Review: iPhone 13 Pro offers awesome new battery, camera and display

Daniel Rutledge of Newshub reviews the iPhone 13 Pro.
The iPhone 13 Pro. Photo credit: Newshub.

The latest Apple smartphones have been released in Aotearoa and have probably already infiltrated your social media timelines with all the hype and hubbub they always bring.

While the regular iPhone 13 appears to have had modest upgrades on last year's model, this more expensive edition has gotten some solid improvements.

The iPhone 13 Pro has an awesome new display and the performance of both the camera and battery has had a good bump up.

But what remains a problem for the iPhone, and are this year's upgrades good enough to deserve a new purchase - or are you better to wait a year for the iPhone 14?

I've been using an iPhone 13 Pro for the past week and here are my thoughts.

The good

This latest flagship iPhone is super easy and convenient to use and occasionally its impressive features deliver real 'wow' moments.

It's super powerful and fast, has a fantastic, bright, smooth display and crazy good camera tech.

And, of course, it works supremely well with any other Apple products you already have.

iPhone 13 Pro review.
Photo credit: Newshub.

One of the most noticeable upgrades is in the battery department. Apple claimed the 13 Pro will give 1.5 extra hours over the 12 Pro, before an independent battery stress test recorded the new one going for 8 hours and 17 minutes of continuous usage across a range of demanding apps.

In the days I've used it, the battery has been far from a worry - I've used a little more than 50 percent of it on two separate days and a little less on all the others. So I'm only charging it every second day and expect to be doing so for several months to come, given the importance Apple tends to put on battery life longevity over fast-charging - more on that later.

That longer time before charging is even more impressive given how bright the screen is on auto-brightness - apparently a typical brightness of 1000 nits and peak of 1200 - as well as the higher display refresh rate.

Finally, Apple is joining its rivals in offering 120Hz with the iPhone 13 Pro. This creates a buttery smooth feel whenever there's movement on the screen that, once you've tasted it, is hard to go back from.

It's mint.

iPhone 13 Pro with MagSafe case and MagSafe wallet.
iPhone 13 Pro with MagSafe case and MagSafe wallet. Photo credit: Newshub.

Performance-wise, this is even more powerful than the iPhone 12 Pro, whose A14 Bionic processor already benchmark tested substantially ahead of principle rival the Snapdragon 888. The GPU in the 13 Pro reportedly delivers 55 percent better graphics performance than 12 Pro, too.

What do those figures mean for an everyday user? That you're most likely never going to be waiting on your phone to load anything and it'll easily handle any app you're likely to use on it.

Certainly, in the time I've spent reviewing the 13 Pro it's never stuttered or struggled with switching between dozens of open apps, including relatively demanding games like Call of Duty Mobile. It's all just wickedly fast.

The cameras

As they do every year, Apple has thrown millions of dollars into improving its camera tech and the iPhone 13 Pro packs an awesome quad lens set-up that showcases the company's latest and greatest.

It's very easy to take really beautiful shots with this thing.

While a lot of Android phones offer a much deeper range of options with their cameras with things like 'pro mode', iPhones have generally opted to keep things much more limited, focusing on auto-max quality for us point-and-shoot dummies.

But this year they've added 'Photographic Styles', of which there are four: Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm and Cool. These look like Instagram filters, but are much more advanced - for example, switching between them generally won't change a subject's skin tone; that'll stay accurate while the background and stuff around them is enhanced.

Macro photography has finally been added to this Pro model, too - its ultra wide lens can focus on a subject from 2cm, which allows cool close-up shots only Apple rivals have offered cameras until now.

Below are some photos I've taken with the iPhone 13 Pro, along with some comparison photos with recent premium phones from Samsung and Oppo. Please note that as many auto-enhancing features were turned off in each device's camera as possible, and that every image has to be heavily compressed to be published on this website.

iPhone 13 Pro portrait mode photos on Shikoku-Ken dogs in Auckland park.
Portrait mode on two Shikoku dogs I met in an Auckland park. Photo credit: Newshub.
iPhone 13 Pro camera test versus Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Photo credit: Newshub.
iPhone 13 Pro camera test versus Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Photo credit: Newshub.
iPhone 13 Pro camera test versus Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Photo credit: Newshub.
iPhone 13 Pro camera test versus Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Photo credit: Newshub.
iPhone 13 Pro camera test versus Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
These are taken in portrait mode on the Oppo and Apple, and 'live focus' mode on the Samsung - note this is not really the sort of shot these modes are designed for, but still gives an idea of its effect. Photo credit: Newshub.

There's also a Cinematic video option which is actually probably the most technically impressive upgrade in the iPhone 13 range. It's a highly advanced feature that allows you to switch focus between subjects like they do in the movies, for dramatic effect and to add depth.

