iPhone 13 Three Months Later — Love/Hate Review

In this video I’m re-reviewing the iPhone 13 Series — mini, no modifier, pro, and pro max — all of them, everything I’ve been testing since just after Apple announced them almost 3 months ago. And I’m going to tell you what I’ve come to ALL-CAPS LOVE most… and a more than a few things I kinda low-key hate.

And MacBook Pro re-review is coming up next, so Falcon punch that subscribe button, and let’s go!

Love 1: Battery Life

Battery life on all these iPhones 13 is.. sick. Just ridiculous. Obscene. Borderline offensive. Even the iPhone 13 mini, which in the previous generation was a daily driver simply because it could not, would not last into the night, can now pretty much go until the evening without a redline, that is, if you really are only using it as a tiny, actual phone phone. You know, you work all day on your main Mac, so the last thing you want to do is keeping working on your phone. It’s just for messaging and keeping you connected on the go.

And then there’s the iPhone 13 Pro Max… well, that’s not just an all-day and all-nighter any more, it’s damn close to a weekender. A binger. Just rack up Hawkeye or the Book or Boba and let it play through the day. Of course, sure, if it’s your primary computing device, if you’re doing a ton of camera work, or playing a bunch of heavy games, you can still kill it in a few hours. Screen super bright, all the radios screaming, GPU on fire, that sort of thing. But for daily, mixed use… you now legit get a couple of days.

And for the regular 13 and the 13 Pro, they’re in between both those extremes. The 13 for those who want something a little bigger and longer lasting than the mini,, and 13 Pro for those who want something a little smaller but still just as capable, if not quite as monstrously long lasting as the Pro Max.

And all of that is thanks to bigger battery, sure, but also a colder, more efficient A15 chipset and, on the Pro models, an adaptive display that doesn’t just ramp up to 120Hz but all the way down to 10Hz. Which is like going from chugging pints to… barely sipping espresso.

So, with the iPhone 13, you really do get the fastest ultra-mobile chip on the planet, with enough overhead for half-a-decade or so of software updates, and the first, proper, no compromises on brightness or color management or anything, high refresh rate display, plus the best battery life in the business, what’s not to love? Well…

Hate 1: No Fast I/O

Apple went an added ProRes 422 HQ video to the iPhone 13 Pro. That’s their professional, high-quality video codec, the one used by ARRI and BlackMagic, the one that can record up to 4K30 at… get this… 6GB per minute. No, that’s not a verbal typo. 6GB per minute. Meaning a 3 minute ProRes clip will killing word like 18GB of storage. And I’ve got a whole entire video up already breaking down just exactly how it ProRes works and why and when you’d want to use it, and I’ll drop a link to it in the description below the like button.

Suffice it to say, it’s a staggering amount of data, which Apple addressed just fine at the write stage with A15’s new… fast… like speed-force fast storage controller and SSD system. So you can get those massive ProRes files recorded to your phone without dropping so much as frame.

But getting them off again… not so much. Now, I’m not even going to get into a debate about USB-C vs. Lightning. Nerds clearly want the standardization of USB-C, and the mainstream… well, if you try to change their cables again, they will cut you. Me, personally, I’ve already said I want Thunderbolt, no matter how ludicrous the idea of stuffing those controllers into something as space constrained as an iPhone might actually be. But, end of the day, USB-C and Lightning are just physical plug shapes. That’s what all the USB A, B, C letters define. The physical plug shape. That’s it. And that can be dongled for days. But the numbers, like 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, 3.1… The numbers which define the speed. And shape is nowhere nearly as important as the speed is here.

USB-C can handle Thunderbolt-like USB-4 speeds of up to 40Gb/s anyway, like on the iPad Pro. But even just USB 3.1 Gen 1, speeds, 5 Gb/s, like the iPad Air would be a welcome relief at this point. Because the current Lightning protocol, with very few exceptions, is capped at USB 2, or just under half a Gb/s. Let me repeat that. Half a gigabit per second. Which is like trying to empty a river with an eyedropper. And if Apple can manage ProRes 4K60 next year, or Dolby Vision 8K60, it’s only going to get worse. For real, because for everyone, including Apple and Pros, these devices are way more cameras than phones now anyway.

Apple is rumored to be working on an ultra-fast wireless transfer protocol for a future, portless iPhone, maybe as soon as the next version. Which is fine. Terrific. But, like Battlestar Galactica and the Matrix, Pros typically prefer the reliability of hardlines. Whether that’s USB-C or Lightning 2, again I don’t care. I can deal with the plugs. But there’s nothing any of us can do about the lack of speed. Which is why, if Apple could get Pro Res-capable media engines and storage controllers built into the iPhone 13, it’s beyond frustrating they couldn’t get just as capable an I/O controller built in to support the feature as well.

Love 2: Camera

The camera system on the iPhone 13 series is really well rounded and just overall really well done. Obviously, the Pro models have more features than the regular models, but all of them have terrific wide angle cameras, now with in-body image stabilization, or IBIS across the line, and even better ultra-wide angles as well.

