iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini review: If it ain’t broke

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Updated: November 01, 2021 6:27 PM

The ‘tick-tock’ is back.

The iPhone 13 starts at Rs 79,900 for a version with 128GB storage. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Last year’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini were more ‘pro’ than you’d think. They were—in fact—so good, they were almost too good to be true. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are more like ‘S’ updates which is to say, they take all those good things, add some extra polish and give you a more refined, if a little familiar package.

What that means is if you were eyeing the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini before, you now have a better version. Apple has also sweetened the deal by doubling the base storage while keeping the price same. The iPhone 13 starts at Rs 79,900 for a version with 128GB storage. The iPhone 13 Mini starts at Rs 69,900.

At the same time, the prices of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini have dropped by up to a whopping Rs 10,000. You can get them even cheaper online which begs the question, who should buy the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini?

Also read | iPhone 13 Pro review: Little things make ‘pro’ things happen

iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini | what’s good

Apple hasn’t tweaked the design a lot except changing the camera alignment on the back. There are—of course—some fresh colours including pink and starlight that look nice(r) but generally speaking, we’re looking at the same shiny glass back, ceramic shield front, flat aluminum sides and IP68 water and dust resistance. They look and feel as stunning—if not more—and are easily among the most luxurious pieces of tech in the market today.

A bigger, more noticeable change is coming on the inside of these new iPhones. They’re packing bigger batteries than before—that’s 3,227mAh in the iPhone 13 and 2,406mAh in the iPhone 13 Mini—and while they may seem small next to many Android phones, Apple holds the advantage of controlling its hardware and software stack down to the minutest detail squeezing more performance per watt without breaking a sweat. Every once in a while, when it chooses to bump up the capacity, things are only bound to get better.

Apple hasn’t tweaked the design a lot except changing the camera alignment on the back. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

That’s precisely what’s happening with the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. The ‘size-up’ should benefit the mini more than the regular 13—at least in theory—which is expected to be good anyhow. Real-world scores aren’t too far-fetched either. Both iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini perform better than their predecessors. The iPhone 13 will easily last you a day with some power to spare.

Also read | iPhone 13 series decoded: Hands-on, first impressions and everything to know about Apple’s latest iPhones

The story of the iPhone 13 Mini is a little more complicated though. You see, while Apple did increase the size of the battery, the rest of the hardware is akin to the iPhone 13—even the pro iPhone 13s to an extent—the only difference is that the mini has a smaller screen and therefore, your mileage will vary depending on what your end goal is.

If you’re a heavy user who likes to consume a lot of HDR content, play a lot of games, take a lot of calls, or shoot a lot of photos and 4K videos, you can kill the mini in a few hours—in other words, you should not buy the iPhone 13 Mini.

The iPhone 13 will easily last you a day with some power to spare. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

You’d probably ask why would Apple cram so much horsepower inside it only to ask you to charge it twice a day—and carry a charger with you at all times—when all the other iPhone 13 models have all that and great battery life along with it. The answer is simple.

For a few years now, those looking for a small iPhone—or any other small phone for that matter—did not have many options. Options like the iPhone SE—while cheaper—also had to make do with older design and cutbacks in hardware plus disappointing battery life. Phone like the iPhone 13 Mini make small phones great again. Average battery life is something that people will just have to get used to unless there’s a big breakthrough in technology anytime soon.

Phone like the iPhone 13 Mini make small phones great again. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Regardless, what’s impressive is that Apple listened to feedback and did what it could to ensure battery life was at least somewhat adequate in this generation of the mini. Even if it came at the cost of making it thicker and heavier—ever so slightly. The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max are also wee bit heftier than the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Also read | Apple Watch Series 7 first impressions: It’s screen time

  • iPhone 13 Mini: 140g (versus 133g), 7.65mm (versus 7.4mm)
  • iPhone 13: 173g (versus 162g), 7.65mm (versus 7.4mm)

The difference is definitely noticeable in the pro iPhone 13s. Not so much in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. They’re still easy to manoeuvre even for an extended period.