This is a great mode for amateur filmmakers who want to make their stuff look a bit more pro.

It was a little hit and miss for me, but when it works it's pretty amazing. What it struggled with was the auto-tracking of faces and objects, but even then you can manually do that after you've filmed it, just by tapping those subjects in the video in edit mode.

What a time to be alive.

The bad

While I'm a big fan of the battery improvements in this latest model, it's a shame it still doesn't offer decent fast-charging.

Various Android phones offer charging speeds much quicker than all iPhone models, with Xiaomi recently announcing its crazy 120W 'HyperCharge' that it says will get a very big 5000mAh battery from 0 to 100 percent in just 17 minutes.

iPhone 13 Pro with a clear MagSafe case.
iPhone 13 Pro with a clear MagSafe case. Photo credit: Newshub.

The iPhone 13 Pro took well over an hour to get from 0 to 100 for me.

If you charge your phone every night, you'll be fine - this battery will easily last through a full day of normal use. But if you forget to charge it and need to quickly juice it up before leaving the home, in that situation a faster charging rival would be more convenient.

To be fair, this different approach to charging may mean the batteries in Apple phones have a longer lifespan, although the company is a bit secretive about how many charge cycles one can expect from their devices.

Battery lifespan is something we can't cover in the short review period, obviously - but as the below screenshots demonstrate, my iPhone 12 Pro is still at 96 percent capacity after 12 months of daily use. I'm pretty strict on avoiding short charging periods, but still, that's impressive and means most people can expect the battery to last at least a few years before it needs to be charged more than once per day.

The 13 Pro has a better battery, keep in mind, too.

iPhone 12 Pro battery use after 12 months.
Thursday evening is when it switched over to the 13 Pro, so Friday's use of this 12 Pro dropped right off. Photo credit: Newshub.

As well as battery longevity though, Apple is sticking to its proprietary Lightning cable with the iPhone 13 Pro and that doesn't support proper fast-charging.

There are pros and cons to these cables, but the rest of the industry - and increasingly other Apple products - are all moving to USB-C cables.

The wireless charging is even slower, too. MagSafe is nice, but I rarely use it as its maximum is 15W and plugging the cable in is almost always just as convenient.

Speaking of charging, you get one Lightning - USB-C cable in the box - no actual wall charger. I know that's increasingly the norm, but when you're spending this much money on a phone, it still seems silly to me that you may have to fork out extra on a charger.

The iPhone 13 Pro has a beautiful display that is hard to complain about - but it's still not perfect. The camera notch up the top has been reduced in size but not eliminated, meaning we still don't have the full screen for whatever we want.

Some iPhone rivals now offer features like under-screen selfie cameras which give you 100 percent of the screen for watching videos or doing whatever with. That technology isn't perfect yet either, but it'll be cool when Apple finally gets rid of the final bit of black obscuring the display.

The cheapest iPhone 13 Pro will set you back NZ$1799 with 128GB of storage. Unless you don't take many photos or videos, with that option you'll almost definitely need to subscribe to a cloud service if you aren't already.

That's totally reasonable but for the same or a very similar cost, some rival premium smartphones do come with more storage space. The 13 Pro also comes in 256GB, 512GB and 1TB, and that biggest one has launched at an eye-watering NZ$2799.

One other thing I'll note is that this Pro model is packed with impressive camera tech that a lot of everyday users simply won't need.

This isn't a bad thing, but if you're just into basic photos and videos, you could have your needs catered to with a standard iPhone 13 and save yourself a few hundred bucks. That would also mean you don't get the 120Hz display, however.

The verdict

Apple's iPhone 13 Pro is a very impressive phone that does pretty much everything I want a smartphone to do with aplomb.

If you haven't updated your iPhone for a few years, the jumps forward in everything you'll experience with this will blow your hair back, at least for your first week or so using it.

If you invested in a 12 Pro or Pro Max, well, the jumps are smaller - but the display, camera and battery improvements are definitely noticeable and those are crucial elements of a phone.

Focussing on those elements means this device excels at the primary functions of what everyday users require in their phones, rather than some new ground-breaking gimmick.

I can't see anyone being disappointed if they pick one of these up. Sure, the Lightning cable and lack of proper fast-charging may be a bit annoying, but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives.

Probably the worst thing about the iPhone 13 Pro is how weird I feel asking dog owners in parks to let me take pics of their furry friends with it.

So far that's been fine, but who knows, maybe it won't be when I try to position two or three strangers' dogs to put that Cinematic video mode to use on them.

Newshub was supplied an iPhone 13 Pro (512GB) for this review.