The mobile phone landscape has changed a lot in the last few years and while the names at the top have stayed the same there's been a lot of movement outside of the top two or three names. As such, big names like Apple and Samsung can't afford to become complacent. When you're on top it's incredibly easy to become overconfident, and there are always people throwing around terms like 'coup', or sayings like 'David vs Goliath' when it comes to the plucky underdogs that people love to see pushing up the sales charts.
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In fact, these two areas make up three of the main areas of improvement for this generation, with the cameras being the third. Screen resolution and processing power have clearly been major focuses of attention, and I can't see myself willingly moving away from 120HZ OLED as my main phone after this experience.
While there's naturally always the discussion of high refresh rate, FPS, or HZ being useless because the human eye can only take in so much information at once (what is this, a screen for hummingbirds?) ramping these up still makes for a smoother experience as we take in smoother information in those moments where we do receive it.
That said, it's incredibly hard to track how much better it is than the competition, because Apple still doesn't let us sample frame rates, however running COD: Mobile, Alien: Isolation and Genshin Impact gives a smooth and sleek experience. But, as it stands, there aren't many games out there that can truly challenge the top-end category of devices, and so we're unlikely to see a massive gulf over a few years as nobody wants to lock out the majority of players.
On the subject of things where there aren't massive gulfs. Visually the iPhone 13 Pro isn't much of a shift in design from the 12 Pro. Perhaps the most obvious design change is that the camera nest on the back of the device seems to jut out even more and that the screen dead-zone around the front-facing cameras appears to be a little smaller in width, although stretches further down the screen a smidge. The latter is a sign of long-overdue changes, and hopefully, it will keep shrinking, there are still a lot of games and apps which have shallow, top-screen notifications which get lost in the darkness of that area.
Their camera array has undergone a few upgrades, with it now being made up of three 12MP rear cameras, one of which is the previously mentioned telephoto lens (77mm, 3x zoom). The ultrawide camera didn't just receive the night-mode upgrade, it also had a new sensor added as well as an autofocus feature which works great in low-light and really helps it pluck out a little bit more detail.
Overall, the improvements to the main camera, as well as the sensor for ultrawide are really standout improvements. Confusingly though, the macro camera now automatically shifts on and off, which at first caused a bit of confusion, and then caused a little frustration for me. It's a great little Macro camera, but as I spend a lot of time taking Macro-shots and manually setting focus, it did mean that I needed to adjust how and where I held the phone in order to stop it from shifting. There is, reportedly, a fix in the works, but it's confusing how this was included when it went on sale.
But, shifting-Macro aside. The iPhone 13 Pro has probably got the best set of cameras that I've handled on a phone, night-mode across the other lenses is a great improvement, and both the portrait lens and telephoto have improved colour recognition and I'm very impressed with the bokeh effect in the former. As a note, I exported photos onto my computer to inspect them, as - perhaps obviously - they'd look a lot better on the 120hz screen than photos would on a non-120hz screen.
Not only that but there's some clever AI at work. If the subject of the recording turns around and looks behind them, the focus shifts; this also works when people look at and gesture at things. While it's a little bit uncanny, it really steps up the effect and when it works - which it does almost 100% of the time - it impresses.
I'm reviewing the 512GB version of the phone, which, unlike the 128GB version can record in the ProRes mode at 4K, 30FPS. The 128GB can only muster 1080p at that FPS. ProRes lends itself well to editing, which the phone is more than capable of doing due to its power. Outside of ProRes all of the range features Dolby Vision HDR at (up to) 4K, 60FPS.
The iPhone 13 Pro is easily one of the strongest phones on the market, and in several areas, it easily tops the competition. Pricing is an obvious elephant in the room, but I'm sure anybody reading this knows that iPhones are top-shelf pricing in no small part due to the ecosystem that you buy into, but - as this review underlines - also the fact that they punch hard in each field they try and fight in.