Apple is applying the ‘bigger is better’ rule of thumb to the cameras as well. Both iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini have a larger 1.7 µm primary sensor—with the potential of pulling 47 percent more light—that sits behind an f/1.6 aperture lens. It outputs 12MP photos. Sensor-shift optical image stabilisation (OIS) is also available. The result is, that main camera is more dependable taking nice, detailed and well exposed photos across scenarios. The ultra-wide-angle camera—12MP f/2.4—seems largely unchanged though updated processing and Smart HDR 4 help bring more out of the sensor especially when it comes to colour and detail. There is no autofocus and therefore no dedicated macro photography mode like the pro iPhones.

Two of this year’s most advertised iPhone features, Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode, are both available on iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. They work in the same way as they do on the pro iPhone 13s. You can read more about them here.

Two of this year’s most advertised iPhone features, Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode, are both available on iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Lick clockwork, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are a top-draw for videography. A key update is that they support HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 4K @60 fps—this was capped to 4K @30 fps in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini.

Driving all of these improvements is Apple’s next-generation silicon, the 5nm A15 Bionic. It’s mostly the same across the entire line-up—6-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine—with the only difference being that the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini have a watered-down 4-core GPU—this is 5-core in the pro iPhone 13s. Another difference is that the non-pro iPhone 13s come with 4GB RAM—this is 6GB in the pro models.

But as has always been the case, those differences would be really, really hard to pinpoint for the majority—unless you’re benchmarking them all at the same time—when it comes to day-to-day use. Graphically intensive tasks are handled very well as well without any hiccups. These iPhones tend to get warm when stressed but overall performance remains consistently good across the board. No complaints whatsoever.

Rest of the package remains as good with a pair of loud stereo speakers with spatial audio, sharp haptics, and excellent call quality. In a first, you can use two e-SIMs in all the iPhone 13s. There is support for 5G for when it’s available though this is limited to sub-6 GHz in India.

iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini | what could be better

The iPhones are power by 5nm A15 Bionic. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The biggest con of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini if you were to make spec-to-spec comparisons with the pro iPhone 13s is that neither comes with ‘Super Retina XDR display with ProMotion,’ which means the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are sticking to a conventional 60Hz panel.

Now usually that’s not a thing to really stress about considering how fast and smooth iPhones are by default—thanks to some meticulous optimisation—but when you see the barrage of Android phones with high refresh rate screens, you can’t help but sigh—what if Apple brought that to these iPhones too. As things stand today, it’s a ‘pro’ feature for Apple so, that’s something to keep in mind.

Coming to the screen, the size—5.4-inch/6.1-inch OLED—and resolution remains unchanged but Apple has cranked up the max brightness to 800 nits so that’s nice. The notch is smaller—by up to 20 percent—but like the pro iPhone 13s, again, all the ‘extra’ real estate hasn’t been put to any use to show additional information on either side, at least not yet. It also houses the same 12MP camera, which aside from supporting Photographic Styles and Cinematic mode, is completely trash next to competition.

Also read | Apple’s iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini unboxed

Last but not the least, Apple says you can charge the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini to up to 50% in 30 minutes with a 20W adapter or higher—that you need to buy separately because there’s no charger in the box—which is not the fastest, plus, there’s no USB C on these iPhones.

iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini | should you buy

Both iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini have 4GB RAM. (Image: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

You might say that the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are not all that exciting, even more so when you factor in the slew of updates the pro models are getting this year. You won’t be wrong for saying that. But there’s another way to look at them.

Remember the time when you’d get a brand-new iPhone one year and a better version of it the next year? The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are a throwback to those simpler times when you knew what you were getting into before getting into it.

For most buyers, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini will be ‘terrific’ value, and buying either won’t mean you’re missing out on something just because there is an iPhone 13 around. If you’re lucky, you can also get the pro iPhone 12 at around similar prices—as the iPhone 13. You should get those if you can.

Also read | Everything you need to know about Apple’s 2021 MacBook Pro 14-, 16-inch ‘game-changing’ laptops

The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are for the loyalists, those who’d settle only for the latest and greatest, no holds barred iPhone that they can get minus the premium price tag of the pro models. If you can get them, you’d love them, if not, that’s fine too. It’s good to have so many options, isn’t it?

Pros: Luxurious design, Fast performance, Good cameras

Cons: No ProMotion display, No USB Type-C, Selfie camera could be better, iPhone 13 Mini has average battery life

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