I do have a few issues with them. You still can’t toggle HDR video in the Camera app the way you can Live Photos, resolution and frame rate, and you still can’t choose to AirDrop the SDR version rather than the HDR version, again the way you can Live Photos and metadata. Which has caused just a ton of problems for a ton of people, especially given the ongoing lack of maturity in a lot of HDR workflows. And the 3x jump on the Pro telephoto camera can be… really aggressive, requiring a lot of sneaker-de-zoom to properly frame. I really do think it’s time for Apple to start looking at bigger sensors, pixel binning, and even periscope zooms to truly fill on the last, long gaps in camera capabilities here.

Other than that, though, it’s a dream. Especially the new Macro Mode on the Pro models. I just keep wanting to Macro everything.

I’ve been using a Pixel 6 Pro for the last few weeks as well, just for fun, and Google’s ability to reduce every photo down to it’s bits and rebuild them as a really good Pixel-style photo is legit terrific. But they all end up looking like they came out of the Pixel factory with that Pixel look, cool and sharply reassembled.

Where Apple kind of lets the iPhone camera still be a camera. It’s not the big glass of a Samsung or the big compute of a Google, but a really good balance of both. And because of that A15 image signal processor and how fast it can round-trip through all the compute engines, from GPU to neural engines to ISP and back again, it still feels the most like a camera to me. The most instant shutter, most real time, most what I see is what I get. Not like the computer is spitting out an image for me, but the computer is helping me get the image in front of me.

I didn’t stick with a Photographic Style. I dig that Apple’s experimenting with the equivalent of digital film, and also giving people who like more opinionated processing, something more Pixel or Galaxy like, the option of setting it or forgetting it, but I’m still team hashtag no filter, and I enjoy boosting sat and crushing black my own damn self.

Cinematic Mode I think is super interesting but also just a beginning. I think Apple’s desire to make it available across all iPhone 13 models kept it from taking advantage of Pro-specific hardware features, like LiDAR, which means just like early version of Portrait Mode photos, it needs a lot of light to really be its best. But like early versions of Portrait Mode, you can just tell that in a year or several from now, it’s going to be way, way more flexible and useful. Especially the core technologies of changing bokeh and focal point in post. And especially especially when the world has fully stopped ending and I’m out and about more so I can cinematic all the things beyond this studio.

Hate: Scratches

Overall, Apple’s done a great job with iPhone durability. Combined with those years and years of not just security but full on software updates, from resale to trade-in to hand-me-down to just plain keeper, it just makes the value so much more than the cost, even on the higher priced models. That’s especially true with the new flat sides, which combined with the ceramic shield material on the front, and the enhanced ion-exchange glass on the back, makes the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series more resilient to breaks and cracks than ever.

Which is legit fantastic, given they’re still so damn slippery they can fall off any even slightly non-level surface faster than just about anything. That anything being the Pixel 6 Pro, by the way, which can fall of an even level surface almost as fast as the lubed bullet that was the Nexus 4. Yeah, I said it.

And I totally get that hardness and strength aren’t the same thing. Just ask a diamond and a hammer. For crack resistance, you want a certain amount of flexibility to absorb impact, which is the exact opposite of what you want when Zak jerry-rig goes medieval with is Moh’s scale. And yes, you can put on a high topped case and a screen protector if you really want to keep your iPhone just beyond pristine. And of course, if given a choice, preventing breaks is better than preventing scratches because broken displays are way more problematic and harder to live with than scratched displays.

But all that said, all that granted, all that conceded, it’s still just too damn easy to scratch an iPhone display. Where the Apple Watch sapphire crystal displays manage to be both break and scratch resistant. Albeit for a hefty increase in price. Something Apple previously just couldn’t make work at iPhone display size and scale.

So, I don’t know what the answer is here, but if the material magicians at Apple could figure out some way to make the glass backs of the iPhone way less slippery, maybe that’d reduce the amount of drops enough to rebalance the break vs. scratch materials equation. Because while it’s way easier to live with a scratched or screen protector shellacked iPhone display, having t do either still sucks.

So, which iPhone 13 should you get? Well, after using them all in rotation and thinking about it a lot for the last 3 months, here’s where I’ve landed:

Get the iPhone 13 Pro. The combination of battery life and camera system for its size is simply remarkable. I’d recommend the 13 Pro as anyone’s default, anyone’s starting position.

If the iPhone 13 Pro is just too much money for you, even with trade-ins or upgrade plans or over however many years you typically keep your phone, then get the iPhone 13. You lose the adaptive refresh display, the telephoto camera, macro mode, LiDAR, and a few other bells and whistles, but you still get a ton of iPhone for a little less cash.

If you really only want to use your phone as a phone, you want it to fit in your change-pocket or clutch, and being productive when you’re away from your Mac or iPad is the last thing you want, get the iPhone 13 mini. Hell, if you love you some small phone, there probably won’t be an iPhone 14 mini, so grab the 13 mini and hold on long as you can!

But if you do want all those Pro bells and whistles, the biggest display possible, and the longer battery life currently available, like the iPhone is your primary computing platform or just your on-the-go everything, than get the iPhone 13 Pro Max. And if you intend to shoot a lot of HDR video, especially ProRes, seriously consider the 1 terabyte model. Because, damn.