Hands on with the Apple iPhone 13 & 13 Mini: Not as pro, but still great value
When Apple announced four new iPhones for the first time last year, the bottom two non-Pro phones got arguably more attention and interest. The Mini brought back a form factor that tech media had long clamored for, and the standard iPhone 12 was close enough to the 12 Pro in features that it seemed like a much better deal.
This year, the non-Pro iPhone 13 models don’t get as much love. The novelty factor for the Mini has worn off on the iPhone 13 Mini, and Apple added more features exclusive to the Pro models to justify their existence and price tag. Still, if you want an almost premium iPhone experience but just can’t stomach paying more than four digits, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini are great options.
If you are interested in the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max, I wrote an in-depth hands-on of those devices too.
Click to expand: Apple iPhone 13 Series Specifications
|Specifications||Apple iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini||Apple iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Apple A15 Bionic||Apple A15 Bionic|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Face ID||Face ID|
|Front Camera(s)||12MP TrueDepth camera system||12MP TrueDepth camera system|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|Software||iOS 15||iOS 15|
|Other Features||Dual physical SIM or Dual eSIM support||Dual physical SIM or Dual eSIM support|
About this hands-on: Apple sent me all four iPhone 13 models to test and review. Apple did not have any inputs in this article.
Apple iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini: Design and Hardware
If you’ve seen up close or held the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini, you already know how these phones look and feel. Glass back, aluminum railing, flat screens with a notch. The standard iPhone 13, like last year’s iPhone 12, has the best in-hand of the four models, as it’s not too small nor too big, and quite a bit lighter than the same-sized iPhone 13 Pro.
The iPhone 13 Mini feels dainty in the hand — it almost feels like a toy. I know I sound very spoiled with what I’m about to say, but I loved using the iPhone 12 Mini last year as a second phone. As the main phone though? The 5.4-inch screen just feels too small in 2021 (or 2020), as we spend more and more of our time on mobile devices. I think this is why iPhone 12 Mini sales were underwhelming too: the idea of a small phone that can be used with one hand easily sounds great — until you actually see said small phone next to a larger screen and everything from Instagram to websites look more immersive there.
Apple managed to shrink the notch for the first time since the notch came into existence in 2017, and naturally, the Mini benefits the most, since it has the smallest screen. Remember, the notches are the same size whether on a 6.7-inch Pro Max panel or a 5.4-inch Mini model. Still, Apple doesn’t make much use of the extra screen space — the area to the left and right of the notch still show the exact same amount of information (clock, battery icon, connection status) as before.
Just like last year, I like that the aluminum railings of the 13 and 13 Mini feature a matte coating and do not attract smudges as easily as the glossy frames of the Pro models.
Powering the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini is the Apple A15 Bionic, but the SoC in these two phones has one fewer GPU cores than the A15 Bionic powering the Pro phones. Still, you’re likely not going to notice — the A15 Bionic is the best mobile silicon and easily outpaces the Snapdragon 888 (or even 888+).
iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini: Cameras
The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini’s cameras are exactly the same, so for the rest of this section, I’ll just refer to them as the iPhone 13 for simplicity. The iPhone 13’s main 12MP camera sees an increase in image sensor size over last year, and although the Pro models supposedly have an even larger sensor, I really couldn’t spot differences between the main cameras of the iPhone 13 or 13 Pro during the day or night.
The only tell that the iPhone 13 Pro has a larger image sensor in the above photos is in the last set — the iPhone 13 Pro photo has a shallower depth-of-field.
The iPhone 13 Pro finally pulls ahead when we move to ultra-wide photos. The iPhone 13’s ultra-wide has a slower aperture and smaller sensor, and while night mode can fix matters, it ultimately can’t completely overcome the inferior hardware. The ultra-wide lens here can’t double as a macro sensor the way the iPhone 13 Pro’s can too.
For zoom photos, it’s a no contest. The iPhone 13 does not have a zoom lens at all so any zoom is digital crop; the iPhone 13 Pro has a telephoto lens that can do 3x optical zoom and 15x digital zoom.
Perhaps the best camera improvement for the iPhone 13 this year is Cinematic mode, which is essentially Portrait mode for videos. This new mode gets prominent visibility in the iPhone camera app, located just two swipes from the default photo shooting mode. Once activated, just point and film. Apple built an intelligent algorithm that tries to track faces if there is one in the frame — if there are more than two faces, it will focus on the one closest to the camera. If there are no faces, it will focus on the thing closest to the lens. You can also manually focus yourself by tapping on a person or object.
The result is a video that exhibits that blurred background (bokeh) look. If the blur looks too fake, you can always dial it down in post-production within the iPhone Photos app. I’ll let the footage do the talking.
I’m not saying Cinematic mode is good enough for you to toss your DSLR if you own one. But for aspiring videographers or content creators who are only shooting with a smartphone? This footage with bokeh looks a bit more cinematic than the typical smartphone videos which appear flat and over-processed. The fact that the bokeh can be applied around inanimate objects is a huge deal for some YouTubers who use an iPhone for product B-rolls. And the fact that Cinematic mode is available on the non-Pro smartphones is a big win for people who aren’t looking to spend as much for the Pros.
iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini: Early impressions
Because I am a tech enthusiast lucky enough to test all the latest Android flagships, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini’s dual-camera system doesn’t have the versatility for me. But for other less demanding users, the iPhone 13/ 13 Mini cameras represent a noticeable upgrade over last year’s cameras: the main camera image sensor is larger, it gained the sensor-shift technology only available to the Pro Max model last year, and I love cinematic mode.
The iPhone 13 Mini, in particular, is about the only small flagship phone in town, so if you really hate the size of modern flagships, this is the phone to get.
The best news is, despite the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini selling at the same starting price as its counterpart last year ($799 and $699 respectively), the phones are a great value because Apple doubled the storage this year to 128GB.