upgrade.

Sure, ProMotion looks incredible, but you can’t miss what you’ve never seen before. And while macro opens up a new realm of photography, so, too, would a $50 lens attachment on your current iPhone. Heck, a recently updated version of the third-party camera app Halide just opened up a pseudo-macrophotography mode, via some computational trickery, to all iPhones dating back to 2017’s iPhone 8. That’s not nearly as elegant as having the mode built right into the Camera app, but I might advise folks to start there before committing to spending north of $1,000 on a Pro (notwithstanding any discounts you get by trading in your current smartphone).

The same thing goes for Cinematic mode, which at least is available across the entire iPhone 13 product line. It’s a neat effect that works as advertised, but I’m not sure it’s compelling enough to justify the outlay.

All of this becomes slightly harder to call as you go back in time.

I personally own an iPhone XS from 2018. It serves me well, even if the battery doesn’t last quite as long as it used to. I use WhatsApp to text my friends and family, Overcast to listen to podcasts, and Twitter when I want to catch up on the latest sports gossip. Do I need an iPhone 13? Eh, not really.

My youngest brother? He just upgraded from an iPhone 6S to an iPhone 12 and he’s thrilled with his purchase. He also saved $100 by not leaping straight to the iPhone 13. Savvy shopping runs in the family.

In any event, I doubt Apple expects everyone in the world to upgrade their iPhones year in and year out. Not any longer, at least. But those who do make the jump this year will find, yes, the best iPhone yet. Until next year, that is.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).